Key Jharkhand Rail Link lies almost idle as CIL fails to implement peripheral projects

Lack of rapid loading system leaves 1,500-crore Tori-Shivpur rail link under-utilised!

RANCHI: For decades, Coal India Ltd (CIL) officials blamed the Railways for not laying a key rail link in Jharkhand that could help unlock the country’s richest coal reserves. The Railways and Coal sectors had initiated the work in 2005, but the progress remained in paper.

The Narendra Modi government gave it a push. The 44-km Tori-Shivpur electrified double-line on the Dhanbad Division of was completed more than a year ago, at roughly 1,500 crore, to facilitate two mega mines — Magadh and Amrapali — which can together produce up to 100 million tonnes (mt) of coal. But the coal is not moving.

Barely half-a-dozen or fewer rakes, capable of moving 6-7 mt annually, are despatched everyday via this line. This is because state-owned CIL’s subsidiary Central Coalfields Ltd (CCL) failed to ensure the construction of the necessary rapid loading system, which includes a U-shaped loop line connecting the mine head and two mechanised loaders.

What a rapid loader does

The rapid loader ensures that a rake never stops. It branches out of the main track, loaded through silo-operations in 90 minutes flat, and reaches the main track through the loop to head for its destination.

Constructing a rapid loading system encircling barely 20 km of a coalfield might look easier than constructing the Tori-Shivpur rail line that crosses at least half-a-dozen major bridges; but it didn’t happen. A CCL official said the construction was held up for want of forest clearance. According to users, even the 22-km road connecting the railhead with the mine is in bad shape.

A Railway official confirmed that the line is grossly underutilised. According to a 2018 Railway Ministry communique, CIL made a proposal to despatch 80 rakes a day through this line. The existing line capacity is 40 rakes a day. A provision is being created quickly for a third line to step up the carrying capacity of the track.

More key links

The Modi government completed two more key links to ensure the optimal utilisation of domestic reserves. The 53-km single-track Sardega-Barpali-Jharsuguda rail link was rolled out in September 2018 for the evacuation of 20-25 mt of coal annually from the resource-rich Ib Valley area in Odisha.

Per project estimates, the 1,000-crore rail-link was expected to boost production from the Basundhara and Siarmal project areas of Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), a Sambalpur-based subsidiary of CIL, by over three times, from 10 mt to 34 mt.

As of December 2019, the line was underutilised with barely six rakes (approximately 8.5 mt) moving daily. This is largely due to a delay in implementing a mega project, with a peak capacity of 75 mt a year, at Siarmal.

On the brighter side, production from Basundhara is fast rising. As of last month, three mines of the project produced 19 mt of fuel, nearly 86 per cent more than the same period last year. The Coal Ministry is pushing a proposal to double the capacity of the Sardega-Barpali-Jharsuguda link.

Third critical project

The third critical rail project, from Kharsia to Dharamjaygarh in Chhattisgarh, which will unlock new areas of the Korba reserves, is half way through. The 44-km line between Kharsia and Korichapar was opened for commercial use last October.

The rail link will help evacuate coal from the vast Mand Raigarh fields. The project is implemented by East Rail Corridor, a special purpose vehicle of CIL’s Bilaspur-based subsidiary South Eastern Coalfields Ltd (64 per cent), the Chhattisgarh government (10 per cent) and IRCON (26 per cent).