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On the right track

Players running container trains are crunching delivery times.

By Shalini S. Dagar | Print Edition: July 29, 2007

Last month, when a prominent publisher up north imported its stock of newsprint it did not rush to take delivery of the consignment at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust at Nhava Sheva in Mumbai-the entry point for a majority of imports to India. It simply asked its shipping line to move the consignment to Loni in Uttar Pradesh, just on the outskirts of Delhi. The delivery time from Nhava Sheva to Loni? An unbelievable "less than 24 hours." The normal time for this delivery can range from anywhere between three and 10 days, depending on the level of congestion at the port.

The reason for the swift delivery: The train carrying the consignment was running exclusively for this publisher. "It was a full train-load that needed to be transported. So it was easy to provide a customised solution," says Amitabha Chaudhari, Managing Director, India Infrastructure & Logistics (IIL), which delivered the consignment.

Functioning under the APL IndiaLinx brand name, IIL is a joint venture between Hindustan Infrastructure Projects & Engineering and Singapore-based Neptune Orient Lines, which runs APL, the liner service that brought the newspaper consignment to India. The company began operations earlier this June. "We aim to coordinate the train and our shipping schedules in such a way that the rail transport services become an extension of our liner services," says Chaudhari. Currently, the company is running a train a week and expects to scale it up to three trains a week starting August.

APL IndiaLinx is one of the 14 licencees who received approvals to run container trains last year. Others included the likes of Boxtrans-part of the JM Baxi Group-and Hind Terminals. Some of them have started limited operations, and others are expected to do so shortly. However, Container Corporation of India (concor) still dominates with over 130 rakes (trains) as compared to the less than 15 owned by private operators. "Till the time private operators are able to set up their own terminals, there is not going to be any serious competition in the sector," says A.K. Kohli, former Concor head and now CEO of Adani Logistics, which is expected to launch its services soon.

Unsurprisingly, there is a flurry of investment in inland container depots (ICD) by the private operators. Adani is investing in two terminals in Delhi and another one in Ludhiana. APL IndiaLinx is planning a terminal at Panipat with an initial investment of $65 million. Meanwhile, private players are competing on what they know best-price. The results are apparent. According to industry officials, the discounts at Loni swing up to 20 per cent. Three cheers for privatisation.

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