To arrest and reverse the sliding traffic and income from both freight and passenger segments, the Indian Railways on Thursday launched Business Plan 2017-18 with the focus mostly on the freight segment which contributes two-third of the carrier’s revenue. The plan to increase freight revenue — which fell from R1,05,791 crore in 2014-15 to R97,386 crore in 2015-16; a flat growth is estimated (RE) for 2016-17 — hinges on signing long-term tariff contracts, introducing double stack dwarf containers, and roll-on-roll-off facility for trucks, easing road congestion in the National Capital Region, among others.
While launching the plan in New Delhi, railway minister Suresh Prabhu said, “The initiatives are in line with what was announced in the previous rail budgets and are not sudden developments.” FE had earlier reported that the railways has witnessed a pick-up in its freight traffic with 10-day average going up to an all-time high of 3.32 million tonne (MT) per day for the period February 11-20, and initiatives such as these will help it achieve its target loading targets. The main contributors to this increase has been coal and iron ore.
Speaking at the event, Railway Board chairman AK Mittal emphasised that the railways needs to change the way it works and focus on consumers’ requirements and increase its loading capacity from the current 1,200 MT to 1,500 MT in the next three years. While the long-term contracts will ensure adequate and assured loading for railways, consumer industry such as steel, cement and fertilisers will be able to receive discounts up to 35%. Also, dwarf containers will reduce the operating expense of the railways and roll-on-roll-off will not only save time and money for truckers who are not allowed to cross NCR during day and pay a huge green cess, it will also protect the environment of the region.
Emphasising that the railways requires policies which markets require, he urged the industry must also respond and fulfil the cargo commitments. “As we go along, it will be a win-win situation for the railways, the industry and the nation as well,” he added. The other steps under the plan include revamping goods sheds, adding new private freight terminals, end-to-end cargo solutions, and expanding the freight basket.
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Reflecting on the falling freight traffic, Prabhu, citing the global recession starting 2008, said a transporter cannot create a market, is affected the most due to marcroeconomic decline and is the last to recover. On the passenger side, the railways is working on a few initiatives to improve passenger experience such as introducing new trains, making stations 100% digital payment-enabled, reducing journey time by introducing faster trains, a new catering policy which unbundles meal preparation and distribution, among others.
The carrier is also working on new business avenues to increase its earnings from non-fare sources such as ads and is also undertaking the station redevelopment plan to monetise railway land banks of around 400-plus stations. It also plans to add another 212 suburban stations to its list of stations to be redeveloped — as earlier reported by FE.