The Indian Railways has scaled up the operations of its special parcel trains (SPTs), to boost the nationwide transportation of various essential items and boost their supply chain across the country.
It has introduced 40 new SPT routes, extending the services to 109 time-tabled parcel trains over a total 58 routes, carrying vital commodities and items in small parcel sizes during the lockdown.
The Railways have also approached e-commerce giants Flipkart and Amazon to bring them on board to avail the parcel train services while India Post too have loaded their parcels on the time-tabled trains.
The move follows the efficient use of special parcel trains during the lockdown in ensuring uninterrupted supply chains of goods and essential commodities, including medicines, medical equipment, masks, dairy products, fruits and sanitisers required for ordinary citizens, industry, e-commerce companies and even agriculture.
Official sources said that a further scaling up is on the cards with the transporter identifying routes for other areas as well. In a recent review of the running of SPTs to supply important items, Union minister for railways Piyush Goyal has asked for the service to be made available on more routes.
Importantly, the Railways also envisages the SPTs becoming an important extension with the potential of becoming an “add-on” to its freight income. The beginning is modest, said an official of the Southern Zone of the Railway. The Southern Zone has loaded a total of 40 tonnes on the two parcel train services from Chennai to Delhi and three services from Chennai to Howrah, charging Rs 5,000 per tonne.
Till April 5, 27 routes were notified, out of which 17 routes were regular scheduled services, while the remaining were for single trip only. Along with the 40 new routes, the frequency of some of the previous routes has also been increased which will connect almost all the important cities of India. While time-tabled parcel trains have connected vital corridors of the country viz. Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Bengaluru, additionally, connectivity has also been ensured to Guwahati, to ensure supplies in the north-eastern region.
The scaling up of the operations of the special parcel trains is inevitable, with the dependence on road transport falling sharply and in keeping with the demand which is currently high and expected to rise with the possibility of a prolonged lockout. As part of the move, the Railways will look at opportunities to provide service in various sectors and corridors in the country. “We are working on all these and it will only increase with time to come as we step up outreach to e-commerce companies, small suppliers and other stakeholders who would like to avail this service. Different railway zones are working on this and advertisements may also come up,” said an official.
The income of the Railways is derived from freight coaches as passenger operations are still heavily cross-subsidised. In FY20, the Railways could not meet even its modest budget estimate for freight loading/receipts due to the slowdown.