AT THE END of February Indian Minister of Railways Laloo Prasad Yadav published an unashamedly populist budget for IR’s 2005-06 financial year, with no fares increases at all and no rise in freight rates. Freight tariffs are, however, to be heavily simplified, with rates for 4000 different types of traffic grouped into 80 categories.

Rather unexpected was a proposal to introduce private-sector competition in the freight business, although the impact will be limited as it will apply only to container traffic. Details are due to be agreed in May or June, but the plan is to end the monopoly enjoyed until now by Container Corp of India (Concor). Container traffic is expected to continue rising at the rate of 15% a year, and capacity may well become a critical issue as the Indian economy booms.

The proposals have attracted interest from several companies, including some which already operate inland container terminals. Pipavav Railways, Central Warehousing Corp and P&O Ports are all considering the idea, with PR looking at a route between Pipavav port in Gujarat and the Delhi area and POP examining schemes for services from Mundra and Kandla to northern India. In a related move, Western Railway has mooted the possibility of using double-stack container trains on its non-electrified route between Gandhidham and Rewari through Jaipur, and a feasibility report on this project was due to be submitted by Canac last month.

IR is also hoping to cash in on the massive world demand for iron ore, with Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd considering plans to construct a dedicated line to carry ore from Haridaspur to Paradip. This would be a heavy haul line designed for 30 tonne axleloads, according to RNVL Director of Operations R K Jain.