Coal clogs up Indian ports as railways, car shortage slows deliveries
India’s harbors have become clogged up with coal as imports to power an expanding economy outpace railroad capacity to transfer the fuel to consumers.
Stockpiles rose by 15 per cent in seven weeks to 19.2 million metric tons, according to data from 18 ports compiled by CoalMint in a July 30 report. Inventory at Vishakhapatnam Port Trust in the eastern state of Andhra Pradesh is near the limit because a rail-car shortage is slowing distribution, Deputy Chairman P L Haranadh said in a phone interview.
That’s “pretty much all we can hold,” Haranadh said. His port gets about 10 of the wagon clusters known as rakes each day to send coal to consumers, against a requirement of 16. A rake comprises about 60 open-top wagons with total capacity of some 4,000 tons.
The port blockages reflect the inability of India’s infrastructure to cope with an expanding economy and consumption. Freight and passenger trains jostle for space on the same tracks, and goods carriers often have to make way for passenger traffic, prolonging the turnaround time for carriages to haul coal, the mainstay of power generation in the country.
Bottlenecks in coal supply are hurting utilities, aluminum smelters and steel mills. Some 8.7 gigawatts of generation capacity was shut as of the end of June due to coal shortages, according to Bloomberg calculations based on Central Electricity Authority data. India has 197 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity.
At Paradip Port Trust in Odisha state nearly 4 million tons of cargo — including 3 million tons of coal — has piled up, almost double the storage capacity, said a port official, who asked not be identified discussing a sensitive topic. The logjam has forced Paradip to divert cargoes to other ports, even though most have similar bottlenecks, the official said. The port, which needs an additional five rakes a day, is encouraging coal customers to transport coal by road. That’s more cumbersome, costly and damaging to the environment.