In­dia's en­gine-less trains get on track

Packed with fea­tures such as ro­tat­ing seats to match the di­rec­tion of the train and slid­ing foot­steps, Train 18 is de­signed to de­light pas­sen­gers, writes T E Narasimhan

Business Standard - - IN DEPTH -

The speed at which Chen­nai-based In­te­gral Coach Fac­tory’s new­est train set, called Train 18, is mov­ing is star­tling. In a mat­ter of months, it has gone from con­cep­tion and de­sign to test­ing. And if all goes well, it will be pressed into com­mer­cial ser­vice by the end of this year.

With a top speed of 200 km per hour, it is among the coun­try’s fastest train sets, which will re­place the ag­ing bo­gies of the In­dian Rail­ways’ sig­na­ture Shatabdi and Ra­jd­hani trains to be­gin with.

But the most in­ter­est­ing as­pect of Train 18 is that it is de­signed to run with­out an en­gine at the front, like the Delhi Metro trains, and de­vel­oped al­most in­dige­nously at half the cost of an im­ported train in just 18 months. It is the first time that a high-speed train set of this va­ri­ety has been pro­duced lo­cally with­out en­ter­ing into tech­no­log­i­cal part­ner­ship with for­eign com­pa­nies, a feat that could yield huge sav­ings for the Rail­ways over the longer run.

The project picked up pace right af­ter its ap­proval by the Rail­way Board in April 2017. The In­te­gral Coach Fac­tory was keen to com­plete it be­fore the re­tire­ment of its cur­rent Gen­eral Man­ager Sud­han­shu Mani, who was in­stru­men­tal in per­suad­ing the Board to ap­prove the project. Mani is due to re­tire in De­cem­ber.

His im­pend­ing re­tire­ment drove the en­tire fac­tory to com­plete the train set at a break­neck speed as those in­volved in the project were wor­ried it would get stuck in his ab­sence. Mani, too, would pitch in with quotes from Shake­speare to keep the morale up and dis­pel any doubts. “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fear­ing to at­tempt,” he would say.

This en­sured the project, which oth­er­wise would have chugged along for years, was com­pleted in just 18 months, a rare feat con­sid­er­ing that a sim­i­lar train set takes three to four years to com­plete glob­ally. Train 18 con­sists of 16 air-con­di­tioned coaches, of which 12 are chair cars with 78 seats each; two coaches are ex­ec­u­tive type with 52 seats each; and two are driv­ing coaches with nor­mal chair car and 44 seats each. These sets are ex­pected to be ideal for in­ter­city ex­press trains which have a travel time of 6-7 hours.

The train set was de­vel­oped at an ap­prox­i­mate cost of ~1 bil­lion, which is about ~2.5 mil­lion more than the cost of build­ing a Shatabdi train. But the cost will pro­gres­sively de­crease as more train sets are built, says Mani.

It would also be wrong, he says, to draw com­par­isons be­tween Train 18 and Shatabdi. “It is not right to com­pare this cost with a lo­co­mo­tive hauled train as train sets be­long to a dif­fer­ent genre. When com­pared to the cost of a sim­i­lar im­ported train, it is 40-50 per cent cheaper. Add the tech­nol­ogy fee payable to tech­nol­ogy providers and the cost es­ca­lates even more,” says Mani.

In the first set, nearly 80 per cent of the com­po­nents are lo­cally made and the idea is to achieve 100 per cent lo­cal­i­sa­tion over time. Cur­rently, cer­tain items like seats, brake mod­ules and au­to­matic doors are im­ported.

With the huge en­gine com­po­nent miss­ing, the train’s driver cab on ei­ther end is de­signed to look like the nose of an air­craft. Be­sides the aes­thetic ap­peal, the aero­dy­namic nose cones have the po­ten­tial to save en­ergy re­quire­ment sig­nif­i­cantly by re­duc­ing air drag, or fric­tion. The defin­ing fea­ture of the train is the lack of a tra­di­tional lo­co­mo­tive in front to pull the car­riage. In­stead of engines at the front of the train, Train 18 is pro­pelled by a mo­tor be­neath ev­ery al­ter­nate car­riage which runs on elec­tric­ity, just like the Delhi Metro trains.

