With its plan to import Vande Bharat train wheels from Ukraine impeded by the ongoing war, the Indian Railways has decided to manufacture them at its Bengaluru factory to ensure the prime minister’s pet project is rolled out on time, say sources.
The first batch of 128 wheels, out of a cumulative order for 36,000 at a cost of USD 16 million, have been transported from Ukraine to its neighbouring Romania by road and are currently stuck there. These are expected to be airlifted to India by the third week of May, they said.
With the war halting manufacturing in Ukraine, the Railway Wheel Factory in Yelahanka in Bengaluru will now prioritise manufacturing these wheels for two Vande Bharat rakes. A rake of the swanky Vande Bharat Express comprises 16 coaches.
The Railway Wheel Factory (RWF) has issued tenders for parts required for these wheels and is expected to complete the production over the next two-three months, the sources said.
The factory has been manufacturing axles for these wheels, even the imported ones.
The decision will also help the railways to reduce its dependence on imports for train wheels. Currently, the national transporter imports 60-70 per cent of its required wheels.
The ongoing war has raised fear of a major shortage in the global market as Ukraine is one of the largest manufacturers of wheels worldwide. It gets 70 per cent of the orders from the European Union for wheels of freight railcars.
Officials said only about 20 factories worldwide manufacture these wheels.
As the war hampered the supply of wheels, the Ministry of Railways held a series of meetings with the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Embassy in Ukraine and decided to transport the first batch of 128 wheels to Romania by trucks.
The wheels will be brought to Chennai in batches between May 15 and May 20 and taken to the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) where the trainsets are being assembled.
The wheels are manufactured from a large solid piece of steel, which is heated in extreme temperatures and pressurised to take shape. This thermal cycle ensures that forged wheels are stronger than other types.
The railways is now trying to ensure that it has surplus wheels for not just the 75 trainsets that it has to assemble by August 15, 2023 but also for the next lot.
“The wheels will land from Romania in time for trials of the trains and the orders that we have subsequently given to two other companies abroad will also reach us by next month. So, we are most likely to have many trainsets ready by June-July this year. The aim is to have surplus supply so that we can move on to the next lot of trains,” said a senior official.
In the Union Budget for 2022-2023, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed that 400 new Vande Bharat trains be developed and manufactured over the next three years. The target is to roll out 75 such trains by August 15, 2023, according to a timeline announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.