The Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai, one of independent India’s earliest indigenous production units inaugurated by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in October 1955, is on a roll. From manufacturing all-steel, all-welded shells with a capacity of 350 train coaches per year, the production unit, spread over 511 acres, which employs about 10,000 persons, now rolls out over 4,000 coaches annually, catering not just to domestic demand but also to international railway operators.
Arguably the largest coach making facility in the world, the ICF’s Furnishing Division was commissioned in October 1962.
Despite restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ICF manufactured 3,100 coaches in 2021-22. This included 31 rakes of the Mainline Electric Multiple Unit (248 coaches), 15 Vistadome tourist coaches, 2,639 Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches, 4 air-conditioned new generation rakes for the Kolkata Metro Rail and 50 Diesel Electric Tower Car. In 2019-20, the factory had touched an all-time high of 4,166 coaches and emerged as the largest railway passenger coach manufacturer in the world.
As of June 8, 2022, ICF has made 69,236 coaches, according to officials.
The indigenously developed ‘Train 18’, India’s first semi-high-speed train with an operating speed of 160 kmph, which was flagged off as ‘Vande Bharat Express’ between Delhi and Varanasi in 2018, has been a game changer for the ICF and the Indian Railways as a whole.
Considered the most successful product of the ‘Make in India’ initiative, a few dozen Vande Bharat Express rakes are in production at the ICF and other coach-making factories of the railways.
Its operational success and ride comfort has kindled interest outside India as well. According to K.N. Babu, a senior ICF official, the Rail India Technical and Economic Service Limited (RITES), which deals with export orders, was in talks with Argentina and Chile regarding orders for Vande Bharat rakes.
The factory has also progressed to LHB coaches. “We have completely stopped making the ICF design coaches since 2018. Since then, we are rolling out about 2,200-2,500 LHB coaches every year,” Mr. Babu said.
Shubhranshu, Chief Administrative Officer, Rail Wheel Plant, Bela, who was the Principal Chief Mechanical Engineer in ICF, says the factory has a huge potential for exports. “There is a readymade potential for exporting the Diesel Electric Multiple Units (DEMU) and Vande Bharat rakes to countries operating trains on the Broad Gauge,” he said.
He added that the quality of DEMU rakes supplied to Sri Lanka was so good that the country had placed more orders.
With an enviable export order, ICF has emerged a jewel in the crown of Tamil Nadu’s manufacturing industry. The factory has made its presence felt in the global map by exporting more than 750 coaches, shells and components to countries such as Thailand, Myanmar, Taiwan, Zambia, The Philippines, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Malaysia, Angola and Sri Lanka.
Recently, ICF sent two rakes of 1,600 HP DEMU for Nepal Railways, which was jointly flagged off by the Prime Ministers of both countries as the first ever train service between Jaynagar (Bihar) and Kurtha (Nepal), making it a landmark in cross-border connectivity.
According to ICF officials, the nearby Ambattur Industrial Estate was once the largest supplier of coach components for the factory. The ICF has now embarked on a mission of churning out Vande Bharat type of freight trains to cater to the needs of e-commerce operators for fast movement of goods/parcels across the country under the ‘Gati Shakti’ initiative of the Prime Minister.
On the eco-preservation front, not many know that the ICF is the only organisation in Indian Railways that has completely neutralised greenhouse gas emission due to its industrial activity and achieved a Carbon Negative status.
Besides creation of exclusive green forests in the factory surroundings and installation of windmills and solar panels for generation of electricity, ICF is a zero-discharge factory, making it a ‘Green Workshop’.