This June, Indian Railways is going to roll out high-speed, “engine-less” train sets, its most significant technology upgrade in its fleet of passenger coaches since the induction of the German-make Linke Hoffmann Busch around two decades ago. Named “Train 18” in consonance with 2018, the year of its production, the train sets will be manufactured in Integral Coach Factory, Chennai, which is done with the design work and giving finishing touches to the pre-production processes.
“We expect to roll it out by June this year,” Sudhanshu Mani, General Manager of ICF, told The Indian Express. The completely indigenous coaches, to be deployed in Shatabdi and Tejas-like products, are designed to run at a top speed of 160 kmph. Instead of being pulled by a locomotive, they are powered by traction motors fitted underneath each coach to render them self-propelled. ICF officials said the final product would be no less than their European counterparts.
Driver cabins are installed in the last coaches on both ends, which means the train set can run both directions as needed, negating the current long-drawn process of engine-reversal for loco-hauled trains. The power, being distributed among all the coaches, makes it accelerate and decelerate much faster than conventional trains.
According to ICF designers, it is a marriage between the stability and sturdiness of LHB coach with the distributed traction power technology of train sets used globally. Like in Shatabdi coaches, Train 18 will have a Second Class and a premium First Class. Both types are loaded with features like automatic doors, wifi-hub for streaming entertainment in the passengers’ own devices and the like.
Already planning for the next level of Train 18, ICF is also preparing the groundwork for “Train 20”—which is a train set of sleeper coaches to be deployed as Rajdhani type trains—to be out in 2020.
Train 20 will have aluminium car body—the norm internationally—but a departure from Indian practice, which uses steel car body. Aluminum car body makes the coaches lighter and better looking, as per the designers. Companies from Japan, China and Europe are in race to bag the design consultancy contract for Train 20. The tender will be finalised by the second week of February this year, officials said. ICF plans to make two trains by 2020 and thereafter 24 more trains.
At around Rs 6 crore, although the coast of each coach of the train sets is more than double of its loco-hauled, LHB counterpart, the cost is justified by the elimination of a locomotive and increase in capacity. The speed and quicker turnaround times for these train sets also make them earn more money for Railways.
With Train 18 and Train 20, the Integral Coach Factory, one of the oldest rolling-stock-manufacturing unit of Indian Railways, is getting a new lease of life with plans to increase its capacity from the present 2250 coaches per year to 2750 per year. The additional funding of Rs 500 for capacity augmentation has already got an in-principal approval from the Railway ministry and is scheduled to be formally sanctioned in the Budget in February, sources said.