The rolling stock segment has achieved major milestones in recent times. In addition to the launch of new high and semi-high speed coaches and trains, new technologies have been introduced to ensure greater speed and safety of the fleet and passengers. While the fleet of coaches, locomotives and wagons stood at 360,346 units in 2016-17, the number has since increased further to 365,183 units, with the acquisition of additional coaches from the Integral Coach factory (ICF), Chennai, the Rail Coach Factory (RCF), Kapurthala, and the Modern Coach Factory (MCF), Rae Bareli, in 2017-18. In the coming years, the demand for rolling stock is set to rise on the back of upcoming railway lines and freight corridors. Fleet augmentation is being undertaken through a target-oriented approach and the Indian Railways (IR) plans to switch to reverse auctions for procurement.
Growth in fleet
IR procures coaches from three manufacturing units, namely, ICF, Chennai, RCF, Kapurthala and MCF, Rae Bareli. In 2017-18, the ICF alone manufactured a total of 2,503 coaches surpassing both its production target of 2,464 units as well as the previous year’s production of 2,277 units. Of the total coaches produced, 70 per cent were stainless steel coaches. Besides, it has nearly tripled the production of Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches, from 400 units in 2016-17 to 1,100 units in 2017-18. In addition, till February 2018, the other two manufacturing plants – RCF, Kapurthala, and MCF, Rae Bareli – had rolled out 1,119 and 633 coaches respectively. Earlier, in 2016-17, a total of 4,280 coaches were produced from the three manufacturing plants.
The number of electric locomotives has gained traction. In 2017-18 (till February 2018), IR added 5,691 locomotives, registering an increase of 292 units over 2016-17. Besides, the diesel locomotive segment saw a net addition of 290 units during April 2017-February 2018, thereby raising the procurement to 6,313 units from the previous year’s acquisition of 6,023 units. In addition, there has been a massive roll-out of wagons, with a net addition of 26,692 units procured in 2016-17, posting an increase of 11 per cent from the total 251,295 units procured till 2015-16. For the years 2018-19 and 2019-20, IR is expected to invite a tender to procure 38,000 wagons through the reverse auction method. This procurement is expected to meet the additional wagon requirement for the next two years.
With the surge in demand for rolling stock, the production target has also been revised upwards. For 2018-19, IR has set a target of procuring 5,160 units, excluding the production of conventional ICF coaches. This target is 13 per cent higher than the target of 4,549 coaches in 2017-18. Besides, IR has decided to not produce ICF coaches from April 2018 onwards as manufacturing of LHB coaches is to be expedited. LHB coaches are preferred due to their improved safety features and comfort.
For rolling out electric locomotives, a target of 573 units has been set by IR, which is 38.57 per cent higher than the target for 2017-18 (352 units). For manufacturing diesel locomotives, a target of 107 units has been set for 2018-19, which is lower than the previous year’s target of 254 units. This decrease in the target production of diesel locomotives is primarily because IR is planning to phase out diesel engines in the next five years, thus switching entirely to electric ones.
Besides, IR had targeted procuring 12,000 wagons in 2017-18. However, the target was revised downwards to 7,000 units, primarily because IR is overhauling existing wagons rather than procuring fresh ones. For 2018-19, IR has planned the procurement of about 12,000 wagons for the upcoming Eastern and Western Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs).
To improve its operational efficiency, IR has been striving to bring in innovations in the existing design of wagons and coaches in the form of speed and safety features, among others. Over the past few years, several innovations have been introduced, some of which are detailed below.
- High speed electric locomotive: In April 2018, the central government flagged off the first high speed all electric locomotive from the Madhepura factory in Bihar. The locomotive, developed at the Madhepura Electric Locomotive Factory, has a 12,000 horsepower engine and is capable of running at 120 kmph. This is a prototype locomotive which will be tested extensively by IR. The contract for a total of 800 high speed trains was awarded to Alstom in November 2015. As per schedule, 35 locomotives will be rolled out from the Madhepur factory by 2020, 60 in 2021, followed by 100 every year till the target of 800 is met. While the first five locomotives will be imported, the remaining 795 will be manufactured in India under the Make in India initiative.
