North India has been the “Jewel in the exim crown” of India. This is very much justified by the fact that no shipping line could ever survive a mainline call into major ports on the west coast without the critical mass from north India. About 60 per cent of the business for the west coast ports comes from the northern hinterland. Even ports on the east coast had been trying to woo cargo from the north. However owing to high haulage charges the movement was not productive. Going forward, the northern hinterland will only garner greater significance as and when the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) become functional, because the volume of cargo on the move would be quadrupled. Over 350 containers could be moved en masse at a time. It would be very difficult to garner this volume of cargo, for which multiple terminals would be needed to come into action.
But, is the northern hinterland logistically ready to manage this humungous growth in cargo volumes? A perennial problem is the movement of cargo by road. In spite of availability of rolling stock and state-of-the-art equipment, cargo in the northern hinterland of India prefers to move by road. A possible reason for this modal imbalance is the time and cost efficiency factor. Transit time is high for rail cargo movement because container trains have to share the track with other commodities. Further, there is a requirement for the inland haulage charges to be more equitable to sustain cargo movement to and from the north via rail. A brief calculation of the haulage figures reveals that the comparison of the cost of moving container by rail vis a vis road was slanted in favour of road transport.