Make way for dedicated freight corridors

‘Make in India’, the desire of a billion plus Indians, is possible via rail route, an important enabler if not the only enabler

February 11, 2022 02:46 pm | Updated 05:53 pm IST

Photo: PTI

Photo: PTI

Swish, swosh, swish, swosh, swish, swosh — the noise of oars moving in unison on large ships pulled ahead partly by manpower and huge unfurled sails travelled from India to Europe around mid-18th century or about 1750s. These large ships were laden with the finest Made in India textiles that commanded a huge premium in global markets. In fact, India held a massive 25% share in global textile trade around 1750s.

However, a century later and industrial revolution in Europe around 19th century led Europe’s newfound powerloom to overshadow India’s handloom. One of the reasons being cost efficiency and scale of production of powerloom couldn’t be matched by the handloom.

Being price competitive and production efficient to bring products into the marketplace remains an uncompromising aspect of trade even today. If an industry cannot bring competitive pricing, and production and supply chain efficiency, then finding success will always be a huge dilemma.

For example, if one considers the smallest screws, nuts and bolts — a small car needs about 30,000 components — both small and large to be manufactured. These components need to be manufactured in a technically efficient manner using minimal resources for maximum qualitative output within given timeframe. To make this possible, the biggest enabler would be an efficient supply-chain system wherein transportation would be the foremost criteria.

The railway network is one of the most important elements in ensuring efficient supply chain network for manufacturing of goods and products. Freight movement via rail is cost-effective, reliable, fast, and environment-friendly. It would be pertinent to point out that a single rail freight wagon can carry cargo equivalent to multiple trucks thereby decongesting Indian roads and saving precious foreign exchange worth billions of dollars annually in terms of diesel imports for the nation.

With more than 28,000 locomotives, 1.6 million rail cars and freight rail lines spanning across 140,000 miles — the U.S. Freight Rail system is one of the most efficient worldwide. This enables U.S.-based companies to manufacture products in cost-efficient manner within stipulated timeframes.

Passenger first

Indian Railways is also among the largest rail networks worldwide, and its route length network covers more than 67,956 kms, with 13,169 passenger trains and 8,479 freight trains, plying 23 million travellers and 3 million tonnes (MT) of freight daily from 7,349 stations.

However, this network is heavily tilted in favour of passenger traffic and therefore rail freight movement is much slower as across the congested network — passenger traffic enjoys right of way over freight movement.

In fact, it would surprise everyone to know that the average speed of a freight train in the United States is about 60 kmph with permitted axle load of nearly 30 tonnes vis-à-vis merely 25 kmph and permitted axle load of only 20.1 tonnes in India. Hence, the percentage share of freight movement via rail in the U.S. is much higher than in India.

In India, the cost of logistics is about 13-14% of GDP vis-à-vis merely 8% in the United States. This higher logistics costs increases the pricing of India’s products and therefore makes them uncompetitive on the global arena.

Two routes

It is therefore significant that the Indian Government is putting emphasis on freight rail infrastructure through construction of Dedicated Freight Corridors nationwide.

The more than 3,300-km-long planned national dedicated freight corridor has two routes. The 1,875 km Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC) runs between Ludhiana, Punjab and Dankuni, West Bengal near Kolkata. On the other hand, the 1,506 km Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC) runs between Dadri, Uttar Pradesh and the JNPT port in Mumbai.

The Dedicated Freight Corridor also played a critical role in helping the nation during the pandemic. During the second wave of pandemic, the Tata Projects’ built Dedicated Freight Corridor section was used to transport urgently needed oxygen to hospitals across Uttar Pradesh and even to Delhi — thereby saving countless lives and assisting the authorities.

Fully geared towards exclusively moving freight, these dedicated freight corridors have the ability to move cargo at speeds of nearly 100 kmph which is revolutionary in a nation wherein until now rail freight moved at merely 25 kmph.

Last year, Tata Projects had also completed an important 351 km stretch of New Bhaupur — New Khurja section of EDFC, which is situated in Uttar Pradesh. This section opened new vistas of opportunity for local industries such as Aluminium industry (Pukhrayan region of Kanpur Dehat district), Dairy sector (Auraiya district), Textile production/ Block printing (Etawah district), Glassware industry (Firozabad district), Pottery products (Khurja of Bulandshahr district), Asafoetida or ‘Hing’ production (Hathras district) and Locks and Hardware (Aligarh district). It is also helping to decongest the existing Kanpur-Delhi main line and enabling Indian Railways to run faster trains.

Mission possible

The completion of more sections of dedicated freight corridors will provide a fillip to local industries in a similar manner as industries benefitted from completion of New Bhaupur — New Khurja section of EDFC. Dedicated freight corridors have the potential to provide an impetus to domestic manufacturing and push it onto the global arena. ‘Make in India’ — a desire of a billion plus Indians is possible via rail route, an important enabler if not the only enabler.

May be the swish swosh of ship’s oars will not be heard any more but it will certainly be replaced with the clickety-clackety sound from rail tracks of train wagons laden with cargo.

Upon completion of Dedicated Freight Corridors, in terms of freight movement, Railways will certainly emerge as the ‘Lifeline of the Nation’.

The writer is Executive Vice-President & SBU Head, Transportation, Tata Projects Ltd.

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