Despite a tepid economy, Indian Railways has turned around its performance by carrying the highest-ever volume of freight in February.
Buoyed by the performance, policymakers are now hopeful that it may end up crossing its last year’s freight loading mark of 1,223 million tonnes by March 31, which was also the revised target for this fiscal year, owing to a lukewarm demand for freight transportation throughout the year.
Railways freight loading performance has traditionally been regarded as an important indicator of the economy. At 106.5 million tonnes, February saw the highest-ever freight movement for the month, surpassing the previous record of 100 million tonnes clocked last February. With this being a leap year, February had an extra day. But, the transporter already crossed the 100 million tonne-mark in 28 days and, on the 29th day, carried some 3.5 million tonnes more to reach the 106.5 million tonne-mark.
With this, by the end of February, the total freight carried by the national transporter stood at 1,108 million tonne, which is around 5 million tonne more than what it was this time last year. Last March, Railways carried 119.58 million tonne of freight. Officials say this figure is likely to be breached by the end of this month.
Coal loading by Railways also witnessed a surge.
In February, it carried a 51 million tonne of coal, which was about 1.7 per cent more than the year-ago month.
For the most part of this fiscal year, the freight loading figures had remained in the negative vis-à-vis last year’s performance.
Making good the sustained shortfall was cement, which saw a 21 per cent increase last month in the freight basket of the transporter.
Iron ore carried during the time was also about 16 per cent more. Petroleum and such products saw a 16 per cent rise, too, even though the volume remained in single digits. Container movement picked up by about 8 per cent more than last February, giving the freight loader some reason to cheer.
Policymakers said with the 15 per cent busy season surcharge removed purely as a business decision last year, much of the commodities, especially the cement industry, shifted a lot of its consignment from road to Railways, bringing in the much-needed numbers.
However, all this might not translate into much of an uptick in the amount of money earned from freight. This is thanks to around Rs 8,000 crore already received last fiscal towards an advanced payment taken from its mega clients to carry an equivalent volume of freight this year.