[Freight] traffic is moving towards Kandla, Mundra, Pipavav and Dahej in Gujarat. SUBODH JAIN, GENERAL MANAGER, CENTRAL RAILWAY
With freight traffic contracting, the Central Railway is concentrating more on passengers. “If I have to increase my earnings, I have to pick up each and every passenger,” says General Manager Subodh Jain in an interview to Business Line.
Your average daily earnings for the first 10 days in January is Rs 26.15 crore. How do you plan to increase earnings with the same infrastructure?
The figure will be about Rs 29 crore, if you include cash sales over the counter. I earn about Rs 85,000 per-track-km per month. My operating ratio including all costs (pension liabilities) is 95 per cent.
For higher earnings, we have started utilising existing capacity better. I have diverted Pragati express via Panvel-Karjat. The next train to Pune also will be via Panvel. In the last three months, we have increased the length of all trains to at least 20 coaches. Platforms at Pune and Solapur have been extended to handle 24-coach rakes. Minor investments have enabled better revenue generation. However, freight is tapering off, as we have been increasing freight rates and also due to a slowdown.
There is no demand for wagons from cement companies. Kalamboli terminal, which used to handle cement freight, is idling. Our gross receipts were Rs 6,879 crore up to December, of which goods is Rs 3,997 crore (59 per cent). Freight component is going down and passenger component is rising. Our mainstays are the ports of Mumbai and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT). Now, traffic is moving towards Kandla, Mundra, Pipavav and Dahej (after gauge conversion) in Gujarat. Originating load is going down, and I only get that portion of the freight which runs on my territory. I need to concentrate on passenger traffic as a business strategy, whether profit or loss. But with the same infrastructure, if I have to increase my earnings I have to pick up each and every passenger. For this, we have assured reservation service in 14-15 trains such as Sewagram, Madgaon and Aurangabad Jan Shatabdis, attaching extra coaches to clear waitlisted passengers. Ours is the only railway zone which met passenger revenue targets until December without raising fares.
Any plans to enhance freight origination?
Freight earnings are very difficult to increase. It depends on so many factors such as economy and ports. For instance, JNPT increased its tariff to Rs 400, I suffer because shippers won’t come to me.
How much has freight dropped?
Last year I handled 980 wagons a day and this year it is 780 wagons a day, a 20 per cent drop. Now, it is picking up in the last 15-20 days. The decline in freight is only due to JNPT. Our freight share may not improve. Export traffic is going down and import is rising, and Concor is hesitant to send in empty container rakes for import alone. There is already a huge pile-up of containers at Gurgaon. They say, ‘let me get export freight and then I will bring containers.’ Where will they get the freight from? And what do we do when such a traffic imbalance occurs.
The Central Railway is the first to have private freight terminals: we have four. Three more — Kalamboli, Thal and one near Pen — are in the pipeline. Private operators usually ferry liquid cargo, which we do not. We carry milk from Solapur, but that is no more than symbolic.
Why did you choose to electrify single-line sections (such as Daund-Manmad) before doubling them?
We used to electrify double-line sections which had a certain level of traffic, because diesel is always more expensive than electricity. Electrification has some fixed costs related to overhead equipment and maintenance staff whether we run the train or not. In the case of diesel, I spend only if I run the train. About 15 years ago our breakeven point was 25 GMT (gross million tonne) a year for both passenger and freight. Now it has come down to below 15 after the electricity reforms in 2003.
With steadily rising crude oil prices, the day is not far when diesel traction will become prohibitively costly. Single-line electrification is now viable if annual traffic is above 20 GMT. Moreover, if I leave the Daund-Manmad section un-electrified (with electric traction at both ends), I have to keep diesel locos at both ends slowing down operations, as the crew and locos need to be changed. The concept that single-line electrification should not be done is past. I have to electrify to the extent of money I have. We are able to get Asian Development Bank (ADB) funding for electrification.
Why is the doubling on Mumbai-Chennai route getting delayed?
We always had a resource constraint, and hence we did patch doubling, as this increases capacity. In critical sections with gradients and curves, we do the doubling first to remove bottlenecks. Finally, we got ADB funding and the project is being executed by Rail Vikas Nigam. The expected time of completion is two years from now, as tenders are being finalised for both doubling and electrification.
What about power supply?
I will always get power, as I pay cash. We are the most disciplined paymasters. And we also haul coal. Our power bill is Rs 120 crore a month for electric traction apart from Rs 18 crore for non-traction.