Indian Railways (IR) has the fourth-largest railway network in the world by size. As of March 2020, its rolling stock consisted of 293,077 freight wagons, 76,608 passenger coaches and 12,729 locomotives. In the past few years, IR has placed a special emphasis on indigenous advancement of its rolling stock. As per the latest updates, its locomotive manufacturing units have an annual production capacity of around 783 units while that of the coach manufacturing units is 4,300 units.
With regard to locomotives, Chittaranjan Locomotive Works has the highest annual production capacity of 431 units, followed by Banaras Locomotive Works with a capacity of 200 units. Meanwhile, in the case of coach factories, the Integral Coach Factory (ICF), Chennai, is the front runner with an annual production capacity of 1,700 units, followed by the Rail Coach Factory (RCF), Kapurthala, with a capacity of 1,500 units.
As IR moves forward with introducing new railway lines and setting up freight corridors, the demand for rolling stock is expected to rise in the coming years. To this end, IR has announced plans to augment the capacity of its existing factories and is also setting up several new manufacturing units. It has set forth plans to increase the capacity of the ICF, Chennai, from 1,700 to 2,750 coaches per year. An amount of Rs 4.88 billion has already been sanctioned for the same. Further, IR plans to increase the capacity of the Modern Coach Factory from 1,000 to 2,000 coaches per year. An amount of Rs 4.8 billion has already been sanctioned for the same.
Initiatives to modernise rolling stock
Various initiatives have been taken by IR to modernise its rolling stock and improve passenger experience. It is also taking initiatives to increase the average speed of trains as all Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches are now capable of running at a maximum speed of 130 kmph. Another major development is the introduction of a smart coach, which is expected to aid the shift from preventive/periodic maintenance to predictive maintenance. All the components and equipment such as coach bearings, air conditioners and water tanks are monitored online during the journey through a centralised monitoring system.
The country’s fastest train, Vande Bharat Express began commercial operations in February 2019. It is a semi-high-speed, fully air-conditioned train having quicker acceleration and modern passenger amenities. It was designed and built by the ICF in Chennai at a cost of Rs 1 billion over a span of 18 months. Currently, Vande Bharat Express trains are being operated on New Delhi-Varanasi and the New Delhi-Katra routes. The trains were launched in February and October 2019 respectively.
In November 2020, IR rolled out a brand new semi-high-speed double-decker coach, which can run at a maximum speed of up to 160 kmph. The new coach developed by the RCF, Kapurthala, has the ability to carry more passengers in a single train journey and in the shortest possible time. The coaches have optimised aisle width for a comfortable journey, plush interiors, an overhead luggage rack, mobile and laptop charging sockets, a GPS-based passenger information system and an LED destination board among other passenger-centric features. Further, IR has designed Anubhuti coaches that will be deployed on the Shatabdi and Rajdhani express trains. The 50-seat capacity Anubhuti coaches are being produced by the Rail Coach Factory, Raebareli. The Chandigarh Delhi Shatabdi express will be first to have Anubhuti coaches. Meanwhile, the Uday trains allocated to routes with heavy passenger traffic, have been introduced. These trains aim to provide business travellers with a comfortable travel experience. The first service was launched on June 10, 2018 whereas the second Uday Express was started in September 2019. Both double decker trains have been manufactured at the RCF, are equipped with a Wi-Fi facility and have striking interiors, cushioned seats, and display screens.
IR is also introducing innovations in the components and designs of locomotives and coaches. The Head-on-Generation Power Supply system is being introduced wherein the power supply for “hotel load” is drawn from overhead equipment through converters provided in electric locomotives (WAP-7/WAP-5). This system is capable of replacing the diesel generator sets used under the end-on-generation system. It also helps in reducing carbon emissions, noise levels and the consumption of fossil fuels. In addition, IR is introducing push and pull technology wherein two locomotives attached at each end of the train are hard-wired to act as one. This technology provides additional power to the train but significantly reduces the acceleration and deceleration times in order to facilitate higher average speeds.
Other modernisation initiatives taken by IR in the rolling stock segment include the introduction of regenerative braking in WAG-7 locomotives, installation of bio-vacuum toilets, introduction of air suspension systems in LHB coaches and setting up of the Loco Cab Audio Video Recording (LCAVR) system. IR has started installing LCAVR systems in diesel and electric locomotives as it provides invaluable data to investigators and helps them in understanding the sequence of events.
Investment plans and future outlook
IR has set a target to manufacture 8,000 locomotives, coaches and wagons during 2021-22, up from 5,000 in 2020-21, at a cost of Rs 400 billion. The national transporter had manufactured 7,000 locomotives, wagons and coaches in 2019-20, but the Covid-19 pandemic slowed the pace of production at its coach factories. The Covid-19 pandemic caused shortage of manpower and blockage of supply chains due to which most of the production units failed to achieve their targets. However, during July 2020, RCF Kapurthala achieved a record production of 311 LHB coaches and decreased the gap between targeted production and actual production for financial year 2020-21.
With a fall in the revenue of the passenger segment and the central government due to Covid-19, more projects in the railway sector are likely to be funded with private investment. France-based Alstom has set up Madhepura Electric Locomotive in a joint venture with IR, in Bihar. Under the contract signed in 2015, Madhepura Electric Locomotive will provide 800 heavy-haul locomotives of a total capacity of 12,000 HP to IR. As of now, 76 locomotives have been delivered to IR from the Madhepura locomotive plant in Bihar. Further, 14 additional high-power locomotives are expected to be delivered in the first quarter of financial year 2021-22.
IR’s Make in India initiatives are expected to gain further traction with the government’s focus on self-reliance. While the Make in India initiative is a big leap forward, certain measures need to be taken to ensure that it meets its purpose and targets. IR recently started using Make in India 3D printer to design and print coach components in-house as per requirement. The 3D design platforms and passenger experience solutions are revolutionising the railway sector by incorporating integrated electronics, reconfiguring seating and standing areas or adding styling through the cabin that reflects the local aesthetic or identity.
Going forward, indigenous production in the rolling stock segment is expected to gain traction as the government plans to become self-reliant. In order to give a boost to the Make in India initiative, it was decided that the entire rolling stock for the Delhi-Meerut high speed rail corridor will be manufactured in India with almost 80 per cent local content. Further, the minimum local content percentage has been revised to 75 per cent in the revised tender for the semi-high-speed 44 Vande Bharat trains.