Passenger trains in India make way for coal to stop power crisis

Coal helps to generate about 70 per cent of India's electricity. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - India has cancelled some passenger trains to allow for faster movement of coal carriages as the nation scrambles to replenish depleting inventories at power plants in a bid to avoid a full-blown power crisis.

A scorching summer is driving demand for coal, which helps generate about 70 per cent of the country's electricity. Several parts of India are facing long hours of blackouts, while some industries are cutting output due to the fossil fuel's shortage, threatening the economy's revival from the pandemic-induced slump. The risk of a further spike in inflation is rising at a time when the government is struggling to rein in high energy prices fuelled by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The measure is temporary and passenger services will be restored as soon as the situation normalises, said Gaurav Krishna Bansal, an executive director at Indian Railways, one of Asia's largest networks. The state-run operator is trying to minimise the time it takes to move coal to power plants, he said by phone.

Indian Railways is often blamed for disruptions in coal supplies as the lack of carriages makes it difficult to carry the fuel over long distances. Congested routes, where passenger and goods trains jostle for passage, sometimes delay shipments.

Still, the carrier stays a preferred choice to transport coal, especially for users located far away from mines. The railways plans to add 100,000 more wagons to its fleet to meet the growing demand. It is also constructing dedicated freight corridors to deliver goods faster.

Coal reserves at India's power plants have declined almost 17 per cent since the start of this month and are barely a third of the required levels. The supply crunch comes just months after a crippling power crisis last autumn saw coal stockpiles plunge to an average four days, triggering blackouts in several states.

Electricity demand has jumped as temperatures have soared in many parts of India, prompting the weather department to issue heat-wave warnings. The country's average temperature reached almost 33 degrees Celsius in March, the highest on record for the month since authorities started collecting the data in 1901.

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