Vande Bharat 2.0: Future of semi-high speed rail in India

The Vande Bharat trains, launched in 2019, are some of the most prominent products of the Make in India programme. Originally named “Train 18”, the train set was developed indigenously at the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai. The Vande Bharat Express provides facilities that could be a game changer with respect to rolling stock for Indian Railways (IR) after the Rajdhani and Shatabdi Expresses. Sin­ce the launch of the first Vande Bharat Express on the New Delhi-Varanasi route in 2019, 10 more have been launched across various parts of the country, connecting more than 108 districts and 17 states.

Indian Infrastructure takes a look at the key features of the Vande Bharat trains, the ex­perience so far and future opportunities offered by them…

Salient features

Vande Bharat is India’s first semi-high-speed train equipped with world-class passenger amenities. The train can run at high speeds, re­ducing journey time by 25-45 per cent compared to conventional trains. It has an intelligent braking system, which enables better ac­c­e­leration and deceleration, helping in the re­duction of travel time.

At present, two prototypes of the train are operational. The speed of the first prototype  goes up to 160 km per hour while Vande Bharat 2.0 can achieve a maximum speed of 180 km per hour. The improved Vande Bharat Express will weigh 392 tonnes against the previous version of 430 tonnes. Vande Bharat 2.0 offers a superior, aircraft-like travelling experience and is equipped with state-of-the-art safety features including the indigenously developed train collision avoidance system, Kavach. The designs for the next version of Vande Bha­rat (prototype 3) have already been finalised. It is expected to operate at a speed of 220 km per hour. These trains will be rolled out by 2025.

Various digital technologies have also been deployed on the train. All coaches are equip­ped with automatic doors, a GPS-based audio-visual passenger information system, and on-board hotspot and Wi-Fi for entertainment purposes. All toilets in the train are of the bio-vacuum type. The the train features dual-mode lighting — diffused mode for general illumination and personal illumination for every seat. The train also has insulation, which is meant to restrict heat and noise to very low levels for additional passenger comfort.

The Vande Bharat Express trains have 16 air-conditioned coaches, including two executive class coaches. The total seating capacity is 1,128 passengers. The train also provides disabled-friendly facilities. In line with IR’s aim of becoming a net zero carbon emitter, the train has a regenerative braking system in the coaches, which can save up to 30 per cent of electrical energy.

Story so far

The Vande Bharat trains were planned with the aim of replacing the Shatabdi Express. They were built to complete the same journey in 15 per cent less time. While semi-high-speed tra­ins can achieve a maximum speed of 180 km per hour, Indian train tracks are not desig­ned to withstand such high speeds.

As of April 1, 2023, a total of 11 Vande Bha­rat Express trains are operating in the country. The first two trains were launched in 2019, and the remaining nine were launched after September 2022. The huge gap is primarily because of the outbreak of the pandemic. Since September 2022, at least one Vande Bharat train has been launched in the country every month. The trains are operational on the New Delhi-Katra, New Delhi-Varanasi, Gandhi­nagar-Mumbai, New Delhi-Amb Andaura, Che­nnai-Mysore, Nagpur-Bilaspur, Howrah-New Jalpaiguri, Secunderabad-Visakhapat­n­am, Mu­m­bai-Solapur, Mumbai-Shirdi and Bhopal-New Delhi routes.

Recently, the Standing Committee on Railways raised concerns regarding the pace of production of Vande Bharat trains. In 2022-23, as of March 15, 2023, only eight rakes were ma­nufactured against the target of 35 for the year. According to IR, the manufacturing of 400 Vande Bharat rakes has been planned in a phased manner within the railway production units. These include 120 rakes at the Marath­wada Rail Coach Factory (RCF), Latur, 80 rakes at the ICF, Chennai, 100 rakes at the Rail Co­ach Navinikarn Karkhana, Sonepat, and 100 rakes at the Modern Coach Factory (MCF), Rae­bareli, engaging different technology partners. In 2022-23, three production units — ICF, RCF and MCF — have together produced 35 rakes (560 coaches), and they are planning to produce 67 rakes (1,072 coaches) in 2023-24.

Recent developments

Tata Steel has been tasked with the manufacturing of seats for the Vande Bharat Express, from first AC to three-tier coaches. The contract for making Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches for the train has also been given to the company, under which the structures of panels, windows and railway tracks are being prepared. At least 22 Vande Bharat trains will be manufactured by Tata Steel in the coming year. IR has awarded a tender of about Rs 1.45 billion to the steel company for manufacturing the parts of the train. This is planned to be completed in 12 months.

In another development, on March 30, 2023, the consortium of Rail Vikas Nigam Limi­ted, JSC Metrowagonmash and Mytischi re­ceived a letter of acceptance for manufacturing and maintenance of the Vande Bharat Express sets including upgradation of government manufacturing units and train set depots at Rs 1.2 billion per rake. The work is expected to be com­pleted in 82 months. The project involves the manufacturing and maintenance of 200 sleeper Vande Bharat trains. Of the 200 rakes, 120 will be built at the Marathwada Rail Coa­ch Fa­ctory in Latur, Maharashtra. Mean­while, the ICF has planned to manufacture around 30 ra­kes in 2023-24. Apart from the ICF, the Vande Bh­arat express will now be rolled out from three other factories in Sonepat (Haryana), Latur (Maha­rashtra) and Raebareli (Uttar Pradesh).

What lies ahead

The modern indigenously designed and manufactured Vande Bharat Express reflects the fast progress of IR. The government is focused on transforming railways in terms of modern tra­i­ns, safe travel, electrification, new lines, freight corridors, redevelopment of stations, and de­velopment of high-speed rail systems that help in enhancing passenger experience. The government plans to roll out a total of 75 Va­nde Bharat Express trains by August 2023 and 400 such trainsets by 2025, opening up a range of opportunities for rolling stock manufacturers. IR also plans to produce aluminium-bodied Van­de Bharat trains in the future.

In a bid to increase the number of Vande Bharat trains in the country, IR has prepared a Rs 180 billion plan to scale up the locomotive maintenance facility. The lack of adequate mai­ntenance depots in India has posed a ma­jor challenge in the roll-out of Vande Bharat. Acc­ording to the Railway Board, there are 58 maintenance coaching depots or locations that can hold 100 Vande Bharat trains. These trains are faster and easier to maintain, consume less energy and have greater operational flexibility. Railways need dedicated facilities in depots and workshops for maintenance of the Vande Bharat trains. Investments of Rs 3.12 billion per depot will be required to upgrade the de­pot. Of this, Rs 1.66 billion will be spent on civil, Rs 1.32 billion on mechanical and Rs 0.13 billion on engineering works.

Apart from this, IR is planning to launch tilting trains in India by 2025-26. This technology will be used in 100 Vande Bharat trains and it will enable them to maneuver curves at higher speeds. At present, these trains are operational in 11 countries – Italy, Portugal, Slove­n­ia, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, the UK, Switzerland, China, Germany and Ro­mania. IR is also planning to become a major exporter of Vande Bharat trains by 2025-26 for Europe, South America and East Asia. A new prototype of Vande Bharat trains with sleeper coaches is expected to be operational by the first quarter of 2024. The Vande Bharat trains are expected to help IR match the level of comfort offered by airlines at a much more affordable cost.

Disha Khanna