Innovative Improvements: IR focuses on indigenising and modernising its rolling stock

Rolling stock production under Indian Rail­ways (IR) has witnessed steady gro­w­th over the past five years. As of March 2022, IR’s rolling stock consists of 318,896 wagons, 84,863 coaches and 13,215 locomotives. The budgetary allocation for rolling stock under Union Budget 2023-24 has witnessed a significant increase of 371 per cent from Rs 79.77 billion in 2022-23 (BE) to Rs 375.81 billion in 2023-24. This allocation is 148 per cent higher than the revised budget allocation of 2022-23 at Rs 151.57 billion.

Coach production has grown from 4,359 in 2017-18 to 6,838 in 2021-22, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.91 per cent. In 2022-23 (as of December 2022), the total coach production stood at 4,051 coa­ches. Meanwhile, locomotive production has in­c­reased from 673 in 2017-18 to 969 in 2021-22, registering a CAGR of 9.54 per cent. In the current financial year 2022-23, the total nu­mber of locomotives manufactured by IR stood at 706 (as of December 2022). Further, during 2022-23 (till December 2022), the total number of wagons produced under the Rolling Stock Programme stood at 11,787 (against the target of 14,950 wagons for 2022-23).

Modernisation of rolling stock

IR is continuously working on im­proving the rolling stock deployed in the country. The modernisation and upgradation of roll­ing stock is being done with the primary aim of increasing passenger comfort and improving IR’s operational efficiency. The induction of the semi-high-speed Vande Bharat trains is one of the key achievements of IR towards modernisation of its rolling stock. At present, these semi-high-speed self-propelled trains are being manufactured by the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) thro­ugh indigenous efforts.

Vande Bharat trains have ultra-modern features such as quick acceleration, on-board in­fo­­tain­ment and global positioning system (GPS)-based passenger information systems, au­tomatic sliding doors, retractable footsteps, zero disch­arge vacuum biotoilets, CCTV cameras and ot­her contemporary features, as per global standards. They also enable a substantial reduction in travel time and have a maximum speed of 160-180 km per hour. As of February 10, 2023, a total of 10 Vande Bharat trains are operational on the railway network. Two new Va­nde Bharat trains were flagged off from Mu­m­bai’s Chha­trapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus on February 10, 2023. They will operate on the Mumbai-Solapur and Mumbai-Sainagar, Shirdi routes. The first Vande Bharat train became operational in 2019. In an attempt to improve Vande Bharat versions, IR has come up with two new prototypes of the train – Vande Bharat 2.0 and 3.0. The designs for the 3.0 version have already been finalised. It is expected that the train will operate at a speed of 220 km per hour.

Another important initiative for the modernisation of rolling stock was the introduction of Vistadome coaches. The Himdarshan Expre­ss, IR’s first train to have all-Vistadome coaches, started operations in December 2019. Vistadome coaches provide a panoramic view through wider body side windows as well as transparent sections on the roof, thus enabling passengers to enjoy the scenic beauty of the places they travel through.

As of November 30, 2022, 82 Vistadome coaches are available across various sections of IR’s network. This includes 35 coaches on the Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) platform, several modern features and am­e­nities. These include an observation lounge with a larger window on the end wall, transparent larger windows, electrically controlled op­alescent glass windows on the roof, aesthetically designed interiors and ergonomically designed reclining seats with 180 degree rotation. Other features of the Vista­do­me coaches are GPS-based public address-cum-passenger information systems, automatic sliding doors at the compartment entry on both sides, fibre-reinforced plastic modular toilets with a pressurised flushing system and bio-tanks, aspiration-type automatic fire detection with an alarm system, CCTV system, etc.

The ultra-modern Tejas trains have also been introduced on the LHB platform with slee­per coaches on the IR network. The first Tejas express was launched in May 2017 from Mum­bai to Goa. These trains were amongst the first to have major distinguishing features that in­cluded automatic entrance doors, a passenger announcement/passenger information system, a fire and smoke detection system, CCTV ca­me­ras, improved lavatories with vacuum-as­sisted flushing, biotoilets, etc. In 2021, coaches of four Rajdhani trains were replaced with Tejas sleeper coaches.

In another development, a new variant of LHB air-conditioned (AC) three-tier economy coaches have also been introduced. They have enhanced amenities and increased passenger carrying capacity. These trains have been introduced to cater to the needs of the general ma­sses and fulfil their expectations of travel in the AC class. A prototype coach was unveiled in 2020-21 and 519 such coaches have been ma­nufactured as of November 30, 2022.

IR has planned large-scale proliferation of LHB coaches. LHB coaches are technologically superior with features such as anti-climbing arrangement, air suspension with a failure indication system and a less corrosive shell. These coaches enable better riding and have better aesthetics than the conventional ICF coaches. Since 2018-19, IR’s production uni­ts have stopped the manufacture of ICF coaches. On May 20, 2022, IR flagged off the 12,000th LHB coach rolled out by the ICF. Apart from this, IR is focusing on shifting from preventive/ periodic maintenance to predictive maintenance with the help of smart coaches. Further, fire-resistant coaches, aluminium frei­ght rak­es, radio frequency identification tags in wa­go­ns, etc. have also been deployed in the rolling stock segment.

Future plans

Under Union Budget 2023-24, the government has laid focus on manufacturing 35 hydrogen fuel-based trains, 4,500 newly designed automobile carrier coaches with side entry, 5,000 LHB coaches and 58,000 wagons. It is expected that hydrogen trains will entail an investment of Rs 800 million per train and ground infrastructure of Rs 700 million per route on various heritage/hill routes.

Further, according to the railway ministry, during 2023-24, the focus will be on increasing the number of Vande Bharat trains. Besides the ICF, Vande Bharat Express coaches will now be rolled out from three factories in Sonepat (Har­yana), Latur (Maharashtra) and Raebareli (Utt­ar Pradesh). IR is also planning to refurbish more than 1,000 coaches of premier trains su­ch as Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duronto, Humsa­far and Tejas. The interiors of these coaches will be improved with a modern look and for enhan­ced passenger comfort.

In a bid to increase the deployment of Van­de Bharat trains in the country, IR has prepa­red a Rs 180 billion plan to scale up the locomotive maintenance facility. Given that these trains are faster, easier to maintain, consume less energy and have greater flexibility in operations, railways need dedicated facilities in depots and workshops for the maintenance of Vande Bharat trains. It is estimated that investments to the tune of Rs 3.12 billion per depot will be required to upgrade them. Of this, Rs 1.66 billion will be spent on civil works, Rs 1.32 billion on mechanical works and Rs 0.13 billion on en­gineering works. Meanwhile, IR is also planning to launch Vande Bharat freight trains with the objective of capturing additional high-value ti­me-sensitive cargo. IR also has plans to launch tilting trains in India by 2025-26. This technology is expected to be deployed in 100 Vande Bharat trains.

Under the revised coach production programme for 2023-24, IR is aiming to roll-out 6,978 coaches. Of these, 3,549 will be from ICF, 1,762 from the Rail Coach Factory, Kapur­thala and 1,667 from the Modern Coach Fac­tory, Raebareli. Further, production of 1,190 electric locomotives is also planned under the locomotive production plan for 2023-24. Going forward, with the government increasing its focus on becoming self-reliant, indigenous production of rolling stock is expected to gain traction.