The Railways has also increased the average daily loading of coal rakes to more than 400, which is the highest ever in the past five years.
Sources said the national transporter has committed to provide 415 coal rakes daily, each carrying around 3,500 tonnes, to meet the present demand. They added that this drill will continue for at least two more months to improve stocks at power plants and avoid any crisis in July-August when coal mining is least due to rain.
“There are protests against cancellation of passenger trains in different states, but we have no option left with us as the immediate need is to ensure that there is no coal shortage at power plants and there is no black out. It’s a catch 22 situation for us. We hope to get over this temporary phase,” said a railway ministry official. The official added that since the power plants are located across the country, the Railways have to run long distance trains and so a large number of coal rakes are in transit for 3-4 days. A large share of domestic coal is transported from the eastern sector to the northern, central and western parts of India.
According to official data, the Railways loaded barely 269 coal rakes daily in 2016-17. It was ramped up in 2017-18 and 2018-19. But during the next two years, the loading fell to 267 rakes per day. Last year, this was increased to 347 per day and till Thursday the number of rakes loaded with coal stood around 400-405 per day. Officials added that there is an unprecedented increase in coal demand this year and rail remains the preferred mode of transport for this.
Coal is used for generating about 70% of India’s electricity. The Railways has also taken several steps to increase the loading and transport of coal including running of long-haul trains on both the Indian Railways and dedicated freight corridor networks, intense monitoring of detention of all coal rakes at loading and unloading points and also of their movement by senior functionaries. In case of asset failure on coal routes, the railways has made it mandatory for senior officers to rush to the site for restoration of defects “on priority”.
It has also imposed loading restrictions for Kisan rails and parcels on select routes.