Indian Railways saw smart recovery of freight from lockdown-induced slump, passenger segment hit harder

December 31, 2020 9:28 AM

Strong automobile loading and increased transport of fuel, foodgrains, iron & steel, aided by economic recovery, have brought Railways back in the game.’

train accidentPrima facie, it seems the incident occurred due to mechanical reasons, the official said, denying the role of Maoists in it as of now. Representational image

By Nivedita Mukherjee

For the Indian Railways, 2020 will go down as one of the most disruptive years in its 167 years of operational history. The nationwide lock-down in March 2020 to control the spread of Covid-19 pandemic forced the transporter to suspend passenger services and realign its freight services to cater to the bare essentials, two steps that inevitably gave a severe jolt to its earnings.

Freight operations, the mainstay of the Railways’ internal receipts, began falling as the double effect of an economic slowdown and Covid-led disruption brought down the volume of goods carried. Railways carried 110.19 MT of goods in January and 106 MT in February 2020.

April saw a sharp slide in loading to 65.14 MT and though freight operations showed improvement in May and June, volume of goods carried by IR was still short of the achievements in the corresponding months of the previous year. The modest recovery came with the launch of time-tabled parcel services to maintain the supply of essential items — PPE kits, medicines, foodgrains, milk, medical equipment etc — to every corner of the country. Railways also tied up with e-commerce companies to expand freight volume.

It is from August 2020 onwards that freight loading has shown a smart turnaround with IR carrying 94.63 MT of goods in August and 102.13 MT in September. The momentum has continued and in December, IR reached 97% of last year’s cargo volume. Freight revenue also shows an uptick, from Rs 9043.48 crore earned in August 2020 to Rs 10,657.68 earned in November. Going by the trend, IR expects to surpass last year’s tally in revenue and loading, but the targets set for the current year may not be met.

In FY20, IR handled 1,210.46 MT of freight and had freight receipts of Rs 1.23 lakh crore. Strong automobile loading and increased transport of fuel, foodgrains, iron & steel, aided by economic recovery, have brought Railways back in the game.’

Railways are also putting in place a slew of new measures to tap industry. A “Freight on Priority” policy to expand loading from traditional segments and attract new customers, measures for development of goods sheds through private investment and induction of new wagons are some new initiatives. Besides, speed of freight trains has been nearly doubled from 24 kmph one year ago to 46 kmph, cutting down transit time.

Faced with the challenge of moving millions of people back home in the most adverse circumstances, IR started Shramik Special Trains in May 2020, in coordination with individual state governments, to carry millions of migrants back home in rural India. Since May 1 up to August 31, 2020, IR has operated 4,621 Shramik Special and about 63 lakh migrants have been transported to various destinations across India. The impact of the lockdown has been severe on passenger segment earnings.

Budget 2020-21 estimates had pegged earnings from passenger business at Rs 61,000 crore but Railways will end up with only Rs 15,000 crore this fiscal year, a 72% year-on-year slump. In FY20, the passenger revenue was around Rs 53,000 crore.

To revive its finances, improve passenger experience and bring modern technologies, IR has initiated a plan to introduce 151 modern passenger trains operated through public-private partnership over 109 Origin Destination pairs of routes. This involves private sector investment of Rs 30,000 crore. Request for proposal has been issued to 13 selected entries in November, 2020 and the companies will submit their proposals in January, 2021, which will be followed by the award of contract in March 2021.

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