The Indian Railways would stop inducting the relatively unsafe Integral Coach Factory (ICF)-type coaches, which consist of two-thirds of its 60,000-strong fleet at present, by the middle of 2018 while the production of safer Linke-Hoffman-Busch (LHB) coaches would be multiplied, railway minister Piyush Goyal said on Friday. “Rae Bareli (modern coach factory) has already sent me a proposal to produce 5,000 LHB coaches per year, up from 1,000 at present,” the minister said, stressing on the importance of ensuring safety of passengers. While the plan is to at least double the LHB coaches capacity from an annual 4,000 at present, given that about 20,000 LHB coaches are in use, it would take about five years to replace all ICF coaches with LHB. “In four to five years, ICF will be history,” Goyal asserted. Railways has three passenger coach manufacturing plants — Rae Bareli, ICF-Chennai and Rail Coach Factory at Kapurthala. Speaking at the Indian Express Group’s Idea Exchange programme, Goyal said the transporter’s coach factories were augmenting LHB capacities at a pace much faster than planned earlier.
While the cost of the renewed LHB capacity addition programme was not immediately available, replacing the entire IFC-type coaches could entail a capital expenditure of Rs 1.5 lakh crore, analysts said. The national transporter’s FY18 capex plan from budgetary resources and otherwise is `1.31 lakh crore, but this is to fund its entire capacity expansion in the year including laying new tracks, doubling, gauge conversion, electrification, foot over-bridges, station upgradation, etc. “Though the LHB technology is 30-year old, it is the best that we have,” Goyal said.
As reported by FE earlier, apart from ramping up its coach manufacturing capacity at various factories, railways will be roping in companies such as state-run BEML and private firm Titagarh Wagons who are into rail manufacturing to accelerate the production of LHB coaches. Sources said no ICF coaches will be manufactured now. These couplers enhance the safety features, prevent toppling and coaches pile-ups during derailments. Railways will also start prematurely retiring some of the older ICF coaches depending on their physical condition and will be used for other purposes such as parcel vans, as additional coaches for track machines, car carriers and staff resting vans.
As an interim measure, the carrier is also picking up ICF coaches with a life of at least 15 years for retrofitting with safe couplers. These couplers have enhanced safety features, preventing toppling and coaches piling up during derailments, which increase casualties.
While the derailment of Utkal Express on August 19, having ICF-type coaches, claimed at least 20 lives, the Kaifiyat Express mishap that happened later did not result in any loss of life, one reason being the train had only LHB coaches.
When asked whether the safety of the existing rail network ought not to be higher priority than bullet trains, Goyal said there was no shortage of funds for safety. “Funds available for safety are sufficient.. safety will not be compromised,” he said.
Japan’s Shinkansen technology was being brought to India (in the Rs 1.1 lakh crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project) 53 years after it was out to use in the island country and by the time our facility would become operational, it would be 58 years (since Japan used it), the minister said, countering the view that India’s adoption of bullet trains was premature.
Goyal also said the Cabinet might take up the issue of commercial coal mining by the private sector “soon”. Allowing commercial coal mining without any restrictions on end use would help the government to reach its target of producing 1.5 billion million tonne (mt) of coal domestically by 2022—one billion mt by CIL, and 500 mt by the private sector. When put into action, the policy would open the doors to global mining giants such as Glencore, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Representatives from power companies such as Jindal Steel & Power, Adani Enterprises, JSW Energy, Lanco Infratech and GMR had participated in a meeting with the coal ministry earlier this year to discuss the technicalities of the much-anticipated auction of coal mines.