Coal India’s road to boosting growth

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Coal India’s road to boosting growth

Railways has done well to accord priority to the creation of additional capacity on important trunk routes. When completed, railways can easily carry incremental traffic

In its effort to reach a target of producing 1,000 million tonne of coal by 2020, Coal India Limited (CIL) will be aided in no small measure by the Indian Railway Construction Organisation (IRCON), which is busy laying two brand new lines to reach the hitherto untapped coal deposits in the Indian State of Chhattisgarh.

At present, coal from the south-eastern collieries are moved via the Kolkata-Nagpur main line while coal from northern collieries are moved via the Katni-Singrauli and Annupur-Ambikapur line to the thermal plants located in west and northern regions. The new electrified double line broad gauge corridors will help the CIL to tap virgin coal deposits in Chhattisgarh and move them along these two main arteries.

A special purpose vehicle (SPV), called the Chhattisgarh East Railway Limited, with 24 per cent equity being held by IRCON, 64 per cent by the South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECR) and balance 10 per cent by the Chhattisgarh State Industrial Development Corporation (CSIDC), in the form of land, has been set up with headquarters at Raipur.

Corridor I, known as the SECR-east corridor, will connect Kharsia station located on the Jharsuguda junction to Champa junction, section of the South East Central Railway 64km to Dharamjaygarh in the north and further 62km to Korba with a spur from Gharghoda to Donga Mahua. Estimated to cost around Rs 2,323 crore, this corridor will help fully tap the Gare-Pelma coal block.

Corridor II, a 165-km section, would connect the existing stations Gevra road to Pendra road of SECR. Estimated to cost Rs 3,000 crore, another SPV, Chhattisgarh East West Rail Corporation Limited, with IRCON, SECL and CSIDC holding equity, is undertaking the project to evacuate greater volumes of coal from Gevra, Dipka and Kusmunda mines.

Realising the importance of this project, the Ministry of Railways has notified the East-West Rail corridor in the State of Chhattisgarh, as a ‘special railway project', to provide national infrastructure for public purpose and has also directed for acquisition of land under the Railways Act, 1989, so that this vital activity does not delay the project.

In addition, IRCON is charged with converting the existing  306-km long Katni-Singrauli single line to double-line and simultaneously electrify it. This will more than treble its throughput capacity. Presently over 90 per cent of the trains running on this section carry coal. This project could enable more passenger services to be run.

Katni is an important junction where Allahabad to Mumbai main line crosses the Bina to Bilaspur main line. Both are busy corridors with dozens of super-fast passenger trains. Resultantly, around 50 per cent of the coal loads from the Northern Collieries Limited of CIL, which pass through this junction, get delayed for as much as two to four hours for want of a passage.

The two new corridors, which will generate more traffic passing through this junction would further exacerbate the problem. Hence, grade separators have been planned — a 14-km long section on the down line and a shorter seven-km long stretch on the up line — providing an unimpeded passage to these coal loads in empty as well as loaded directions.

However, reportedly, thermal plants in India are currently operating at an average of 55 per cent of their installed capacity due to weak demand. Moreover, major developments in non-conventional sources of energy, such as solar power, have further placed a question mark on the financial viability of some thermal plants which may remain mothballed due to relatively high cost of power generation and lack of Power Purchase Agreements. Apparently keeping this in mind the target for CIL for 2017-18 has already been scaled down from 660 to 600 million tonne.

Fortunately after a long gap of over two decades, a Railway Minister has accorded top priority for the creation of additional capacity on important trunk routes which were choked with traffic being forced to move at 150 per cent of their designed capacity. By 2020 when scores of these capacity augmentation projects are commissioned, perhaps for the first time in its 160-year long history, the Indian Railways will easily carry any incremental traffic for the next couple of decades, if not more.

The Economic Survey of 2016 had noted that every rupee invested in railways has a multiplier effect of Rs 3.3 for the Indian economy. However, the railway will succeed in boosting the economy only if the economy picks up, and for once it will not be for want of its capability to provide a fast, safe and cost effective mode of mass transport.

(The writer is a former Member, Railway Board)

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