DELHI (Metro Rail News): According to current and former senior executives of Indian Railways, rolling out 400 Vande Bharat Express trains will generate roughly Rs 40,000 crore in revenue and jobs and other advantages.
Nirmala Sitharaman, the Indian Finance Minister, announced in her presentation of the Union Budget for 2022-23 that 400 new energy-efficient Vande Bharat trains will be launched in three years. The Integral Coach Factory (ICF) devised, developed, and built the Vande Bharat Express, a semi-high-speed train, for a cost of Rs 100 crore.
According to anonymous Indian Railways officials, the introduction of 400 Vande Bharat trains over the next three years is not only a headline-grabbing declaration. It’s a Rs 40,000 crore business opportunity with 15,000 jobs and a slew of other advantages.
There are now only two Vande Bharat trains operating: one from Delhi to Varanasi and another from Delhi to Katra. A senior official at ICF told IANS with pride told that Since they were put into service a few years ago, the trains without a pair have been running six days a week without a breakdown. Perhaps the Vande Bharat Express is the first train without a pair of. It is a typical example of ‘Make in India,’ and it is significantly less expensive than equivalent trains produced by overseas companies.
Officials had told IANS that the train contains just approximately 15% import material, which will drop even further if manufacturing volumes improve. According to an ICF official, the third prototype is being delayed because of production difficulties and logistical challenges caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Rs 40,000 crore question is how the government plans to meet its aim of 400 Vande Bharat Express trains in the next three years. While it is an ambitious goal, authorities believe it can be delivered in stages, with the government providing more clarity on its objectives.
The improved Vande Bharat train is projected to be ready for testing in April, with commercial production beginning in August/September 2022, according to Indian Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. “I would think that a more realistic target of say 100-150 trains in three years would have been better. This target itself would need very concerted and committed action by railway executives, particularly at ICF,” Sudhanshu Mani, retired General Manager, ICF and the Creator of Vande Bharat Express, told IANS.
According to him, commercial manufacturing and necessary testing of the improved train would not begin until September 2022; therefore the target should be achievable. “Rolling out the trains in large numbers may not be an issue. But where are they going to be deployed? The routes also have to be finalised,” Mani added.
Mani continued ICF to begin work on Vande Bharat trainsets, including the sleeper model (code-named Train 19) and 300 aluminium body trainsets (code-named Train 20). For the production of aluminium body trains, a foreign partner could be engaged. 400 trains might be there in 5-6 years, “He remarked.
When pointed out that the train could be rolled out by other coach manufacturing facilities in the country, Mani said: “Initially only ICF should roll out as they understand the technology and other aspects. Spreading out the production to other units will result in quality issues.” Concurring with him, a senior official not wanting to be quoted told IANS: “Only ICF should make it. It needs special skill sets, and trained people are not available in other units.”
Officials also stated that spreading out the manufacture will result in not only quality concerns but also the eventual demise of the train, which has been running without a hitch six days a week for the previous few years.
While ICF would initially be in charge of rolling out the trainsets, the other entities would be in charge of maintenance and acquiring production know-how. The availability of the vendors is also a concern. Vendors may not be able to increase their production capacity unless the government provides a clear plan, authorities added.
The official exclaimed “The supply chain will take time to gear up. They can supply only at a steady rate. Out of the 400 trains, during the first year only 20 trains can be rolled out and 380 trains in the remaining two years is not possible.”
Furthermore, vendors and ICF officials are hesitant to touch the Vande Bharat train project following a witch hunt in the shape of a vigilance inquiry that was recently undertaken and finished without uncovering any discrepancies.
Only after long-term contracts say, 60 trains for the next ten years — can vendors set up production facilities, according to officials. Furthermore, they added, Tenders and procurement processes should be designed in such a way that vendors may participate without fear of losing their jobs.