Workers load sacks of food grains inside a goods train amid the lockdown in Ranchi on Tuesday. (PTI)
Indian Railways has for the first time in 40 years fallen short of its previous year’s freight loading figures.
At 1,209 million tonnes, it is 14 million tonnes short of its freight loading figures as of the end of the last financial year, even while being on course to surpass previous year’s record in February, which had witnessed the highest freight loading figures.
As the country came in the grip of the COVID-19 outbreak by the middle of March and many states started restricting business and industrial activities in a partial lockdown, the need to transport goods also ebbed. So, by the end of February, Railways carried 4 million tonnes of more freight than it did by the end of February 2019.
But, in March, it carried 18 million tonnes less goods than the previous year. And, March 18 onwards, the volumes started dropping about 50 per cent.
From loading about 61,000 wagons per day pre-lockdown, the number dropped to around 34,000 wagons per day during the lockdown.
Power demand was already down 10-15 per cent before the lockdown, Railway officials said, so was the need to carry coal to the power houses. So, coal carried to power plants was just about 50 million tonnes in March — a sharp decline of 10 million tonnes compared to last March. However, even during the lockdown period when movement of goods trains has been exempted, it has not been easy for the national transporter.
At present, about 130 goods trains, loaded with cement, are stabled at unloading points at its premises. “The usual business model of cement industry was to not take cement to gowdowns but directly dump them to various construction sites from trains only. Now, that construction activity is not there, manufacturers and distributors are not finding space to keep them,” said a Railway official.
Foodgrains are loading and unloading well, albeit slowly, making room for reduced labour and maintaining social distancing. Even after the lockdown is lifted, officials said, the availability of labour might be an issue.