`Freight initiatives to bring back traffic'

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Ms Vijayalakshmi Viswanathan
Ms Vijayalakshmi Viswanathan

G. Srinivasan

New Delhi, Feb. 26

THE crux of the 2005-06 Rail Budget is "to gear ourselves for the incremental loading of another 35 million tonnes for the third successive year and to ensure that the throughput enhancement works are completed", says the Financial Commissioner, Indian Railways, Ms Vijayalakshmi Viswanathan.

In an interview to Business Line here on the Rail Budget, Ms Viswanathan said that a large number of freight initiatives have been taken to ensure that "whatever traffic had gone to roads comes back to railways".

When her attention was drawn to the rationalisation proposal of goods tariff, she said that this move would yield Rs 650 crore and viewed against the projection of freight earnings of Rs 33,000 crore next year, it is hardly two per cent of the total. The rationalisation would not affect cement, finished products of steel and coal but one or two Classes increase would be in fertilisers, which are all, moved in bulk.

Foodgrain and iron ore for export purposes would be affected, she added.

Ms Viswanathan said that passenger traffic growth was double at 6 per cent and a number of initiatives have been proposed to make this section more attractive. A review of the trains suffering less occupancy is on the anvil and if ultimately these are taken out of the system passenger earning operation cost will come down, she said adding that "wherever there is patronage, the number of trains will be augmented".

Here, "every coach you add with ordinary sleeper classes having 72 berths, to the extent the unit cost of that particular train will come down and reduce the operating cost, besides reducing the cancellation of passenger tickets which has been happening because of the uncertainty of the waiting list position".

On the Integrated Modernisation Plan proposed last November, Ms Viswanathan said a lot of inputs will have to be given on the entire routes and as and when they are ready, the speeding up of passenger trains at 150 kmph and freight at 100 kmph would begin. "We have got rolling stock capable of running at speeds specified, may be not on the entire route but initially up to Jhansi or Nagpur".

She said that for freight operations, "we are planning a number of terminal improvement facilities. Freight examination points are going to be strengthened which means the train will not wait for examination at intermediate points. If a train has 6,000 km fit-to-run certificate, to the extent there is flexibility. It will be on the system for more number of hours and therefore speed will go up".

Referring to Rs 3,000 crore being made available to the Railways over and above the Rs 15,349 crore annual Plan for the next fiscal, Ms Viswanathan said "we have got a large number of viable projects mainly for throughput enhancement and doubling of terminal facilities. We will work on these once the modalities of the scheme are known and how the project will have to be posed".

She said the finances of the railways are in the "pink of health and it is in the rosiest position now. We have projected operating ratio at 92.6, it came down to 91.2 and we are planning to take it to 90.82 and this contains an element of depreciation reserve fund, which is not profit in the commercial term. This year, working ratio is only above 87, which we propose to bring it to 85. We will be ending up with a very healthy closing balances in DRF and development fund."

She said that even in investment pattern, "we have not spread the resources thin on all the rail projects as we focus on routes where we would be tackling extra load. We are going to monitor the completion of these programmes and 75 throughput enhancement works have been identified for monitoring"

Stating that her current year freight projections are not "unrealistic", she said that "if the buoyancy in the economy persists and if the traffic continues to boom like what it is now, we are definitely going to get higher earnings and bring down the operating ratio".

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 27, 2005)
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