Indian Railways’ freight traffic down 21% in Q1

The Indian Railways’ freight traffic dropped 21 per cent during the first quarter of 2020-21 (FY21) to 241 million tonnes (mt) owing to the lockdown and slowing economic activity.

Its earnings from freight also saw 31 per cent fall to Rs 22,266 crore for the April-June period. In June, the national transporter handled 93 mt freight, a fall of 8 per cent over the same month in 2019-20 (FY20). The freight earnings for the month also declined 18 per cent to Rs 8,826 crore.

Railway Board Chairman V K Yadav said freight loading had substantially picked up in June, which was a sign of an increase in economic activity. “In June, we were close to 91 per cent of regular loading, compared to the same month a year ago. Movement of cement, coal, fertiliser, and steel is picking up,” he said.

In April and May, Railways saw subdued freight loading at about 70 per cent of what it was in 2019. Based on the data available with the national transporter, the dip in freight loading on account of Covid-19 pandemic in the first two months of the financial year was 58 mt. Among commodities, handling of foodgrain increased 83 per cent in the April-June period to 16.28 mt in FY21, from 8.9 mt in FY20.

A major reason for this rise was the Railways’ focus on handling of essential items like foodgrain, coal to the power sector, petroleum and time-tabled parcel services during lockdown. Interestingly, coal traffic that forms a major share of the Railways’ freight was down by 29 per cent to 112.14 mt so far in FY21, against 158.52 mt in FY20.

According to the Railways, coal traffic is low because of sufficient coal stock of 28 days in thermal power plants. The Railways is expecting the coal loading to remain at the same level in the third quarter and pick up in the fourth quarter. During the period, cement and clinker handling was down by 27 per cent, minerals and ores by 23 per cent, iron and steel by 21 per cent during the period.

A major goal achieved in the freight segment during the past three months was an improvement in transit time. The average speed of freight trains increased from 23 km per hour (kmph) to 41 kmph during the period under review.