Reversing recent trend, Railways load record extra Coal, Freight

The emphasis in April and May was picking coal from all the thermal power houses, said Mohammad Jamshed, Member-Traffic/Railway Board

NEW DELHI: The Railways lugged an extra 15 million tonnes (mt) of coal in April and May this year, against the same months in 2017. This is not just a record high in incremental coal and incremental total freight loaded but also a trend reversal against the last two years, when coal loading had dropped on a year-on-year basis.

The last time this occurred was in April and May 2011, when the Railways had loaded an extra 8 mt over the previous year period.

However, the gain for coal meant loss of transport for a few other commodities such as iron ore and finished steel. These products are transported in similar wagons.

In April and May, not only did the Railway load more coal, but also moved it over longer distances. This resulted in the transporter seeing an unprecedented 31.6 per cent growth in net tonne kilometre (NTKM) — a productivity parameter that measures both loading and distance. “The extra 15 mt coal was moved for an average distance of 491 km, up from 438 km. The entire emphasis in April and May was picking coal from all the thermal power houses. We picked all the coal that was available,” Mohammad Jamshed, Member – Traffic, Railway Board, told.

Total freight moved

The Railways chugged an extra 14 mt of total freight, which is also a record high. Cement, raw material for steel plants, fertiliser, containers and a group of other commodities also saw higher loading. In total, the Railways moved 101.6 mt of goods during the two months, up from 86.6 mt.

Another interesting point is that the incremental movement of one commodity — coal — is higher than the total incremental cargo loaded. Over the past nine year, this happened just once, in 2015.

Such data simply show that the drop in loading of commodities other than coal was to such an extent that they pulled down the extent of extra loading of total freight. But it does not reflect whether the drop in loading was due to unavailability of rail capacity or customers shunning railways due to other reasons.

This year, for instance, the Railways enjoyed demand from other commodities that could not be accommodated due to capacity constraints.

“Commodity groups that could have added to the loading growth are iron ore and finished steel,” said Jamshed. Railways carried 20.6 mt iron ore this year, 2.7 mt lesser than last year.

Wagon crunch

Unavailability of enough BOX-N wagons — open wagons used for moving coal, iron ore, raw material for steel plant and clinker — led to a crunch.

Additionally, cargo trains struggled to find empty tracks to move on.

A strong focus on safety led the Railways to block traffic tracks for repair and upgrade infrastructure. Even though the Railways earn the lion’s share from the freight business, passenger trains get priority over cargo trains.

As the tracks are shared, movement of goods train gets affected at times.

In petroleum products, transport demand has been shifting away from trains to pipelines over the long term. “This April-May saw a marginal drop (0.2 mt) in petroleum products carried against the same period last fiscal,” Jamshed said.