State-owned Indian Railways is developing a new automobile freight train operator (AFTO) policy, which it hopes will prompt investment from Maruti Suzuki and APL Vascor, the logistics subsidiary of APL. Both companies have already discussed increasing their investment in this sector.

At present, just 5% of total automotive movement takes place by rail. However, attempts to increase this through the introduction of an earlier AFTO policy resulted in no new investment being made in the railways. The problem was that this required companies to acquire a 20-year licence at the cost of $900,000, although there was the possibility to extend this by a further 10 years. The licence allowed companies to invest in dedicated car transporters and offer them to manufacturers, with the owner paying freight charges to the railways.

In the amended policy, the rate structure has been simplified. There will now be just two freight rates: one for loaded trains and one for empty trains.

Maruti Suzuki has already filed patents for a new transporter wagon, which was developed by the Railway Designs & Standards Organisation, while APL Vascor has contracted Titagarh Wagons to produce its own design.

When these new wagons are rostered into block trains, up to 318 small cars can be transported on each. This compares to current loadings of 150-170 cars or up to 270 cars, depending on the type of service being run.

The freight marketing department of Indian Railways has defended the decision to implement a charge to move empty car transporters. This is being done not only to cover costs, it says, but also to prevent automotive manufacturers from deliberately running empty trains to prevent competitors from using the service.