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‘Turnaround’ of Indian Railways: Increasing the Axle Loading

By G. Raghuram and Shukla Niraja


Axle loading had contributed significantly to the ‘turnaround’ of the Indian Railways (IR) in the two years 2004-06. As the Minister of Railways (MR) stated, “A one ton extra loading per wagon implied additional revenue of Rs 500 crore per annum for IR.” The axle loading initiative was a significant step by IR, though sustainability was a concern. This paper focuses on the key driving events, process issues, impact and implications, and sustainability of the initiative of taking the load per wagon from its carrying capacity (CC) to CC+8. Axle loading for a wagon had traditionally been 20.32 tons, except for the mainline versions of steam locomotives. In the early 1980s, the then Chairman of the Railway Board took initiative of increasing axle loading on an experimental basis which after his tenure, could not be sustained on the grounds of safety. In the late 90s, there were initiatives of regularizing the two ton slack normally permitted for excess loading for certain commodities which were usually on a short haul. The railway minister, during inspections in 2004, noticed significant overloading of many wagons in the iron ore and coal routes. This set him thinking on the axle loading initiative. When one of the Zonal Railways (ZR) proposed an increase of up to ten tons per four axled wagon, various directorates in the Railway Board (RB) gave their views, many of which opposed the initiative. The minister, through the RB, directed a variety of processes to bring about inter-departmental alignment, and the initiative was taken forward in a step by step manner over the two years over a large part of IR. The safety and research institutions of IR also had to be taken along. The initiative is still treated as an ‘experiment,’ with many issues that need resolution and strategizing.

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