Technology Impetus: Rolling stock segment receives the much-needed push

Rolling stock segment receives the much-needed push

A significant year for the rolling stock segment, 2018-19 saw major milestones being achieved. Among these were the launch of the first indigenously developed and manufactured semi-high speed Vande Bharat Express (Train 18), the roll-out of Indian Railways’ (IR) first smart coach, the first diesel to electric locomotive conversion, production of the first Make in India 12,000 horsepower (HP) electric locomotive, and the unveiling of several new modern trains/coaches for enhancing the passenger experience. IR’s fleet of coaches, locomotives and wagons increased from 302,238 units in 2017-18 to 308,305 units in 2018-19 (till February 2019).

In the coming years, the demand for rolling stock is set to rise on the back of upcoming railway lines and freight corridors. To meet this demand, IR has announced a plethora of plans to augment the capacity of its existing manufacturing units, set up new units, and deploy new technologies and equipment for improving the passenger experience.

Current fleet size

IR procures coaches from four manufacturing units – Integral Coach Factory (ICF), Chennai; Rail Coach Factory (RCF), Kapurthala; Modern Coach Factory (MCF), Rae Bareli; and Indian Railway Coach Factory, Haldia. These factories have a cumulative capacity of 4,300 units. ICF is the front runner with an annual production capacity of 1,700 units, followed by RCF with a capacity of 1,500 units. IR’s locomotive manufacturing units – Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) in West Bengal, Diesel Loco Modernisation Works (DMW) in Punjab and Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW) in Uttar Pradesh – have an annual production capacity of around 783 units. With the increasing focus on dieselisation and electrification, IR has been reducing its fleet of steam locomotives. In 2018-19 (till February 2019), IR manufactured 501 electric locomotives, taking the fleet size to 6,217 electric locomotives. Further, the diesel locomotive segment saw a net addition of 110 units during April 2017-February 2018, thereby increasing the fleet size to 6,186 diesel locomotives.

Wagons are primarily manufactured by private and public sector units, though some are also manufactured at railway workshops. During 2018-19 (till February 2019), 11,382 wagons were added to the existing fleet of 286,002 wagons (2017-18). Of these, 763 wagons were manufactured by public sector units, 9,703 wagons by private sector units and the remaining 916 units were manufactured at railway workshops.

Key innovations and advancements

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 and better passenger comfort, among others. A snapshot of key innovations introduced in the past 12-15 months…

  • Launch of Train 18: IR’s first engine-less train, Train 18 was rolled out on October 29, 2018. The train has 80 per cent indigenous components, with technology developed by ICF. The train was manufactured within a period of 18 months. The first two train sets were allotted to Northern Railway for the Delhi-Bhopal route. These train sets are faster than the conventional type of trains pulled by engines. Every train set has a motor coach, a trailer coach and a driving trailer coach.
  • First conversion of diesel locomotive to electric locomotive: In March 2018, for the first time, IR’s DLW successfully converted a diesel locomotive to an electric one, under the Make in India initiative. The conversion, which used indigenous technology, took a record time of 69 days. The converted engine delivers 5,000 HP, a 92 per cent increase over 2,600 HP diesel locomotives. Going forward, this prototype will be tested for further improvements.
  • Induction of digital locomotives with IGBT technology: IR has inducted two digitally enabled high horse power (HHP) locomotives based on insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) technology that offers advantages of high efficiency and fast switching. Two HHP prototype locomotives have been wholly designed domestically under the Make in India programme. An MoU was signed between General Electric (GE) and IR for the provision of IGBT technology to IR through a joint venture (JV) company and the manufacture of 1,000 fuel efficient locomotives (100 per year). As per the agreement, IR holds a 26 per cent stake in the JV and the project involves an investment of about Rs 130 billion. While GE handed over the two prototypes in February 2018, these were approved by IR in September 2018 after rigorous testing.
  • Induction of first Make in India 12,000 HP electric locomotive: In April 2018, the central government flagged off IR’s first Make in India 12,000 HP electric locomotive. The locomotive made its maiden trip from Madhepura to Saharanpur in June 2018, covering about 1,200 km. The movement of the locomotive was tracked through a remote monitoring system known as Traintracer – a technology that has the capability of pre-empting glitches and running remote diagnostics. The locomotive is being manufactured by Madhepura Electric Locomotive Private Limited, a JV between IR and France-based Alstom SA. As part of the project, Alstom will manufacture 800 electric super-powered double-section locomotives and undertake their maintenance for 11 years.
  • Launch of indigenous LHB and smart coaches: In October 2017, ICF (Chennai) launched the first indigenous Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) general seating coach with all components, except for forged wheels, being made domestically. Following this, in August 2018, MCF built the railway’s first smart coach with advanced disc brakes, and fire detection, alarm and GPS-based tracking systems. Going forward, MCF plans to build 100 such coaches with similar facilities.
  • ETCS, Level II, for electric locomotives: IR has cleared the Rs 120 billion proposal to equip 6,000 electric locomotives with the European Train Control System (ETCS), Level II in a bid to improve safety and prevent accidents on its network. The Railway Board has further decided to install ETCS, Level II, on the entire 9,054 km Golden Quadrilateral route connecting the four metros to make it an accident-free corridor. Currently, IR has a basic automatic train protection system based on the ETCS, Level I specification to provide a backup to loco pilots on limited stretches.
  • Replacing short distance passenger trains with MEMUs and DEMUs: Short distance passenger trains especially those with en route reversal are being replaced by mainline electric multiple units (MEMUs) and diesel electric multiple units (DEMUs). During 2017-18, 57 conventional coaches were replaced by MEMUs/DEMUs. During 2018-19 (till August 15, 2018), 50 conventional coaches had already been replaced by MEMUs/DEMUs and 50 conventional coaches were planned to be replaced by March 31, 2019.

Production targets till 2021-22

With the surge in demand for rolling stock, the production target has also been revised upwards. For 2019-20, IR has set a target of manufacturing 4,941 coaches. Of this, LHB coaches will account for a lion’s share of around 63 per cent in total production. This target is 10 per cent lower than the target of 5,489 coaches in 2018-19. Besides, IR 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 greater comfort levels. Among different types of coaches, LHB will account for the maximum share, followed by conventional coaches and electric multiple units.

For rolling out electric locomotives, a target of 725 units has been set by IR, which is 26.53 per cent higher than the target for 2018-19 (573 units). A total of 725 electric locomotives each will be manufactured in 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22. Of these, about 340 locomotives will be produced each year by CLW. In terms of class, while the WAG 9 coaches will have the maximum production share of about 52 per cent in 2019-20, 2021-22 will have a maximum production of WAG 7 class of electric locomotives with a share of about 55 per cent.

The way forward

IR has set ambitious targets for the procurement of rolling stock. To fulfil these commitments, the budgetary allocation for the rolling stock segment has been increased by 64 per cent from Rs 37.25 billion in 2018-19 (revised) to Rs 61.15 billion in 2019-20. In addition, the adoption of online monitoring systems for predictive maintenance of rolling stock, use of robotics and Industry 4.0 in production and upgradation of coaches under programmes such as Project Swarn and Project Utkrisht, use of LED lights in coaches, etc., are steps in the right direction. However, IR’s heavy dependence on gross budgetary support for its growth and expansion, and heavily unbalanced revenue streams can prove to be an impediment in the timely implementation of its goals.

Garima Arora