The recent increase in derailments has prompted Indian Railways to expedite its plan to upgrade its older Integral Coach Factory (ICF)-type passenger coaches with safer centre-buffer couplers.
The recent increase in derailments has prompted Indian Railways to expedite its plan to upgrade its older Integral Coach Factory (ICF)-type passenger coaches with safer centre-buffer couplers, even as it has rededicated itself to the over Rs 1.5 lakh crore project to convert its entire fleet to Linke-Hoffman-Busch (LHB) coaches in a decade.
According to a railway official who did not want to be named, the carrier will pick up 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. However, retrofitting is just an interim measure, said the official, adding the transporter will eventually switch to LHB coaches.
The two derailments that took place last month — which led to AK Mital quitting as the chairman of the Railway Board and Suresh Prabhu moving out of the ministry — brought to the fore how LHB coaches are much safer. While the derailment of Utkal Express, having ICF-type coaches, claimed at least 20 lives, the Kaifiyat Express mishap did not result in any loss of life, one reason being the train had only LHB coaches.
Starting April 1, 2018, only LHB coaches will be inducted by the railways to phase out ICF coaches completely, though the process will take time, the source said. No ICF coaches will be manufactured from now onwards. “Till now all assembly lines are not ready for LHB but it will be done in the next six to eight months. And by 2018, all coaches manufactured will be LHB coaches,” added the official.
At present, there are around 60,000 coaches pressed into service by the railways of which around 40,000 are ICF-type coaches. “We make 4,000 LHB coaches each year. So it may take 10 years to replace all ICF coaches. However, we expect that LHB making capacity will go up every year so the time taken may be lesser at eight to nine years,” said the official.
Some of the ICF coaches will also start to retire. In fact, the railways even has plans to prematurely retire some of the coaches that are nearing their life cycle and some of them will be pressed into other services such as car carriers, parcel vans, as additional coaches for track machines and staff resting vans.
The safer LHB coaches are more expensive compared with ICF coaches. A general class LHB coach cost around Rs 3.5 crore compared with Rs 2.5 crore for an ICF coach. “The cost moves up as the coach category changes,” added the official.
Meanwhile, given that human error has emerged as the reason for most accidents recorded recently, senior railway officials from New Delhi including board members are holding meetings with chief safety officers of all the railway zones to take stock of the safety measures and practices put in place.