- Tejas Express: In May 2017, the central government commenced the trial run of the first Tejas Express from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Karmali station. The high speed rake is capable of running at 200 kmph but due to track constraints it will run at 160 kmph. This train has features such as steel brake discs, sintered pads and electropneumatic-assisted brake systems. Further, the train is equipped with modern facilities such as bio-vacuum toilets, water-level indicators, touchless water taps, soap dispenser and marble-finish anti-graffiti coating.
- Double-decker UDAY Express: IR is developing the Utkrisht Double-Decker Air-Conditioned Yatri (UDAY) Express, tailored for the business class. The train will operate on three routes – Coimbatore-Bengaluru, Bandra-Jamnagar and Visakhapatnam-Vijayawada – and will have facilities such as automatic food-vending machines, with pre-cooked and preheated food, tea/coffee vending machines, on-board entertainment which includes LCD screens, Wi-Fi headphones, bio-toilets, and reclining chairs with adequate leg space, etc.
- High-end cameras: In order to detect defects in rolling stock, IR has planned to deploy high-end cameras along railway tracks. The cameras will be installed at a low height and will capture the under-gear parts at a speed of 60 frames per second. The cameras also have other important features such as internet protocol, 12x zoom, veri-focal and night vision. These cameras have already been installed at the Agra Cantonment railway station.
- Anti-climbing feature in ICF coaches: To avoid derailment of coaches, the Ministry of Railways has unveiled plans to retrofit all conventional ICF coaches with centre buffer couplers. These couplers have an inherent anti-climbing safety feature, which mitigate the possibility of coaches overriding one over the other during accidents.
- Improving fire retardancy in coaches and provision of fire extinguishers: For improved safety of passengers, coaches are being provided with fire-retardant furnishing materials. For instance, dry chemical powder-type fire extinguishers are being provided on all mainline trains. Besides, automatic fire and smoke detection systems have been provided in about 200 coaches. A purchase order for these systems in another 500 AC coaches has been placed.
- Bio-toilets: To provide improved sanitation, IR has installed 125,000 bio-toilets in coaches as of March 2018. These coaches have been commissioned and are operational on 27 green corridors. Thus, there is no direct discharge of human waste from the trains running on these corridors.
- Development of new designs for 25 tonne axle load wagons: To reduce high detention rates of wagons, IR has developed new designs for 25 tonne axle load wagons in collaboration with American Railcar Industries (GONDOLA 25) and the Amsted Rail Company (BOXN25 Design A and BLC25). The cost of a normal 22.9 tonne axle load wagon is Rs 2 million-Rs 2.2 million, while that of a 25 tonne axle load wagon is around Rs 2.5 million. Despite the high cost, the use of high-load wagons is expected to increase, after the commissioning of the Eastern and Western DFCs. With an increase in demand for 25 tonne axle load wagons, the price per unit is expected to come down.
- Development of Braille signage for coaches: IR has manufactured a few AC coaches with prototype Braille signage to assist blind passengers. Based on passenger feedback, IR plans to provide the facility on all newly manufactured AC and sleeper coaches.
IR’s tall targets for procurement will help in increasing its capacity. However, to fulfil these commitments, there has to be enough financial capacity too. As has been witnessed, IR does not have the required resources to fund capital acquisitions mainly due to low budget estimates and allocations. For 2018-19, a budgeted outlay of Rs 15.86 billion has been set aside for acquiring rolling stock. This is significantly lower than the previous year’s revised estimate of Rs 29.67 billion. This is the key reason for the slow acquisition of rolling stock. Further, the lack of sufficient manufacturing units, and increased focus on refurbishment rather than on acquisition of new coaches are some of the other issues which could derail the ambitious plans of IR.