Excess dependence on coal hampers growth of South East Central Railway

Odisha: Bilaspur-headquartered South East Central Railway (SECR), the country’s largest freight-loading zonal railway (in volume), posted a not-too-satisfactory performance in 2012-13 when it handled a total of 151.6 Million Tonnes (mt) of originating freight traffic compared to 150.7 mt in 2011-12, thus posting a growth of less than 1 mt.

The target for the year, originally set at 158 mt, was subsequently revised downward to 154 mt, which too could not be achieved. Coal accounts for an estimated 75% of SECR’s total freight traffic.

During the year under review, the coal throughput was 114 mt, up from 112 mt in the previous year. The throughput would have been higher but for virtual stagnation in rake loading in three of the major coal producing areas, Korba and CIC coalfields under South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL) and Ib Valley under Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL), all served by SECR.

The average daily coal loading at Korba was 32.2 rakes, less than last year’s 32.7 rakes and at CIC coalfields 15.4 (15.7 ) and Ib Valley 23.6 (23.7). The railway dispatches increased by a meager 3% as compared to much higher dispatches by MGR (27%) and local dispatches (20%). If the 3% increase in dispatches did not boost average daily loading of rakes in some coalfields, it was because of deployment of higher capacity rakes.

Fewer rakes loaded larger volumes. This partly explained the rise in coal throughput. The closure of Vedanta’s plant in Lanjigarh in Odisha hit the bauxite traffic.

The throughput for raw materials for steel plants remained the same while foodgrains traffic was up by around 0.5 mt. The freight traffic targets for all zonal railways for 2013-14 are yet to be finalized by the Railway Board.

The Board will take a call on it at a meeting of Chief Operations Managers of all zonal railways to be held in New Delhi shortly. SECR feels its target might be set at 158 mt-160 mt.