The Indian Railways has decided to run timetabled freight trains on a pilot basis, in a move that could significantly speed up the movement of goods and give a much-needed boost to economic activity in the country.
According to a circular shared by the Railway Board on 23 June, “Board has decided to run time tabled container train services as a pilot project on scheduled path w.e.f. 25.06.2020 on specified streams.”
“Zonal railways should strictly monitor their punctual running and ensure proper feeding in FOIS (Freight Operation Information System),” the circular added.
The routes identified for the pilot include Tughlakabad (Delhi)-Mundra Port (Gujarat), Kathuwas (Rajasthan)-Mundra Port, Sanath Nagar (Hyderabad)-Jawaharlal Nehru Port (Mumbai) and Khodiyar (Gujarat)-Mundra Port.
Till now, only passenger trains in India were scheduled, while freight trains ran whenever they were loaded with goods.
However, through this pilot project for fixed timetable container trains, Railways is seeking to increase the speed of these trains.
“Railways has been seeking to increase the speed of freight trains for some time now…There have been attempts to make them run on fixed timetables as well before,” said a senior railway official.
“But it has been possible to do it now because there are very few passenger trains being run,” he added.
The official further said that the reason the Railways has not run time-tabled freight trains in the past is that it will be bound to reimburse the clients if there is any delay.
“There can be a lot of delays in loading etc…If the railways were to run these trains on a fixed time, it would have to pay a lot in terms of reimbursement,” he said
“But given that there is such less traffic now, it is possible to run these trains as per a schedule,” the official added.
Railways also increasing speed of freight trains
Another railway official also cited reduced traffic due to the Covid-19 pandemic as the ideal time to test these timetabled freight trains.
“Once this is successful, this will be built into the timetable and passenger trains will also run accordingly. Due to this, there will be a greater certainty in the arrival and departure of freight trains, which wasn’t there earlier,” he said.
In the meantime, the Railways is also seeking to use reduced traffic on the tracks to double the average speed of freight trains from about 25 kmph to 50 kmph by 15 July.
According to sources, Railway Board Chairman V.K. Yadav has been monitoring the average speed of freight trains on a daily basis.
As of now, the average speed of freight trains is 24-25 km per hour whereas passenger trains run at 44 km per hour.
In 2018, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had said that the railways is exploring ways of doubling the speed of freight trains.