At a time when the Indian Railways is struggling to regain its market share and meet its freight loading targets, Member Traffic, Railway Board, Mohd Jamshed tells Bilal Abdi that there won’t be any more “freight tariff rationalisation” in the current fiscal. He also outlines various initiatives being taken on the freight and passenger sides in order to regain lost ground. Excerpts:
You have taken a series of steps recently to boost freight volume. Will there be further such freight tariff revisions in the future?
Before the Budget, we had an exhaustive round of meetings with various stakeholders, including officials from different zonal railways. The main aim of this exercise was to understand the market dynamics and devise strategies to make the railways more competitive. We found that majority of suggestions were about rationalising (reducing) freight tariffs. This was at a time when we were at a saturation point in terms of freight loading, which was not going beyond 1,110 million tonnes. Also, severe congestion was experienced on more than 240-odd routes. The priority was to try and stop the downward slide in freight loading and regain lost ground. The exercise led to scrapping of the dual iron ore freight policy, rationalising as well as giving incentives to various freight forwarders from the cement, fertiliser, foodgrain and the container traffic sectors. While cement traffic still remains a problem in spite of the various concessions given, green shoots are visible in all other segments. Things are stabilising for us now and we expect positive growth in freight loading from second half of this fiscal.
Is there a concern that freight revenues will be hit due to the various concessions you have provided this year?
The main concern right now is the decrease in leads; if freight revenues are hit, it is because leads went down. The overall lead (net tonne/per km) target for FY17 is 600 km down from the target of 620 km in FY16. Till now, we have managed to maintain an overall lead of 555- 558 km in the first five months of the current fiscal. This is the main challenge and this is why most of the concessions and incentives are given for longer leads. If the leads go down by 10%, the freight revenue will be impacted by 10%.
What kind of growth are you expecting in the passenger segment and what are the initiatives being taken to augment capacity to address the transportation needs of the masses?
Firstly, looking at the rush we face during the festive season, from October 1, we have introduced a new facility which will lead to transfer of vacant berths from train-originating stations to remote locations on the route for clearing wait-listed passengers en-route after preparation of the final chart. We have worked on optimising the utilisation of available berths due to which we have witnessed our occupancy gone up on all trains.
Additionally, in the first five months, we ran around 17,000 special trains, 3,131 trains more than what we ran in the corresponding period last year. We have also added 313 coaches permanently in various trains to augment capacity and are looking at adding a total of 800 coaches by the end of this year. Majority of the initiatives which should have been taken in the past are being taken right now and this is indeed going to result in an increase in the number of passengers being carried in the non-suburban and suburban segments.