Railways bolstering Automobile logistics : A development right on tracks


Amidst disruptions across sectors and industries, the Indian Railways has successfully contrived a silver lining in enabling the auto sector to explore vehicular transportation over rail. In this feature, we unravel the latest developments made by the Indian Railways in facilitating transport of vehicles by automakers while also underlining the importance of this mode of transport in reducing carbon emission.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent nationwide lockdown inevitably led to disruptions across industries. However, when it comes to seizing opportunities even in the most desperate of crises, the Indian Railways has certainly set a benchmark in exploring unchartered avenues even in the direst circumstances.

The Railways have emerged to be successful in diversifying the commodities it transported across the country and also making up for loss in revenue due to the pandemic-induced slowdown in passenger train services.

Limited availability of truck drivers, repeated obstructions in inter-state movement along with other notable factors such as a marked plunge in transit time and availability of monetary incentives have coerced top automobile manufacturers into taking recourse to the intricate network of the Indian Railways to transport vehicles.

Proposed Auto Logistics Hubs by the Railways

In what may seem as a major boost to automobile logistics, the Indian Railways has considered supporting the sector by providing facility and resources for two proposed automobile logistics hub in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Recently, Monica Agnihotri, Divisional Railway Manager, Lucknow Division had expressed the willingness to provide facilities for two proposed automobile logistics hub in Uttar Pradesh under the Lucknow (LJN) division of the Railways. Ms Agnihotri had also spoken about how lot of policy intervention has been made in order to propel the auto sector to come to the Indian Railways.

She had also remarked how new designs of automobile carriers are also underway, especially for the two wheeler segment, which remains untapped. At present, tractors and heavy vehicles are not transported via rail but the likelihood of it in the future surely remains bright.

Record freight loading through Rail

This year, the Indian Railways has achieved a significant milestone of pulling more freight traffic compared to last year’s level amid COVID-19 challenges, as per a Ministry of Railways statement in August.

On August 19, 2020, the freight loading was 3.11 million tonnes which is higher than last year for the same date (2.97 million tonnes). On the same date, Indian Railways also earned INR 306.1 crore from freight loading which is INR 5.28 crore higher than last year for the same date (INR 300.82 crore), as per the statement.

Better monitoring of rakes improved turnaround, ensuring better availability of rakes for loading. 243 rakes were loaded in August (2020) against 127 last year. Similarly, up to 9 September, 79 rakes were loaded as against 33 last year.

While attributing this figure to reduced passenger activity owing to COVID-19, Pawan Agarwal, Special Secretary to Logistics, Government of India acknowledged the feat achieved by the Railways even in the most unprecedented times.

“Due to reduced passenger movement/flow through rail services, there has been significant freight movement by Rail. Railways have also come out with timetables parcel trains, reaching out to customers to use railway freight services and so on. Moving forward, this has to be institutionalized. Once it is institutionalized, our reason of more cargo moving through rail will be achieved and intermodal transportation will get promoted”.

~Pawan Agarwal, Special Secretary to Logistics, Government of India

The lockdown had led to a substantial dip in loading during the months of April, May and June. It has since picked up from July.

The national transporter has been able to double its speed of freight trains from 23 kmph to 46 kmph as only a few passenger trains are operating across the country, reducing congestion drastically.

Increase in market share in Auto Logistics

Umesh Bhanot, Managing Director, APL Logistics Vascor Automotive Pvt. Ltd said that railways have increased its market share in automotive logistics this year owing to multiple reasons, including driver shortage in truck fleets due to covid-19 and the railways’ huge outreach across the industry.

Even for leading carmakers like Hyundai Motors, over 10% of the total volumes are dispatched through the railway from two terminals near their factories.

This mode cuts down the time taken to transport its newly built vehicles from its plants to dealers in various cities across the country.

Even India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki had recently said that it remains committed to making increased use of India’s vast rail network to transport its vehicles.

In 2019-20, Maruti Suzuki dispatched 1.78 lakh units using the rail mode and this recorded a 15% jump over figures from a year earlier. These units accounted for almost 12% of total sales for the company in the year.

A new design called BCACM which was developed by Indian Railways’ design arm – Research Design and Standard’s Organization is attributed for this development. The previous capacity to handle 125 cars was taken up to 265 cars using the double decker rakes which have transported 1.4 lakh Maruti cars since inception.

Another design upgrade caused the capacity to further rise to 318 cars and at speeds of 95 kmph, the Railway mode of transport has emerged as a quick, safe and viable option.

Maruti Suzuki is also the first auto manufacturer in the country to obtain the Automobile Freight Train Operator (AFTO) license which enables private firms to operate high speed, high capacity autowagon rakes on the Indian Railway’s network.

Untapped Potential

Automobiles are transported in dedicated rakes. The capacity of one such rake is  118 vehicles while a BCACBM rake, new high capacity Railway wagons, can carry about 300 vehicles.

At present, the Railways uses New Modified Goods rakes and privately owned BCACBM rakes for automobile transportation.

Movement of these rakes are being supervised and monitored to consider reduction in the turnaround time and subsequently making these rakes available for next loading for customers.

For example, for a state like Maharashtra which is a big automobile hub, where Mahindra, Tata, Ford, Piaggio and Bajaj manufacture vehicles near Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Nagpur and Aurangabad;there is a significant potential to carry automobiles manufactured in Maharashtra to different parts of the country.

On the Road to reducing Carbon Emission

The Central Railway has been emphasising on transporting cars by trains in a bid to reduce carbon emissions, thereby helping to achieving their target of a mass transportation network with ‘Net Zero’ carbon emission by 2030.

As a part of this mission, Central Railway in coordination with automobile companies like Mahindra and Mahindra has started loading cars to parts of India, as per a press release from the Central Railway.

The Railways has also appealed to customers to join hands with Central Railway and participate in saving carbon footprint.

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