Bangalore: The Indian Railways is taking on truckers—traditional rivals in the auto logistics business—by building trains specially designed to carry more cars.
Last month, the railways started trial runs using two such trains, called auto wagons, designed by the Research Designs and Standards Organization, in Lucknow, and built at the Jagadhari workshop near Ambala in Haryana.
These trains have 45 double-deck covered wagons, each capable of carrying six small cars. One train can load 270 cars, at least double the capacity of existing wagons.
Ready to load: An auto wagon carrying Maruti Suzuki’s Alto cars.
Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, India’s biggest car maker, used these auto wagons to transport the first export consignment of its new small car, the A-star, from the Gurgaon station, about 15km from its Manesar plant in Haryana, to Mundra Port in Gujarat.
The 1,150km distance between Gurgaon station and Mundra Port was covered in 51 hours. “We plan to cut transit time to 30 hours,” said a Maruti Suzuki executive who didn’t want to be named.
From the port, the cars were loaded on a carrier owned by Japanese shipping firm NYK Line and shipped to Europe.
Until now, Maruti Suzuki had been transporting cars by rail in what the railways call new modified goods trains that have a capacity of 125 cars. These trains are old passenger bogies converted into goods wagons.
“We want to enter the auto logistics business in a big way to increase the rail dispatches of cars,” said a railway ministry official who didn’t want to be named. “Less than 2% of the finished vehicles manufactured in India (about 1.6 million cars annually) are now transported by rail, the balance is by road.”
In comparison, nearly 25% of cars made in Europe, the US and China are transported by a combination of rail and water.
For almost a year beginning mid-2006, Maruti Suzuki had transported cars by rail to Mundra Port and then on ships to customers in Kochi. This was discontinued in September after Maruti turned down a demand from the ship operator, Shreyas Shipping and Logistics Ltd to raise rates.
Maruti Suzuki is now building a terminal siding inside its plant so that cars rolling out of the plant can be loaded directly on to the auto wagons, said the company executive.
The railways plans to induct 10 more auto wagons. Each auto wagons costs about Rs15 crore to build.