Over the years, increasing population coupled with urbanisation has highlighted the need for increasing and upgrading Indian Railways’ (IR) rolling stock, comprising wagons, locomotives and coaches. In 2017-18, IR’s freight volume recorded an all-time high of 1,172 million tonnes. The year-on-year growth stood at 5.9 per cent vis-à-vis 0.4 per cent recorded during 2016-17. With respect to passenger traffic, ridership on IR increased for the first time since 2012, from 8.15 billion in 2015-16 to 8.22 billion in 2016-17. The trend continued in 2017-18.
IR’s growing traffic calls for an increased requirement for rolling stock. However, between 2012-13 and 2016-17, the year-on-year growth in rolling stock witnessed a declining trend. The acquisition of coaches recorded a negative growth in 2013-14 and 2014-15, after which it picked up in 2015-16, recording a meagre growth of 0.15 per cent. The acquisition of locomotives, on the other hand, witnessed a negative growth in 2014-15, while recording marginal positive growth rates in the other financial years. Further, wagons recorded negative year-on-year growth rates in 2013-14 and 2016-17. During the five-year period, a total of 21,009 coaches, 3,223 locomotives and 63,106 wagons were acquired by IR. The key reasons responsible for the decline in acquisition of rolling stock by IR were slow progress in upcoming manufacturing units and greater focus being on refurbishment rather than acquisition of new coaches.
IR has been striving to bring innovation in the design of wagons for carrying commodities such as fly ash and agricultural produce. For instance, auto car wagons, general purpose open wagons, fly ash wagons and BFNS wagons have been developed for the efficient loading and transportation of specific commodities.
Over the past few years, IR has announced a number of policies to attract private players into the rolling stock segment, particularly in the wagon manufacturing segment. The key policies include the Special Freight Train Operator Scheme, the Automobile Freight Train Operator Scheme, the Wagon Leasing Scheme, the Liberalised Wagon Investment Scheme, and the Special Parcel Train Operator Scheme. However, most of these schemes have failed to generate the desired level of private interest. As a result, some of these schemes have been modified over the years.
With respect to the Wagon Leasing Scheme, IR opened up private investment in general purpose wagons in May 2018. Accordingly, private investors will be able to invest in rail cars which can move multiple commodities without securing any special approval. The modification was made with a view to help customers deal with wagon shortages. In addition, container train operators were allowed to invest in wagons that could move containers, with IR specifying the commodities which could be moved in them.
The development of special purpose
wagons has been equally welcomed by industry stakeholders. In particular, the development of automobile wagons has been widely appreciated and almost all automobile companies have evinced interest in these wagons. Prior to the introduction of automobile wagons, IR accounted for a 1-2 per cent share in the total number of automobile car carriers. IR plans to increase its share to 15-20 per cent. In addition, it has also planned to increase the speed of automobile wagons from 90 kmph to 100 kmph.
Besides the procurement of new and special purpose wagons, IR is laying equal emphasis on the improvement of the existing rolling stock. In this regard, it has decided to set up three refurbishment factories – one in Assam and two in Uttar Pradesh. The basic idea behind setting up such factories is to refurbish the rolling stock every six years.
Further, the Swarna Scheme has been started to upgrade the condition of the Rajdhani and Shatabdi express trains. There are 29 Rajdhani and Shatabdi express trains identified under this scheme. Of these, work has already been completed on 16 trains. The launch of Project Utkrisht is another initiative by IR under which 66 trains comprising 140 rakes will be upgraded. The rakes will provide better facilities to passengers, including LED lighting, odourless toilets, etc. An amount of Rs 6 million to upgrade each rake has already been sanctioned under the project.
Another noteworthy feature introduced by IR is the installation of bio-toilets in coaches. This unique feature ensures hygiene and cleanliness in coaches and on the tracks.
The rolling stock segment has received a major impetus with the central government’s Make in India initiative. From 2014-15 to 2016-17, IR recorded the highest-ever investment of Rs 400 billion for setting up two locomotive factories at Marhowrah and Madhepur in Bihar, under the initiative. On April 10, 2018, Phase I of the Madhepura diesel loco factory was inaugurated by flagging off the first 12,000 horse power electric locomotive. Further, the construction of an electric loco assembly and ancillary unit at the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works at Dankunj in West Bengal was completed; a diesel electric multiple unit factory at Haldia was commissioned; a midlife rehabilitation workshop for coaches at Jhansi was set up; a modern Linke Hofmann Busch coach manufacturing facility at the Integral Coach Factory, Chennai was commissioned; a bogie manufacturing factory was commissioned at Budge Budge; and the RITES Limited-Steel Authority of India Limited joint venture factory for repairing and overhauling wagons was commissioned at Kuti, West Bengal.
The way forward
In the future, IR plans to undertake several new initiatives for improving the standards of coaches and wagons and thereby improving the quality of services delivered. These include coaches fitted with global positioning system-based passenger information systems, LCD displays, dust-sealed gangways, automatic sliding main entrance plug door controlled by guards, etc. IR has also proposed increasing the procurement of rolling stock from the current level of 4,360 wagons in 2017-18 to 5,500 during 2018-19. Further, in the next two years, IR plans to procure another 6,000 coaches.
While new production units are coming up and capacity augmentation of the existing ones is being planned, progress on the ground has been slow. There is a need to meet both current and future demand for rolling stock. Further, funding constraints, slow speed of freight trains and poor rolling stock technology pose challenges.
In conclusion, there is a need to improve maintenance practices and shift to predictive maintenance which is heavily data driven. This transformation will be driven by three key elements – the ability to acquire data through censors being put on locomotives/rolling stock, the ability to transport and transmit huge amount of data and the ability to process this data at a quick pace and build algorithms around it. According to private contractors, switching from cash-driven contracts to outcome-driven contracts, redirecting from sub-component procurement to subsystem procurement (wherein a maintenance clause is also incorporated into the contract), and relooking at procurement practices will improve the long-term viability of contracts.