To keep the wheels of their supply chains running, FMCG majors try out trains in lockdown

Mamuni Das/Meenakshi Verma Ambwani New Delhi | Updated on May 08, 2020 Published on May 08, 2020

As pandemic-triggered lockdown caused trucks to go off-road, FMCG majors such as P&G and ITC took to parcel trains to ferry essential products, some of which saw accelerated demand due to Covid-19. This was even done for shorter distances, lesser volumes and high-value cargo requiring careful handling.

Impressed by the services being offered by the railways, a few FMCG majors, may continue riding the trains post-COVID-19 crisis as well.

P&G's largest factory, at Mandideep near Bhopal, which makes sanitary products, has started using trains for the first time. In fact, P&G has booked vehicle parcel units exclusively to move its products, said a railway official. The products include Vicks, Whisper sanitary napkins and Pampers (diapers). These parcel vans have been moving from the Bhopal division of Indian Railways to Nizamuddin in Delhi, Yeshwanthpur in Bengaluru, and Howrah in Kolkata during the lockdown period, according to officials.

Indian Railways is now able to move time-tabled parcel trains as its tracks are emptier with almost no passenger trains running. ITC has traditionally used trains for large volumes of raw materials such as wheat and finished goods such as salt over long distances for many years. But S Sivakumar, Group Head, Agri-Business, ITC Ltd said that with disruption in the road transport post-Covid coupled with the enterprising approach taken by the Railways officials, the company has begun using railways in previously unimagined ways.

"For smaller volumes and shorter distances, road transport was the preferred mode conventionally. Now, with Railways offering parcel trains to carry small volumes also, both on time-tabled routes as well as customer-specific routes, they become relevant." Sivakumar said.

Impressed by the timely connectivity, ITC started opting for parcel trains even though it found its parcel rates to be higher than the then prevailing truck freights on similar routes. "With a positive experience during these times of crisis, Railways and the industry can collaborate even more closely in future also, to design more customised transportation opportunities along identified lanes," Sivakumar hoped.

Similar experiences were shared by Gaurav Singhal, manager of Gaurav Textiles, who sent thermal packing material for medicines from his factory in Meerut (Uttar Pradesh) to Goa, in parcel train for the first time. “The railway officials helped us get requisite clearances required to move our trucks in the last mile, and informed us when our cargo will reach,” he said.

Railways, which has a parcel tracking system, is also working towards improving the visibility of the parcels across more stations using its IT systems. Railways' parcel vans are using trains for below 500 km as well as long distances cargo, said another railway official.

E-commerce players like Amazon and Flipkart are also using trains. Several divisions and zones started loading more parcel cargo than the same time last year. "Despite the continuation of lockdown, West Central Railway, which houses Bhopal division, has loaded more cargo in the first 24 days of April, compared to the same time last year," an official said.

This trend of cargo-shift from the road to railways is getting accentuated because trucks traffic flow is still far from normal despite attempts to restore normalcy. “There is still a lack of enough co-ordination between State-level authorities regarding essential transport in certain regions. Higher rates are being charged especially for inter-State transport, with an increase [of] upwards of 40 per cent and there is a definite shortage of labour on the ground which is also affecting last-mile deliveries" said Kartik Johari, Vice-President, Nobel Hygiene.

Published on May 08, 2020

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