Coronavirus outbreak pulls down rail freight traffic to historic low

The saw the first drop in freight traffic in the 18 years for which the data is available as the country went into a nationwide in March to control the spread of

For 2019-20, freight volume declined 12.7 million tonnes (mt) while earnings from it were down Rs 2,096 crore.

The distress was evident in passenger figures, too. Passenger earnings for 2019-20 contracted marginally by 1.07 per cent to Rs 50,472.20 crore. For the first 20 days of April, the national transporter saw a loss of Rs 463.30 crore in its earnings from passenger services, down 115.49 per cent from Rs 2,990.8 crore during the same period in 2019.

The contraction in earnings from passenger reservation system (PRS) and non-PRS is mainly because of advance bookings getting cancelled following uncertainties over an extension in the lockdown, and staff cost.

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The Railways handled 1,210.46 mt of freight in 2019-20 compared to 1223.17 mt in 2018-19, posting a marginal decline of 1.04 per cent. Similarly, earnings for the year also saw a drop of 1.67 per cent to Rs 1.23 trillion as against Rs 1.25 trillion for 2018-19.

The drop in these figures was mainly because of the decline in freight traffic in light of Covid-19 restrictions and in the later part of the month.

Annual freight loading for 2019-20 was seen at 1,196.4 mt till March 24, marginally up 0.51 per cent from the April to March 24 period of 2018-19.

Earnings on the other hand were down 0.1 per cent till March 24 against last year. β€œIn the month of January and February, the had done a wonderful job and they were poised to post a rise in traffic figures. However, the drop in traffic in the last 15 days of March and force majeure in certain sectors hurt critical earnings,” said R Sivadasan, former finance commissioner with the Railways. The January-March quarter is good for freight movement.

During March 2020, the freight traffic at 103.07 mt was down 13.92 per cent over 2018-19, while earnings, too, dropped 19.39 per cent Rs 10,215.03 crore. In the current year so far, freight traffic saw a decline, except in foodgrain, flour and pulses.

For the April 1-4 2020 period, freight traffic decreased 34.14 per cent to 74.75 mt, while earnings for the period, too, dipped 43 per cent to Rs 6,836.10 crore.

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During the lockdown, loading of foodgrain, flour and pulses increased by 128.62 per cent to 6.79 mt during the four days of April, but cement and clinker loading declined. Showing the sign of shrinking infrastructure activity, cement loading dropped 84.46 per cent and iron and steel by 43.25 per cent.

After passenger services were stopped, earnings for March dropped 62.36 per cent. During the first phase of the for 21 days, the Railways had continued advance bookings for journeys starting after April 14.

According to reports, over 3.9 million tickets booked between April 15 and May 3 got cancelled after the lockdown got extended.

Advanced bookings, however, were stopped when the lockdown entered the second phase from April 15.

When fully operational, the Railways runs around 12,500 trains on a daily basis β€” including 9,000 passenger trains and 3,500 mail express ones.

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