The world's fourth largest railways, long bogged down by adjectives like slow, tardy, dirty, et al, is in the midst of a makeover. First came the cosmetic changes. Last summer, the Indian Railways rolled out Project Swarn to refurbish and jazz up 15 Rajdhani and an equal number of Shatabdi trains at an estimated cost of Rs 25 crore. Think cleaner loos, trolley service for catering, on-board entertainment and more. Around the same time, the railway station Wi-Fi project was picking up pace.
Then came the promises of better things in the future, like India's very own $17 billion bullet train by 2023. But while the latter has drawn flak in the recent times for sourcing 70% of the core components from Japan, the Indian Railways is reportedly ready to surprise the country with a new, self-propelled, semi-high speed train, entirely made in India, this summer.
According to a Times of India report, the new train set-temporarily named Train 18-has been designed by the Chennai-based Integral Coach Factory (ICF) and the first train with 16 fully air-conditioned coaches and contemporary-style continuous window glasses will roll out by June. Not only will it pack 'world-class' passenger amenities such as GPS-based passenger information system, on-board Wi-Fi and infotainment, automatic sliding doors and zero discharge vacuum-based bio-toilets, but it will also cut down the travel time by at least 20% compared to any locomotive-hauled train to faster acceleration and deceleration. The new train's aerodynamic nose for reduced drag helps too while improving aesthetics.
Train 18 is expected to eventually replace Shatabdi Trains, currently used for superfast inter-city travel. Where the maximum speed of the Shatabdi is 150 kmph-but it usually manages only 70-90 kmph due to several speed restrictions and slower acceleration-Train 18 is said to run at a top speed of 160 kmph. That is the same speed as the Gatimaan Express, country's fastest train currently that has been dubbed the 'semi-bullet train'.
Another train set called Train 20 is expected to follow in 2020, to replace the Rajdhani trains plying on longer routes. The only difference between these new trains is that Train 20 will have an aluminium body while Train 18 will have stainless steel body. According to a study, Indian Railways will be able to cut travel time by three hours and thirty-five minutes on the 1,440-km Delhi-Howrah route with this new train set. Given that the calculation factored a maximum permissible speed of 130 kmph, travel time could come down further if the permissible speed limit is raised to 160 kmph.
Being manufactured in India, these new train sets will reportedly cost half of what imported train sets command but it's still a pricey project. A Train 18 coach will reportedly cost Rs 2.50 crore and a Train 20 coach is expected to cost more than double that figure.
Once these new trains commence operations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have finally delivered on one of his key electoral promises-that of high speed rail systems connecting the four major cities of India.
Rail passengers would have had more to cheer had the government given the green light to the high speed Spanish Talgo trains too. To remind you, the railway ministry had shown interest in deploying these trains on a profit-sharing basis after the successful trial in 2016. Talgo not only offered to send four trains to India but had also agreed to customise the trains as per Indian conditions and infrastructure.
These trains could anyway race at an average speed of 105 kmph on existing tracks and push up to 180 kmph. Unfortunately, the plan seems to have fallen through. "The Talgo trains cannot come through direct agreement. It has to come via open tender. But there is no other bidder offering the same technology. This makes the procurement of Talgo trains nearly impossible," a senior railway board official recently admitted.
With the ministry shelling out Rs 18,000 crores to upgrade the 1,384-km Delhi-Mumbai corridor and 1,450-km Delhi-Howrah corridor to allow the movement of trains at 160 kmph, more trains like Train 20 would have been ideal.