Before Maruti sends its cars by rail, it wants to see how they stack up—after literally being stacked up for a road run.
Railway minister Lalu Prasad had announced in Monday’s Railway Budget an ambitious plan to run more double and triple-stacked container trains, which could be used to transport cars.
However, Maruti Udyog Ltd, India’s biggest car maker, wants to try out the idea first, to ensure its precious cargo isn’t damaged.
It plans to begin trial runs by packing cars into containers and moving them around its factory premises in trucks, said an official with Pipavav Railway Corporation.
This, it hopes, will simulate the process of transporting cars in containers by train. Maruti didn’t return calls seeking comment.
If the cars emerge unscathed, it could be a win-win situation for Maruti and the railways: it costs Rs9,500 to carry a car from Delhi to Chennai by road. In comparison, the railways carry a car for as little as Rs6,400—nearly a third cheaper.
For a start, not a lot of car makers in the country use the railway system to transport their products, because they find it erratic.
Maruti, for instance, transports only about 1% of its total annual production by train. This works out to a mere 6,000 cars.
“While the tariff is definitely cheaper, the railways doesn’t guarantee the availability of wagons or routes,” said an industry official, who wished not to be named.
The railways carries cars in modified passenger coaches, where they strip out the berths. In other parts of the world, wagons are tailor-made to transport vehicles.
Under the latest plan, the special car-carrying containers will be of shorter height (around 6.5 feet) as opposed to a standard container of 8.5 feet.
A pilot project, where standard containers are double-stacked, is under way between Pipavav and Jaipur.
Even with current tariffs, the proposal could help car makers save money on transportation since 500 cars can be transported in a single triple-stacked container train compared with 125 cars now.
Moreover, even a double-stacked container train would allow as many as 360 cars to be carried in a single trip.
Not only that, Prasad has promised to change the tariffs for items such as motor cars from a “per-tonne kilometre” system to one where the car makers can pay a flat fee on each kilometre the train travels, irrespective of how many cars are carried. As a result, using trains may get cheaper.
The industry is waiting for the new tariff rates before deciding on this new mode of carriage.
Container operators such as the state-owned Container Corporation of India (Concor) are hoping the scheme will bring them more business.
“We expect this to help us enter the business of transporting cars,” said Rakesh Mehrotra, managing director of Concor.