SER banks on Mahanadi Coalfield’s Basundhara project for more coal traffic
South Eastern Railway (SER), perhaps the largest transporter of iron ore among all the zonal railways, is set to emerge also as a major transporter of coal.
In 2017-18, SER, it is projected, will handle an estimated 30 million tons (mt) of coal (up from the present around 25 mt), to double to 60 mt by 2021-22 and further to 90 mt by 2025-26.
This will happen because Mahanadi Coalfields Limited’s Basundhara coal project, one of three top priority coal projects being monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office (the two others being Raigarh-Mand project under South East Central Railway and Tori-Shivpuri project under East Central Railway) , is expected to complete its first phase work by 2017 holding out the promise of more coal traffic for SER.
SER’s present level of coal loading is nothing to crow about. In 2015-16, the throughput was 25.30 mt, or less than 20 per cent of the total traffic of 134.29 mt handled during the year. The corresponding figures for 2014-15 and 2013-14 were 27.78 mt (124.05 mt) and 26.64 mt (134.28 mt) respectively. In other words, the coal share hovered around 20 per cent. In 2016-17, the share, it is feared, may be even less than in 2015-16 as SER’s General Manager was recently quoted as saying that coal loading so far in the current fiscal had not been “up to our expectation”.
Coal India Limited has indicated to load less coal at Adra coalfields served by SER; also there has been lower offtake at mines of Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) and Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) served by SER compared to mines belonging to other subsidiaries of Coal India and served by other zonal railways. In April offtake at BCCL, ECL and CCL mines was lower by 4.9 per cent, 10.8 per cent and 19.9 per cent respectively, it is reported.
Another factor which is causing concern is the Union Government’s resolve to curb coal import particularly for the power sector. In April, SER’s loading of imported coal at Haldia dock dropped more than 60 per cent compared to the same period of last year.
In fact, SER hopes to achieve the targeted total freight traffic of 142 mt in the current fiscal (2016-17) mainly riding high on iron ore whose loading so far has shown an impressive growth. Right now, the share of iron ore traffic in SER’s total traffic is more than 50 per cent – in 2015-16, it was 73.83 mt (134.29 mt) in 2014-15, 62.92 mt (124.05 mt) and in 2013-14, 74.56 mt (134.28 mt).
The news of early commissioning of Basundhara mines, it is therefore felt, is a significant development. The Basundhara coal project, which is part of the Basundhara-Garjanbahal coal bearing area of Sundergarh district of Odisha, was conceptualized in 1993 with a projection of 21 mt of production annually. Subsequently, the project underwent several revisions and the mine-wise production was finally projected as follows; Siarmel open cast – 50 mtpa, Basundhara West – 8 mtpa, Kulda open cast 12 mtpa and Garjanbahal – 13 mtpa.
In the first phase, the scope of the work includes establishment of single line electrified connectivity from Jharsuguda to Sardega covering a distance of 26 kms of which work on the 19 kms (up to Barapalli) has been completed and the work on the remaining portion (from Barapalli to Sardega, seven kms) will be completed soon. Four out of five engineering plans have been approved and the preparation of signal interlocking system and station working rules is in progress.
The scope of the second and third phase work includes, among others, commissioning of six loading bulbs to facilitate loading of several rakes at a time , doubling of line between Jharsuguda and Barpalli, modification of Jharsuguda yards, construction of a fly-over and commissioning of the remaining four lines with silos in the loading bulb. etc.
However, the stumbling block, as expected, is the delay in land acquisition and forest clearance for the construction of the bulb line. Also, the detailed project report for double line fly-over and Jharsuguda relief yard is awaiting clearance.
SER has already worked a detailed action plan to overcome the hurdles and complete at least the first phase work by the targeted date of commissioning.
Interestingly, all this is happening at a time when the prudence of too much dependence on coal as the single largest item of traffic is being debated both within the IR and outside. In 2015-16, the share of coal in IR’s total traffic throughput was close to 50 per cent (551.67 mt out of a total of 1104.17 mt) while revenue-wise, the share was 45.74 per cent (Rs 49,988.98 crore out of a total revenue of Rs 109,281.46 crore), thanks to the drop in average lead due to various reasons.
It might be noted that at least half a dozen zonal railways namely, Eastern Railway, East Central Railway, East Coast Railway, South East Central Railway, North Frontier Railway and South Central Railway depend largely on coal as the major item of traffic.