With the wagon procurement programme running behind schedule, Indian railways is facing an acute shortage of about 2,000 wagons every day for carrying coal, causing strain on its ambitious target of transporting 1.18 billion tons freight this year.
Taking note of the prevailing situation, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu expressed his concern during a recent meeting and asked the directorate concerned to do the needful so that coal transportation was not hampered.
The meeting was called on May 14 to draw a roadmap for increasing the wagon availability for goods transportation.
There is a wagon crisis and the issue is being addressed, said Railway Board Member (Traffic) Ajay Shukla.
Railways needs an additional 17,000-18,000 wagons annually to meet the growing demand. Of this, 5,000-6,000 are being met through its own capacity and 10,000-12,000 through external procurement.
It has been decided to expedite the finalisation of the new tender for procurement of 6,000 wagons, said a senior Railway Ministry official, who attended the meeting.
According to the practice, the Railways assesses the requirement of wagons and places demand for new wagons every year as augmentation of freight stock is a continuous process.
However, at the moment, the wagon procurement from the market is running a year behind schedule. While no tender has been issued for 2014-15, the order for 9,000 wagons issued in the last fiscal was that of financial year 2013-14 and the procurement is still in the process.
He said the wagon shortage has reached this stage because of inadequate ordering in recent years and blamed financial crunch for this inordinate delays in wagon procurement.
Prabhu had announced in the Rail Budget that the freight traffic would grow from 1,101 million tons (MT) in 2014-15 to 1,186 MT in 2015-16, an increase of 85 MT.
Of the additional tonnage of 85 MT, 42 would be accounted for by coal, which is the largest component of the railways’ freight commodity, while 9 MT would come from iron ore and 7 MT from cement traffic.
With an average wagon life of about 30 years, railways has a wagon fleet of 2.43 lakh wagons, of which about 1.4 lakh wagons are box-type that are usually used to carry coal.Many wagons also get damaged during mechanised loading/ unloading due to improper practices adopted by some of the sidings. “The damaged wagons get held up in workshops due to capacity constraints,” the official said.
In order to tide over the crisis, it has been decided to delay the junking of old wagons and the periodic overhauling of wagons is also being postponed.
Railways has wagon investment schemes that allow customers to invest in rolling stock and get some freight discount, among other benefits, over a long period of time.
There have been investments by petroleum product companies, mining firms and cement firms in such schemes.
According to the official, Coal India is likely to make a considerable investment for procurement of railway wagons for carrying coal.