This en­sures even distri­bu­tion of mo­tive power and faster ac­cel­er­a­tion and de­cel­er­a­tion. All the equip­ment is un­der­slung or kept be­low the chas­sis of the coach, leav­ing the floor space free for pas­sen­gers.

“The most im­por­tant point is that we have not fol­lowed the model hith­erto used by In­dian Rail­ways, which is to en­gage a re­puted in­ter­na­tional man­u­fac­turer and en­ter into a tech­nol­ogy ar­range­ment. This would cost more not only for the train but for the tech­nol­ogy fee as well,” says Mani.

In the cur­rent model, the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights be­long to the In­te­gral Coach Fac­tory, the Rail­ways’ car­riage build­ing arm. This type of mas­sive in-house work for a new tech­nol­ogy has been done for the first time in the field of rolling stock by the Rail­ways, he adds.

Train 18 also ex­pands the Rail­ways green foot­print by sav­ing elec­tric­ity. It re­quires about 30 per cent less elec­tric­ity than con­ven­tional trains to com­plete the same dis­tance. There are many other ad­van­tages. Driv­ing cars at both ends en­able quicker turn­around at ter­mi­nals. Com­pared to a typ­i­cal lo­co­mo­tive­hauled train, there can be 10-15 per cent sav­ing in run­ning times. At the same time, since Train 18 does not have to make room for engines and power cars, it can carry the same num­ber of pas­sen­gers with its 16 coaches as a 20 coach Shatabdi. In all, Train 18 can seat 1,128 pas­sen­gers — that’s more than the con­ven­tional AC chair car trains.

Be­sides, the train comes equipped with a host of pas­sen­ger ameni­ties such as on-board Wi-Fi in­fo­tain­ment, GPS-based pas­sen­ger in­for­ma­tion sys­tem, plush in­te­ri­ors, bio­vac­uum toi­lets, dif­fused LED light­ing, charg­ing points be­neath ev­ery seat, in­di­vid­ual touch- based read­ing lights, in­tel­li­gent air­con­di­tion­ing sys­tem that can ad­just the tem­per­a­ture ac­cord­ing to the cli­mate con­di­tions and oc­cu­pancy, con­cealed roller blinds, dis­abled-friendly en­trance, auto sen­sor taps, ro­tat­ing seats to match the di­rec­tion of the train in ex­ec­u­tive class, au­to­matic slid­ing doors in­side the coach, mod­u­lar lug­gage rack with glass bot­tom and the like.

All this also comes with bet­ter safety sys­tems. For ex­am­ple, the au­to­mated plug doors pro­vided in the coaches will open only when the train reaches zero kmph and the train will start only af­ter all the doors are closed. CCTV cam­eras on ei­ther side of the driver’s cab help the driver to mon­i­tor the move­ment of pas­sen­gers on the platform be­fore clos­ing the doors and tak­ing off.

Then, there are au­to­mated slid­ing foot­steps which form a tem­po­rary bridge be­tween the train and the platform to pro­tect pas­sen­gers from ac­ci­den­tally fall­ing on to the tracks.

The train un­der­went its first suc­cess­ful lowspeed trial in Chen­nai last month. A few trial runs were suc­cess­fully com­pleted at medi­um­speed be­tween Mo­rad­abad and Kota. Last week, it also suc­cess­fully com­pleted high-speed tri­als and is now ready for launch.

Ini­tially, the man­date was to man­u­fac­ture just two such train sets, but now the fac­tory is plan­ning to make four more Train-18 type sets. A new and ex­cit­ing jour­ney for the Rail­ways has only just be­gun.

Since Train 18 does not have to make room for engines and power cars, it can carry the same num­ber of pas­sen­gers with its 16 coaches as a 20 coach Shatabdi

Train 18’s aero­dy­namic nose cones can cut en­ergy re­quire­ment sig­nif­i­cantly by re­duc­ing air fric­tion

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