Set up in 1952 in collaboration with Swiss Car & Elevator Manufacturing Co., Schlieren, Switzerland, ICF (Integral Coach Factory) at Perambur, Chennai began production in 1955. It rolled out its 50,000 thousand passenger coach just a couple of months ago. In the process it also created a new record of manufacturing 2,005 coaches for the year FY16, more than the combined output of two other coach manufacturing units viz. RCF (Rail Coach Factory), Kapurthala, Punjab, and MCF (Modern Coach Factory), Rae Bareli, UP. It is now poised to reach greater heights in FY17 targeting 2,400 coaches of no less than 69 variants.
Historically, ICF has had a very strong design office as it went into business much before RDSO (Research Design and Standards Organisation)-railway’s premier R&D facility in Lucknow-got into top gear. Moreover being miles away from Lucknow, dire neccessity forced it to develop its own design expertise which has enabled it over the years to come up with a string of designs to suit varied needs be it for railways, defence, or the export market.
From production of passenger coaches to manufacturing of EMUs (Electric Multiple Units) for Kolkata’s suburban system in 1962-63, was a short but a significant step for ICF in ‘Make-in-India’, as till then EMUs were being imported for Mumbai’s suburban system from varied sources such as, Metro Cammel of UK, Italy’s Ansaldo Breda, and Japanese firm Hitachi.
The design team proved its mettle when it manufactured 72 more coaches for India’s first ever metro system at Kolkata in 1981-82, with a unique system for collecting current from a third rail automatic door closing mechanism. This was followed by repeat orders in 1989-90 and once again in 2010, this time for 13 of fully air-conditioned eight coach rakes similar to those running on Delhi metro.
As the only premier rail coach manufacturing facility in Southeast Asia, ICF succeeded in getting its first export order for meter-gauge bogies from Thailand in 1967, followed in quick succession by orders from Burma, Thailand, and Taiwan. Graduating to complete coaches, it began with 113 coaches for Taiwan, followed by 383 meter or cape gauge coaches and 361 bogies to Burma, Phillipines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Angola, and Zambia. The latest order being a score of six-coach DEMU (Diesel Electric Multiple Unit) rakes for Srilanka in 2010 -12 for R126 crore.
ICF’s product mix comprises of locomotive hauled passenger as well as special purpose viz. military ward cars for defence, OHE maintenace tower cars, double-decker coach, self-propelled accident relief trains etc. It has also the distinction of being the only facility in the world which builds self-propelled coaches with all three types of traction viz. electric, diesel-electric and diesel-hydraulic.
First dual voltage AC-DC EMU for Mumbai was rolled out in 2000-01, and recently 384 fully air-conditioned three-phase EMU coaches with automatic door closing mechanisms and other state-of-art passenger amenities, including 12 with indigenous propulsion system have been supplied to the Central Railway. They are presently undergoing extensive trials before being placed in active service, and are to be followed by another lot of 39 AC EMU 12 coach rakes for MUTP Phase-2 Project.
A brand new facility built a couple of years ago now churns out LHB (Linke-Hoffman-Buche) stainless steel body coaches. About 500 are programmed for manufacture this year for upgradation of premier routes to 160 kpmh speed, as had been announced by Suresh Prabhu in his last budget speech. Time is now ripe for an aggressive bid for exports to at least South-Asian and African nations which are badly in need of rail coaches, but are not rich enough to pay big bucks for ‘Bullet’ or other similar trains of high speed variety.
A SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) set up under railway ministry could leverage the vast resources of ICF, RCF, MCF and a host of ancillary units to not only earn foreign exchange and improve railway’s bottom line, but also provide a major boost to PM’s ‘Make-in-India’ initiative.
(RC Acharya is former member, Railway Board)