Power-hungry India halts passenger trains to free up track to move coal

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FILE PHOTO: Worker unloads coal from a goods train at a railway yard in Chandigarh

By Sudarshan Varadhan

CHENNAI, India (Reuters) - India has boosted the output of coal and cancelled passenger trains to free up rail track to move it, officials said on Friday, as the government scrambles to overcome its worst power crisis in years.

State-run Coal India, which accounts for 80% of India's coal output, increased production by 27.2% in April, the federal coal ministry said. Federal government-run Indian Railways has cancelled 753 passenger train services, the government said.

India has urged its states to step up coal imports for the next three years to build up inventories and satisfy demand, Reuters reported on Wednesday, underscoring the severity of the crisis.

Coal inventories are at the lowest pre-summer levels in at least nine years and electricity demand is seen rising at the fastest pace in nearly four decades.

"The government has decided to cancel ... passenger trains in order to prioritize the movement of coal rakes (trains) across the country to deal with an unprecedented shortage of the vital input at thermal power plants," the government said.

It did not say how long the train service would be cancelled for or how commuters would manage without it.

Coal accounts for nearly 75% of India's power generation and power plants account for over three-fourths of the over one billion tonnes of annual coal consumption.

The Indian Railways loaded 427 trains with coal on Thursday, the government said. That is higher than its commitment of 415 trains per day on an average, but still lower than the requirement of 453 per day.

India's power secretary told a court-ordained meeting on Tuesday that the railways was supplying 390 trains per day on an average, 14% lower than demand and 6% lower than the railway's own commitment.

(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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