Indian Railways has so far incurred 87% loss in passenger revenue, down from ₹53,000 crore last year to just ₹4,600 crore, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it expects an increase in freight loading revenue, compensated by the enhanced transportation of non-traditional commodities like food grain and fertilisers.
Speaking at a press conference on December 18, Railway Board Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Vinod Kumar Yadav said the Railways was working towards the objective of meeting its operational expenditure from its own revenue earnings.
A projected increase in loading revenue was an indicator of improving economy and industrial growth, he said.
The Railways’s yearly cumulative loading is currently at about 97% with a deficit of 10% in revenue, which is expected to cross last year’s corresponding figures.
On Friday evening, the Railways will be circulating the final draft of the National Rail Plan for consultation with all the stakeholders. The plan is expected to be finalised by January 2021.
A sub-set of the plan is business and infrastructure development in order to attain the objective of 2,024 million-tonne freight loading capacity by 2024. Vision-2024 is to be implemented with a capital expenditure of ₹2.90 lakh crore.
Mr. Yadav said the Railways currently accounted for about 27% of the overall transportation of goods in the country and the plan was to increase it to 45% by 2030. In 2019, the total freight movement was 4,700 million tonne and the Railways’s share was 1,210 million tonnes. As per an estimate, the freight eco-system will reach 6,400 million tonnes by 2026.
The National Rail Plan aims to reduce transit time and cost, rationalise freight tariff and also bring down operating cost, apart from achieving net-zero Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2030. The average speed of freight movement has to be taken to 50 km per hour. As the regular passenger trains were not operating due to Covid-triggered restrictions, the Railways was able to achieve a speed of 47-48 km per hour.
Under the Vision-2024 project, the Railways plans multi-tracking of 16,373 km. It will include 58 super critical projects, 68 critical projects, 32 other essential projects, 20 additional coal connectivity projects, 146 railway electrification projects, 120 traffic facility works, 686 signalling and telecommunication works, North-East connectivity projects and elimination of manned level crossings on certain routes by March 2025.
Three dedicated freight corridors spread across 3,958 km are to be completed. Several new high-speed rail corridors have been identified, while the Varanasi high speed rail project is under way. New streams of finance and models for financing, including public-private partnership, are being identified.
Mr. Yadav said the Railways was currently operating 1,089 special trains. Suburban services had resumed by 88% in Mumbai, 60% in Kolkata and 50% Chennai, in coordination with the respective States. During festivals, 618 trains were operated and reserved seats allocated to all passengers.
Besides the main passenger trains, short-distance passenger trains with unreserved seats were also being started. Overcrowding would be avoided by increasing frequency of trains, he said.
Since the outbreak, about 30,000 railway employees have got infected with COVID-19 and a few of them lost their lives. The Railways now has 74 Covid-designated hospitals.