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Train 18, Indian Railways’ record-creating first self-propelled train set for long-distance inter-city travel, will be unveiled on October 29. Manufactured at a cost of Rs 100 crore, the 16-coach AC train set will replace India’s fastest Shatabdi Express train. A project of this magnitude has not been completed in a such a record time anywhere in the world, says Integral Coach Factory (ICF) Chennai GM Sudhanshu Mani. In an interview with Financial Express Online’s Smriti Jain, Sudhanshu Mani talks about the challenges ICF faced while making the world-class ‘Make in India’ Train 18 and how his team overcame them:
Train 18 has been made in a record time. What are the challenges that ICF had to face?
It’s actually just 18 months as the go ahead was received by us from the Railway Board only in April 17. The challenges involved intelligent processing in all fields like interaction with consultants conceptual design, detailed design, development and prototype tests of sub-assemblies and subsequent supply chain, assembly and manufacture of the shells followed by furnishing and intricate testing and commissioning. Such a project has never been attempted by Indian Railways, let alone ICF. Our mode has been to acquire technology for rolling stock and assimilate it gradually with the help of the partner. This was a whole new ball game, we were the developer of the technology and had to be in the lead all the time, with our own technical teams as well the vendors who were developing the sub-assemblies.
Coming to specifics, it’s noteworthy that Indian Railways did not have ready technology for 160 km/hr fit motorized bogies. Developing such bogies with fully suspended traction motors and under-slung propulsion system was a very tough task. Our exteriors have often been singled out for criticism and we had to innovate, within our limitations, to present an attractive exterior. Then there was the task of coordination with various third party equipment to talk to each other digitally and our engineers had to work hard to make that possible, bridging soft and hard differences in philosophy of design and performance.
Suffice it to say that it has been a remarkable journey and I salute the team ICF and the associated industry partners for making this possible. There was tension, there was bitterness, there were temporary disappointments all the way and at the end of the day, we have been able to deliver. I am not aware if a project of this magnitude has been completed, from concept to prototype, anywhere in the world in such a short time.
Let me add that I have worked on nearly all major rolling stock design and development programmes of Indian Railways, including major locomotive projects, but I can say without any doubt that this would count as the biggest challenge and the greatest success of our indigenous programme with complete ownership of technology with ICF.
How is Train 18 radically different from other trains manufactured on the LHB platform?
The features which make the train sets different from other coaches are so many. First and foremost, it has a much faster acceleration and deceleration rate and it would therefore cut down the travel time substantially. With its quick turnaround advantage, it would be liked immensely by our operating wing.
Watch video: Train 18 exclusive first impressions: It’s world-class all the way!
Let me also tell you about the features which passengers would appreciate as something new 1. modern air-conditioned coaches interconnected with fully sealed gangways, which block noise and dust 2. Centrally operated automatic plug doors with sliding steps. The sliding steps close the gap between coaches and station platform. 3. Touch free automatic doors inside the passenger compartment 4. Two coaches – one on either end – are provided with disabled-friendly passenger bays and disabled-friendly toilets 5. Onboard uninterrupted wifi and enabled infotainment 6. GPS-enabled passenger information – of train speed, location, time to reach destination etc. 7. Toilets with touch-free fittings 8. Multilevel lighting – direct and indirect, similar to aircraft lighting 9. Comfortable seating, window blinds and luggage racks etc.
All the equipment of the train are mounted underneath the floor so the entire train is available for amenities/movement of passengers. There are no locomotives or power cars like any Shatabdi or Rajdhani trains. With specially designed undercarriage for 160 km/h speed operation and multi-featured couplings, the train meets a higher safety standard. It is much more energy-efficient, more maintenance-friendly with lower life cycle cost.
How did the idea of Train 18 come about?
When I joined ICF in 2016, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had to lead a very capable team, a team comprising of proficient designers, engineers, supervisors and technicians and so on. And more than their capability, I sensed a certain chutzpah in them. It was now left to me to remove any doubts that they had about their potential and chanelize this energy to do something positively audacious. As Lucio in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure says, “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt” or as Iqbal said, “Girte hain shahsawar hi maidaane jung mein, wo tifl kya gire jo ghutno ke bal chale”, I told them that the days of their doubts were over.
We were going to design and manufacture the best train ever made in India, matching world standard. I was aware that Indian Railways had been dilly dallying in respect of train sets for decades and it was now or never. Train sets were the norm in all developed railways systems and India could not afford to be a laggard any more. And we were going to do it ourselves and not through crutches of any foreign company. True Make in India with a clear stamp of ICF. I told them come, let us make history.
What is the percentage of indigenous components in Train 18? Will this go up as more train sets are manufactured?
Most of the major equipment like, car body, propulsion system, interior furnishing items, bogies etc. are made in India. Import content is mainly in brake system, automatic doors, seats and air springs. In near future, some of these items will also be made in India and in the long term the import content would be reduced even more drastically.
How many more such Train 18 sets will ICF manufacture and are train sets like these the future of rail travel in India?
Six train sets are sanctioned with the second one planned for a February turn out. Four more will be turned out in 2019-20 and we expect to make many many more in future. Train sets should replace all premium long distance locomotive-hauled trains like Shatabdis and Rajdhani trains. But then let’s wait for the tests and trials by RDSO to be over after which a call would be taken on the subject by our Railway Board.