Rail cargo wagons to Nepal peak as govt lends help

Pratim Ranjan Bose Kolkata. December 4 | Updated on January 09, 2018

CONCOR ran four fully loaded rakes from Vizag to Birgunj in November, indicating increasing popularity of the service   -  Paul Noronha

The Centre’s sustained focus to offer landlocked Nepal more efficient port and logistics options for third country imports, has started yielding results.

According to RB Rauniar, Managing Director of the Kathmandu-based Interstate Multi-modal Transport Ltd, and the Nepalese partner of the Container Corporation (CONCOR) operated JV Himalayan Terminals at Birgunj, while turnaround time for imports through Kolkata reduced substantially, imports through Vizag port is also picking up.

Significantly, the improvement is achieved despite major damage of the rail infrastructure — such as snapping of the key Darbhanga-Sitamari-Raxaul rail link during the devastating floods in North Bihar this August. The link was restored on November 25.

Problems in rail services notwithstanding, the Himalayan Terminal handled 40 rakes carrying 3,550 TEUs (twenty feet equivalent containers) in November. This is significantly higher than the average of 32 rakes a month and higher than the previous best of 38 rakes a month

Vizag Port

Visakhapatnam Port surely has a contribution in this improved showing. India opened Visakhapatnam, parallel to Kolkata, for use of Nepalese importers early this year. However, importers had to wait till June before CONCOR could gather enough containers to run the first rake, at half the capacity of 90 containers, in June.

The situation improved marginally in August. But as in November, CONCOR ran four fully loaded rakes from Vizag to Birgunj, indicating increasing popularity of the service. According to sources, Nepalese lined up import of nearly 300 containers, mostly carrying pulses from Myanmar through Vizag in the coming months.

“Nepalese importers are showing increasing interest in using Vizag port facilities,” Vishnu Chowdhary, CEO of Himalayan Terminal told BusinessLine. He is expecting the volumes from Visakhapatnam to rise in the days to come.

Interestingly, Visakhapatnam attracts higher rail freight as the distance from Birgunj is double to that of Kolkata. However, lower sea freight and higher efficiency, vis-a-vis Kolkata Port, is making Vizag cost-competitive to users.

Chowdhary, however, points out that a special initiative on the part of CONCOR to improve the loading rate from Kolkata made the maximum difference.

Kolkata operations

Rail movement from Kolkata suffers due to inefficiencies of the Kolkata Port (KoPT) which takes seven days to unload containers from the ship and load it to rakes. The net result is the port could clear a fraction of the weekly arrival of 700-100 containers.

Naturally as in October, the pendancy rate (containers waiting to be loaded in rakes) at Kolkata was 1,200 TEUs. The port and the shipping lines made money from the daily detention fee. Imports were costlier.

Special permission

To solve the riddle, CONCOR took an initiative to load containers (parallel to the port), from its own terminal in Kolkata under special permission from customs. The importers, however, had to pay the trailer charges for carrying containers from the port to CONCOR terminal.

The net result is while 24 rakes were loaded from Netaji Subhash Dock of KoPT in November, an additional 12 rakes were loaded from the CONCOR facility — increasing the total rake arrival from Kolkata by 50 per cent. The pendancy rate at port is also down to 285 TEUs on December 1.

Chowdhary is hopeful that resumption of Sitamari rail link will reduce journey time from Kolkata to Birgunj, creating scope for reduced turnaround time of rakes and higher capacity utilisation of Himalayan Terminal in the next few months.

“The monthly averages can be improved to 50 rakes,” he said.

There is, however, a catch in the story. Customs allowed CONCOR to load rakes from its own facility till February. Discontinuation of services might impact the loading rate.

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Published on December 04, 2017
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