Freight movement will be important for the Railways this year more than ever before, with revenue from passenger movement expected to be lower. PS Mishra, Member-Operations and Business Development, Railway Board, spoke to BusinessLine on how the Railways managed to deal with the challenges of the pandemic. Excerpts:
The Railways has a target to surpass the freight movement this year— in tonnage and revenue terms — against last year. How do you aim to achieve that?
We are already on our way to achieve that target of surpassing the freight movement of last year, both in terms of tonnage and revenue.
As per the financial statement of November, we had a revenue deficit of less than ₹1,800 crore in freight revenue which we are very confident of wiping off in the next three months.
There has been an increase in modal share of Railways in cement, clinker, iron and steel and automobile.
Lot of new streams of traffic have been captured like sand, iron ore from new sources, steel pipes from Gujarat, automobile traffic from various parts of the country, rice bran from Bihar, industrial salt from Gujarat which had moved to road a few years back.
All of this has been due to various tariff and non-tariff measures taken by the Railways, efforts of business development units, improvement in wagon fleet, improvement in transit times — all of which the Railways plans to sustain in the future.
What are the strategies adopted by the traffic department to get more cargo? How did they pay off?
For freight growth, there is a twin philosophy guiding the various policy measures being undertaken — reducing the overall cost of doing business with Railways and improving the transit times for cargo delivery.
All the policy measures taken this year, including withdrawal of busy season surcharge, discounts and easing penalties reduce the logistic costs of our customers. Transportation of smaller cargo load over long distances is helping reduce the inventory and handling costs for the customers.
Further, due to absence of passenger trains, the speed of freight trains has improved steadily and the average has almost doubled to 46 km per hour.
This improved average speed has enabled faster delivery of cargo which will be institutionalised by creating freight corridors in the latest zero-based time table.
How do you expect passenger services will look like next year?
The resumption of full-scale passenger services is dependent on the how the demand for travel evolves during 2021-22.
With economy on the upswing and businesses returning to normalcy and tourism also opening up in various parts of the country, the signs are good. The government has taken steps and healthy protocols are in place now.
Also with the vaccine just round the corner, there is all possibility that we will have a business as usual in the passenger segment next year. Further,
The Railways will continue to consider public safety and guidelines of Ministry of Health as well as Home Ministry while taking decisions regarding passenger services.
Demand for long distance travel has picked up with demand in December in this segment reaching 82 per cent of the previous year.