The railway is about to introduce the Ro-Ro (roll on-roll off) services to Kerala to transport goods lorries across the state. The Southern Railway’s Palakkad division is expected to host the first Ro-Ro centre in Kerala, though the merchant community in Kannur has been lobbying to set up the centre in Kannur to benefit from the proximity of an upcoming airport and port.
The office-bearers of the North Malabar Chamber of Commerce had petitioned the Southern Railway to introduce the system in the Kannur South railway station. The railway officials visited Kannur to hold talks with the stakeholders.
The Ro-Ro system was introduced by the Konkan Railway to ease goods traffic in western India. The railway offers to transport goods-laden lorries across long distance routes. A train could carry 30 to 40 lorries and drop them at predetermined stations.
The system saves fuel costs for the lorry operators and spares the drivers the trouble of negotiating through congested cities and towns. Many cities have banned lorries within their core areas during the day to ease traffic on roads. The Ro-Ro system could save transporters time.
The system could also help Kerala by reducing the number of vehicles on roads and bringing down the chances of road accidents.
The Konkan Railway started Ro-Ro in 1999. Stations at Suratkal, Madgaon and Karad have facilities to load and offload lorries. Many of the lorries carrying goods from Kerala to north Indian destinations are loaded onto a train at Suratkal and driven off at Karad, ensuring a smooth journey for 600 kilometres.
Decongesting Delhi roads
The Indian Railways have introduced a similar system in the Delhi zone on a trial basis last year. The Ro-Ro train plies between Gurugram in Haryana and Murad Nagar in Uttar Pradesh.
Town planners in Delhi have been asking for such a service for decades to do keep away the huge fleet of lorries criss-crossing the capital every day. More than 60,000 lorries cram Delhi roads on any given day but not even a third of them are Delhi-bound. The drivers have no other option but to slug it out on the city roads on their way to other destinations.
North Malabar has an advantage
North Malabar is perhaps the largest mercantile center in Kerala with connections to the Mumbai port and north Indian destinations. Traders in Kannur and neighbouring districts ship large amounts of plywood, rubber and handloom and import loads of tiles, marble, steel and petroleum products. Hundreds of national permit lorries headed for the northern states whiz past the small towns of Kerala on the national highway.
The cargo movement is only expected to increase with the opening of the Kannur airport and port, necessitating the urgent introduction of alternative modes of transport including the Ro-Ro system.
The facility may be more suitable for the Kannur South Station because the city railway station is bursting at the seams juggling the regular passenger services.
The south station is ideal for installing the ramps to load lorries to trains and unload them and the systems to weigh and measure the lorries, said K Thrivikraman, the president of the North Malabar Chamber of Commerce.
He said that the railway officers who visited Kannur seemed to be pleased with the availability of land in the south station to set up the facilities. The officials met up with merchants, transporters, lorry agents and plywood manufacturers in the Chamber of Commerce Hall in Kannur.