India is a huge country, with a huge population. We rank seventh in terms of land area and second in terms of total population. These huge numbers mean that our requirement for resources is paramount. A majority of our needs are sourced locally, but for the things that we cannot find in India, they are imported via shipping or air mail. Bringing goods and resources into a country via shipping is the most commonly used method.
India has a good amount of ports, and they act as a centre for commerce. Places such as Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata flourished during old times as they also functioned as ports. Back in the day ports were the source of all business and commodities exchange; this has stayed true to this day. The port cities of Mumbai and Chennai still bring in a majority of the imports in India, developing port cities of Vishakhapatnam and Kochi also bring in major shares of import.
Carrying these imported goods inland is where the problem arises. Most resources and commodities weigh a lot, and roads although commonly used are not the most feasible means. The Indian Railways ferries goods and commodities across the length and breadth of India, and fuels the industrial, agricultural and consumer segments of the economy. Since the IR became fully functional, it has historically subsidized the passenger segment with income from the freight business. As a direct result of this, the freight business is unable to compete with other forms of transport on both cost and speed of delivery, this leads to a huge erosion in the market share.
To combat the existing problems, IR has started new initiatives in freight segments, which includes new upgrades of existing goods sheds, attracting private sector capital to build various multi-commodity and multi-modal logistics terminals, changing container sizes, tweaking with the freight product and pricing mix and operating time-tabled freight trains.
An already existing solution that can fix a host of problems for the freight department is an integrated end-to-end solution called a roll-on, roll-off (RORO) service, a system pioneered by the Konkan Railways in 1999. This system carries trucks on flatbed trailers, and now is being extended all across India.
The upcoming dedicated freight corridor project could be the game changer that will propel IR’s revenues through the roof. This corridor is all set to come into operation in 2020, when fully functional, the corridor covers nearly 3300 kilometres and could theoretically support hauling trains up to 1.5 kilometres in length via a 32.5-ton axle-load at speeds of 100km/hr. Also, this will drastically free up the passage on passenger routes, allowing the IR to operate trains at higher speeds. On top of this, there are plans for various other corridors already in place, which will expand the freight infrastructure.
Most of the systems are now online, and the IR can track various data and metrics on freight trains such as rly enquiry, the speed and load of the trains, and the expected arrival of the trains.