India’s Rail Coach Factory (RCF) is trying out applying the airline belly freight concept to railway carriages.

RCF has a new-design double-decker train carriage with a lower hold dedicated to some six tonnes of cargo, with 46 passengers on the upper deck.

The inspiration came during pandemic lockdowns, when, to maintain profitable operations, empty trains were used to carry parcel freight.

“The belly freight concept is widely used in airplanes for transporting cargo,” a source told The New Indian Express. “The goods are transported in the lower deck of the passenger aircraft while passengers occupy the upper deck.

“Many airlines combine cargo with passenger traffic to reach a better occupancy rate of space available on a flight. We used this concept in designing this coach.”

Benefiting from an increase in consumer purchases and shortages caused by seaport closures, much cargo was extremely profitable, occasionally making more money than passengers. However, revenue from air cargo has since cooled off.

RCF’s initiative is one of many under way in the hope of reviving parcel freight on trains, which have the potential to offer faster delivery times. In the UK, Varamis Rail is hoping to initiate regular parcel journeys between Birmingham and Glasgow for faster delivery than would be possible by truck, and with close to zero carbon emissions.

India has made considerable headway toward its goal of 100% rail electrification by the end of this year, more than doubling since the beginning of Narendra Modi’s premiership. By 2021, some 66% of rail lines had been electrified, a higher proportion than France’s 60%, making India’s railways an excellent candidate for trialling belly cargo on passenger trains.

However, not everyone is happy. In the wake of the Balasore collision in June, which killed 275, Mr Modi has been accused of “flashy” new additions to the train network at the expense of “basic track maintenance… and other safety measures”, where funding is decreasing, according to a report by India’s auditor general.

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