In what may signal a sustained revival in passenger traffic of Indian Railways (IR), the segment witnessed a 2.5% growth in the April-May 2017 period compared with the similar period a year ago. This follows a 1% increase in passenger traffic in 2016-17 to 822.1 crore passengers from 815.1 crore transported during 2015-16. Since 2012-13, passenger traffic had posted positive growth in 2016-17. Also, suburban passenger traffic increased 4% during the past two months compared with the year-ago period. “The growth in passenger traffic has helped us garner additional Rs 500 crore during the two-month period (April-May),” said a Railway Board member. The railways has planned 7,500 summer special train trips which would run up to June-end. The transporter increased its passenger earnings by Rs 1,996 crore in 2016-17 compared with 2015-16. However, it missed the revised estimates for 2016-17 of Rs 48,000 crore and managed to earn Rs 46,279 crore. The passenger earning target is Rs 50,125 crore for the current financial year. Simultaneously, freight loading also increased by 4 million tonne (mt) in April and 3 mt in May. The railways registered 1,109 mt of freight loading in 2016-17, up 1.37% against the revised target, compared with 1,104 mt during the previous year. According to the Railway Board member quoted above, the freight loading is improving due to coal demand from power plants in Punjab and Maharashtra. “We recently held a meeting with the Western Coalfields and asked them to increase production. We are ready with rakes to transport coal,” added the member.
There are, however, concerns regarding falling long leads which may affect the freight traffic in the future. The long leads, or the average distance travelled by per mt of freight, fell to 560 net tonne kilometre (NTKM) during 2016-17 compared with 600 the previous year. “We need to increase the long leads to 610 NTKM from the current 560 NTKM to achieve the full year freight earnings target,” said the member. The railways’ long leads for coal did not pick up despite it announcing a 7% discount on freight charges last year.
Coal constitutes 50% of the total freight for the railways but hurt the carrier the most last year due to a fall in traffic from Coal India, as power houses did not take coal due to adequate coal reserves. In addition, non-operational coal blocks in West Bengal, Punjab and Maharashtra meant a loss of 10 mt during the year. Nevertheless, the railways has opened the freight basket by including stone chips, bauxite, gypsum, vegetable oil, sugar, timber, cement byproducts, food and vegetables, among others, which garnered additional 80 mt of loading last year.