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According to the latest data, railways’ freight earnings dropped by Rs 8,283 crore during April and May, as compared to the same period last year, indicating a slow year ahead for the national transporter amidst the gloom of the coronavirus crisis.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal held a high-level meeting with officials recently, deliberating on a slew of measures that could make the movement of goods through the rail network more viable, sources said.

The minister, they said, encouraged the railway zones to reach out to local businesses and vendors for opportunities of freight movement and also instructed them to run as many scheduled parcel trains as possible.

“It was also discussed if we could build trust with our clients by offering discounts or cashback for late delivery, in line with the Tejas Express trains,” an official said.

The Tejas Express trains run by the IRCTC offer compensation if a train arrives late during a service.

It was also discussed that the zones should coordinate with the coal ministry and Coal India Limited and prepare an action plan for moving coal directly from mines in Odisha to power plants across south India.

“It was also discussed that the possibility of offering concessional rates over long distances to make freight movement through rail more viable can be explored,” the official said.

From May 1 to May 31, the railways transported 82.27 million tonnes of essential commodities — an increase of more than 25 per cent compared to April.

From April 1 to June 9, it transported 175.46 million tonnes of essential commodities across the country.

From March 24 to June 9, more than 31.90 lakh wagons carried supplies to keep the supply chain functional. Of these, more than 17.81 lakh wagons carried essential commodities.

During the lockdown period in April-May, while the national transporter almost doubled its foodgrain-loading to 11.09 MT from the 5.7 MT in the corresponding period last year, registering a Rs-607 crore increase over last year’s earnings, it suffered a major setback from all other products that it carried.

While the revenues of the railways from coal-loading fell from Rs 11,032.77 crore in 2019 to Rs 5,720 crore in 2020, its earnings from transporting mineral oil fell to Rs 761.32 crore this year from Rs 979 crore last year.