How the speed of freight trains has changed over the years

National rail

The freight trains or cargo trains are a group of goods wagons hauled by one or more locomotives. It is a part of the logistics system and is used to transport cargo from the shipper to the intended destination.

The trains which haul bulk material, intermodal containers, general freight, or specialized freight in purpose-designed cars were earlier leveraged as one of the main modes to transport goods from one destination to another. However, in the 1950s the road transport worked as a wrecking ball for the rail freight sector, and the Indian Railways market share for freight transport dropped from a peak of 70% to just 30%.

With faster door-to-door services and guaranteed delivery scheduled the road transport was assertively taking away the railways’ freight business, alarming the segment to take strict measures.

One of the prime reasons for the shift in business from rail to the road was the speed at which goods are delivered. With changing times, consumers demanded their goods to reach their door in the least possible time and the freight rails lacked the speed required to meet the changing consumer demands.

According to Statista’s data, the average freight train speed across India in the year 1951 was at 17.4 km/hr which dropped in the year 1961 to 16.1 km/hr and then took an upward trend in 1971 with a speed recording at 17.9km/hr.

While the year 2011 recorded the fastest average speed achieved by the railways i.e., 25.6 km/hr, it went down the spiral over the next few years with the average speed at 23.4 in 2016, 23.7 in 2017, 23.3 in 2018, and 23.2 in 2019.

The railway’s freight business which was struggling hard to achieve efficiency on the busy tracks of the Indian Railways in the year 2020 set new records in terms of freight train speeds and efficiency by recording an average speed of 42km/hr in June 2020.

The coronavirus induced lockdown most definitely helped the railways double their average speed. It weathered the congestions on the rail tracks allowing freight trains to move at a faster speed.

In November 2020 we also witnessed the container freight train running at a speed of 100Kmph between the BSM-VRDP section in the SBC Division, with a trailing load of 1800 tons hauled by WAG9/41055 of KJM Shed.

With the commencement of operations on the New Khurja – New Bhaupur section of the Dedicated Freight Corridor, the goods train clocked a top speed of 90Kmph. Up till January 3, 2021, 32 out of 53 trains operated between the New Khurja – New Bhaupur (Down Direction) ran at the highest total speed of 83.70 kph and 21 trains were operated at a maximum speed of 85.98 kmph.

The new records achieved by the Indian Railways are meeting with the Railway Ministry’s aim to maintain the higher speed of freight trains attained during 2020 in 2021 as well.

Role of Dedicated Freight Corridors

The completion of the DFC project will play a vital role in improving the speed of freight rain, reducing the turn-around time, and increasing efficiency, which will in-turn bag more business for the Indian Rail freight Market.

The project was conceptualized a decade ago in 2006 and comprises of two main corridors — 1,504-km western corridor and 1,856-km eastern corridor— spanning 3,360 km. The proposed western corridor connecting Dadri in Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai’s JNPT would pass through Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra, while the eastern corridor (originating from Dankuni in West Bengal) is designed to pass through Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana to terminate in Ludhiana (Punjab).

Understanding the priorities of the Indian Railways and the need for an efficient freight network, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the recent budget spoke about commissioning of the Eastern and Western DFC. She said the priority is to bring down the logistics cost for the industry to promote Make in India. Further, she informed that more freight corridors will be taken up in the future. Which are: the East Coast corridor from Kharagpur to Vijayawada, East-West Corridor from Bhusaval to Kharagpur to Dankuni, and North-South Corridor from Itarsi to Vijayawada.

With the development of the ongoing DFC and new projects coming up, the Railway’s freight business will be able to guarantee delivery schedules of freights and commence a new era of faster and safe freight services.  

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