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
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