The National Rail Plan’s projections for the next 30 years are divorced from climate change and energy realities. This could have grave financial implications for Indian Railways (IR). These miscalculations are important enough for Piyush Goyal to reconsider before the draft national railways plan is finalised.
The draft National Rail Plan (NRP), released at the end of 2020, is an admirable attempt to forecast required capacity additions till 2030, and set the stage for 2050 requirements. Unfortunately, in at least its projections for coal freight, it serves as a standout example of siloed planning that has not taken into account larger geopolitical and technological shifts underway.
Several experts have warned that IR is overly dependent on coal freight for its revenue. In 2018, coal accounted for 49% of its freight by volume and over 60% by revenue, with 575 MT transported across the rail network. Diversification towards other cargo is obviously essential for the railways’ financial security. The NRP projects such diversification, anticipating that coal’s share of volume will drop to 39% by 2024 and 23% by 2051. Sounds good, except that this share decline masks a projected doubling of volume by 2031 (1,050 MT), and a near tripling (1,577 MT) by 2051.
According to the draft, in FY2019, coal tonnage moved across all freight sectors (road, rail and shipping) was 965 MT. NRP projects that total coal demand will grow to 1,502 MT by 2031 and 2,136 MT till 2051, of which IR would transport 70% or more.