The railways spent more than Rs 150 crore in repairing around 2,000 damaged and dilapidated wagons over the last four months to augment coal movement to power plants, according to official data.
It also said that around 9,982 such wagons were listed as damaged in January, the numbers of which reduced to 7,803 by May 2, with the railways managing to repair 2,179 wagons in time for the coal demand to peak in the country.
Officials said it cost the national transporter around Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh to repair each wagon. Sources indicate that damage to wagons has become a cause of concern for the ministry since private contractors used by power plants to unload coal began substituting manual unloading with JCBs.
"JCBs hit the interior of the wagons and damage them severely. While earlier, this unloading was done manually, now it is being done through JCBs which have resulted in a significant increase in the number of wagons that are damaged. We are repairing them at a fast pace and using the resources for coal," an official said.
He added that repairs are of three kinds -- major, minor and local -- and estimated that to repair around 2,179 wagons, it cost the railways more than Rs 150 crore.
Official figures show that the extent of such damage can be seen in January itself when 9,982 wagons were shown as damaged as on January 1, and the number increased to 10,687 by January 6.
On January 11, the number of damaged wagons was 9,839, on January 21, it was 9,097. It came down to 7,267 on February 11 and rose to 7,531 as on May 2, official data said.
Officials said the railways has also set up five new repair sites for the repair of such wagons.
With the power crisis and the pressure of transporting coal at a fast pace, the railways has pushed to make repairs so that the supply of coal to power plants is not affected.
However, at a meeting with senior officials recently to take stock of the situation, officials of zones likes ECOR, ECR, WCR, SECR have highlighted issues with the movement of coal to power plants.
Sources say due to the lack of stock available with the coal fields, the turnover time of wagons waiting for coal loading has increased from seven days to around 15-20 days.
The situation, sources say, is such that railways has even put into action around 40-50 damaged wagons in operation to move coal.
A coal train usually has up to 84 wagons.
Officials also said that to expedite the movement of coal rakes, the railways has also increased the operating duration of rakes by 2,500 km, which means that the rakes which were earlier treated for wear and tear after every 7,500 km are now sent to the garage after 10,000 km, giving them more running time.
The Indian Railways has so far cancelled around 40 trains for ferrying coal rakes in the wake of a power crisis in various parts of the country.
Official data says that the national transporter has increased its average daily loading of coal rakes (freight train) to over 400 per day, which is the highest in the past five years. This has, however, resulted in cancellation and delays in passenger trains.