New Delhi: A successful indigenously manufactured rolling stock product has become the victim to an intense inter-departmental fight, finally giving way to foreign players for import in the Indian Railways.
Vande Bharat Express, the first Indian Trainset for long distance run was indigenously designed and manufactured at Chennai’s Integral Coach Factory (ICF). The Trainset was flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 15 with great fanfare and is successfully running at a maximum speed of 160 kmph between Delhi and Varanasi since then, reducing the travel time considerably between the two cities.
The Trainset even found mention in the PM’s Independence Day address, who said that more Vande Bharat trains were needed by the nation.
However, the 16-coach train, also known as Train 18 project, developed at a cost of about Rs 100 crore and with all modern amenities like Wi-Fi, CCTV, GPS-enabled passenger information system, rotational seats and modular bio-vacuum toilets under the supervision of mechanical wing, is now opening doors for imports as per the latest Railways decision.
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“Instead of encouraging domestic players to explore the possibilities for export and boosting up the Indian market, Indian Railways has decided to allow foreign players to manufacture the Trainset for the state-run transporter,” said a senior railway officer at ICF, who is involved with the Vande Bharat Express.
Railways has claimed that 40 more Vande Bharat trains would be ready in 2022 and in the process of finalising the new bids are facilitating foreign players to join the race. But if one goes by the approved timeline, this seems to be a tall claim which is nearly impossible.
As indicated by the Railway Board, the tender is likely to be floated in October, opened in January 2020 and the contract will be awarded not earlier than April 2020. If everything goes well, then the first prototype will not come before June 2021 as it takes minimum 15 to 18 months for the production and the very first train will be rolled out by October 2021.
“So, the question now is how will 40 such trains be ready by 2022?,” the official asked, adding, “it can at best manufacture only two and certainly not 40.”
He said, “The roots of the problem within the railways arose when, in order to give a bad name to the earlier product, the Electrical wing – the traditional rival of Mechanical department – opined that Vande Bharat consumes four times more energy than other trains which is far from truth.”
ICF, the custodian of Vande Bharat, has said that no such measurement on energy consumption has been carried out yet and comparing it with Metro and suburban train is not applicable here.
Metro or suburban trains consume 30% less energy because of its regenerating braking system. While Metro trains stop at every one to two kilometres, suburban trains brake after every three kilometres.
But in the case of Vande Bharat Express, it stops at two places only – Kanpur and Allahabad – before reaching Varanasi from Delhi. So Vande Bharat’s electric consumption cannot be compared with Metro or suburban service. At best it should be compared with similar Trainsets running in Europe and Japan.
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“Ever since its commercial launch in February this year, not a single failure was reported due to the trainset’s manufacturing process, except a cattle hit and stone pelting incident,” the railway official said.
He went on to add, “However, since the Electrical wing is keen to take over the manufacturing of the train and the Mechanical is holding on its turf, the tussle has adversely affected a successful project of the national transporter which is no way less than our very own Chandrayan or BrahMos.”
On the other hand, the Railways maintain that they have received complaints regarding the procurement process and their vigilance wing is looking into the matter to ensure that all future procurement for Train-18 is done in a fair and transparent manner.