Production of Vande Bharat Express comes to a grinding halt

Design of India’s first semi high-speed train will go back to the drawing table

Published - July 07, 2019 10:13 pm IST - CHENNAI

Train 18 in New Delhi railway station. File photo: Sandeep Saxena

Train 18 in New Delhi railway station. File photo: Sandeep Saxena

The production of India’s first semi high-speed train has come to a grinding halt at the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai. The work on rolling out ten trains this fiscal remains a non-starter despite floating of tenders. Reason: the design of the successfully running Train18 has been found to be violative of certain specifications and will go back to the drawing table. Investigation is also on into allegations that one company was favoured in the making of the ₹97 crore train set, railway sources said.

Indigenously built

Indigenously built by Team ICF in record time, the Train18, later christened as Vande Bharat Express, was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi between New Delhi and Varanasi on February 15, 2019. Celebrated as one of the most successful products of the ‘Make in India’ initiative, Vande Bharat Express is running with no reported issues in the last six months.

Acting on the instructions of the Railway Board, vigilance officials have taken away hundreds of files relating to the making of Train18 from the ICF. The primary issue was that making of Train18 had dozens of deviations from the specifications prescribed by Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO). After the vigilance enquiry, engineers are now hesitant to use the traction transformer and other electrics procured to make the first train. The ICF has now decided to follow the RDSO specifications for electrics and go for fresh tendering, the sources said.

‘Safety ensured’

However, ICF engineers who were part of the first train say that the Train18 was built to industry standard specifications and readily available equipment to roll out the train in record 18 months. “There was no compromise on safety parameters. The train is successfully running in the last six months at high speed between New Delhi and Varanasi. If we had strictly adhered to RDSO specification, the axle load of Train18 would have been much higher resulting in lesser speed. Also, the cost would have been on the higher side,” a senior engineer involved in the making of Train18 told The Hindu on Sunday.

A game changer

The objective was to roll out a world-class train at the lowest possible cost and highest output in terms of operational efficiency, safety and comfort. “Team ICF achieved this goal and Train18 was showcased as a game changer in the industry. Now, some turf issues have also cropped up on the ownership of the train that will be the future of the Indian Railways,” the official who preferred not to be named said.

He quoted the Member Rolling Stock, Railway Board, in a recent meeting of Principal Chief Mechanical Engineers as saying that “Vande Bharat Express has taken the world by storm. It was a herculean job to get the service started and credit goes to all the units who have worked hard in the project.”

MNCs behind stalling?

“This stoppage of work has caused a gloom among the suppliers in and around Chennai since they had worked equally diligently to make the project a success and had invested crores of rupees in developing new and high tech products. They believe that several multinational firms are behind the repeated stalling of the tender process, which had earlier resulted in development of low cost indigenous alternatives,” another top railway official said.

When contacted, a senior ICF official confirmed that work in the making of Vande Bharat Express had come to a halt and was not sure when the process would begin since whole project had ran into a controversy. There was no reply to questions to the top management raised through the Public Relations Officer.

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