Railways to bring down speed of select Vande Bharat, Gatiman Express trains

A week after the Kanchanjunga Express accident, Railway Board considering proposal to slow down premium trains from 160 kmph to 130 kmph on select routes

Updated - June 26, 2024 12:47 am IST

Published - June 25, 2024 09:42 pm IST - CHENNAI

The Vande Bharat Express. File

The Vande Bharat Express. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Indian Railways will soon cut down the speed of premium trains, including Vande Bharat and Gatiman Express, from the present 160 kmph to 130 kmph on select routes to ensure safety. 

Highly placed railway sources told The Hindu on Tuesday that the North Central Railway had written to the Railway Board to slow down Train No 12050/12049 Delhi-Jhansi-Delhi Gatiman Express, Train No 22470/22469 Delhi-Khajuraho-Delhi Vande Bharat Express, Train No 20172/20171 Delhi-Rani Kamalapati-Delhi Vande Bharat Express, and Train No 12002/12001 Delhi-Rani Kamalapati-Delhi Shatabdi Express trains.

Going by the proposal that was “desired to ensure safety”, the speed of Gatiman and Vande Bharat Express trains would be reduced from 160 kmph to 130 kmph while that of Shatabdi Express cut down from 150 kmph to 130 kmph. The reduced speed of these trains would result in an increase in running time by about 25-30 minutes.

Also, the revised timings of the premium trains would cause changes in the timings of at least 10 superfast expresses being operated along the routes, the sources said.

Asked if the reduction in speed was due to the increasing number of accidents across the country since the order was issued within a week of the Kanchanjunga Express accident that left 10 people dead and 40 others injured in West Bengal, a senior railway official said the failure of Train Protection & Warning System (TPWS) on the Delhi-Agra-Jhansi routes was the reason why the premium trains were being slowed down.

“130 kmph much safer speed”

Though the proposal of the Northern Railway to either dispense with TPWS or reduce the speed of trains to 130 kmph was pending with the Railway Board since November 6, 2023, the North Central Railway came up with another proposal on June 25, 2024, to slow down the speed of the trains to 130 kmph. 

As repair or maintenance of TPWS was not possible, according to a report of the Divisional Railway Manager, the Railway Board was requested to downgrade the premium trains to be operated “at a much safer speed of 130 kmph”, the sources said.

Since two zonal railways had given in writing the need to slow down the premium trains citing safety as the reason, the Railway Board would have no other option but to approve, the sources said. 

The change in speed would result in revising the speed or operating schedule of about 8-10 other trains. It was likely that the running time of those trains would also come down to keep the operational speed efficiency of the premium trains. 

To a question if the speed of Vande Bharat Express being operated on other routes across the country would also be reduced, another railway officer said the semi-high-speed trains were running only at 130 kmph on almost all the routes except along a few stretches in the Delhi-Kanpur sector where the track was fit for 160 kmph.

Decision unfortunate: Shubhranshu

Meanwhile, the man behind the making of Vande Bharat Express and former Principal Chief Mechanical Engineer, Integral Coach Factory, Shubhranshu said cutting down the speed of the premium trains on the grounds that TPWS was defunct would not serve any purpose.

Referring to the Kanchanjunga Express accident in West Bengal on June 17, 2024, he said the goods train that collided with the express train was moving only at 45 kmph. 

“I do not understand what safety purpose it would serve by slowing down these trains from 160 kmph to 130 kmph. It is unfortunate that a semi-high-speed train which was built with so many aspirations is being slowed down without getting into the root cause,” he said.

In 2018, Mr. Shubhranshu led ‘Team ICF’ that indigenously designed and developed ‘Train18’ in a record 18-month time. The first rake of ‘Train18’ was named Vande Bharat Express and flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Delhi-Varanasi sector. 

The officer who retired as Chief Administrative Officer of Rail Wheel Factory, Bela, told The Hindu on Tuesday that the decision to slow down Vande Bharat, Gatiman and Shatabdi Express was only an ad hoc reaction.

While the TPWS was defunct on the Delhi-Agra route for many years, he wondered why a decision to cut down the speed was being taken now. For about 20 years, railways have had the Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches and a couple of locomotives that were capable of running at 160 kmph. 

‘Tracks unfit for 160 kmph’ 

“But we were not able to run trains at 160 kmph because the track was not safe to operate at that speed. Unless the organisation is culturally ready to maintain high-tech signalling equipment, high-speed tracks and rolling stock, no matter what trains we buy or make, we will be constrained to run at lower speed only,” he said.

Mr. Shubhranshu said that in the Northeast Frontier Railway, where a goods train collided in the rear of Kanchanjunga Express, leaving 10 people dead and many others injured, Anti-Collision Device was installed as a pilot project along 1,736 route km and on 548 locomotives and funds to the tune of ₹95 crore were utilised for the purpose in March 2011. 

“The reliability and functionality of the Anti-Collision Device failed long ago on those tracks and locomotives. Slowing down the speed is not the solution to ensure safety...as I already said the goods train that collided with Kanchanjunga Express was moving at 45 kmph.”

The issue of safety of train operations gained prominence in the last two years following a few tragic accidents that claimed multiple lives. The devastating three-train collision involving the Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express in the Kharagpur Division of South Eastern Railway in Odisha on June 2, 2023, the rear-end collision of two passenger trains in the Waltair Division of the East Coast Railway in Andhra Pradesh on October 29, 2023, and the latest Kanchanjunga Express accident in the Katihar Division of the Northeast Frontier Railway in West Bengal on June 17, 2024, were three major accidents suspected to have been caused by signal failures and alleged slackness of loco pilots and other staff.

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