Bullock Cart In The Name Of Bullet Train

    Procuring high cost assets further down the Indian Railways to financial disaster

    Procurement bypassed process of full Board’s resolution and policy decisions

    IR's Tracks, Bridges & Signalling do not match the speeds for imported rolling stock

    Violation of shridharan committee's report on delegation of powers by Railway Board

    Ministry of Railways giving procurement of 15 trainsets colour of 'Make in India' Project

    Ministry of Railways have issued a global tender for procurement of  fifteen trainsets giving it a colour of a 'Make in India' Project. Actually, it is not a project but a procurement exercise and brazenly violates the Parliamentary sanction for Design, Development and Manufacture of trainsets in the Railway’s own Rail coach Factory in Kapurthala. The tender does not cover transfer of technology. On the other hand it proposes to outsource even maintenance to an outsider, an unprecedented and potential unsafe move.

    The procurement tender falls into the trap, either inadvertently or by design, of procuring high cost assets driving Indian Railways further down the path of financial disaster. Besides, the proposed procurement conveniently ignores the reality that Indian Railway’s fixed assets, viz. Tracks, Bridges and Signalling do not match the speeds for which these trainsets are being procured. The move also ignores the fact the Indian Railways has not been able to utilize even its current rolling stock assets that can easily run at up to 200kmph, but have not been able to run due to this mismatch.

    The procurement has been mooted by bypassing the process of full Board’s resolution mandated for such policy decisions. The proposers of the procurement process have not only bypassed the Board’s and Ministry’s procedure to evade detection and questioning, but also sidestepped the Mechanical Directorate, which is responsible for all rolling stock procurements, design and production. Quite clearly the intention has been to evade the checks and balances built into the system to embark upon such a disastrous and scandalous plan. The procurement initiated by the Railway Board also violates the Shridharan Committee’s report on delegation of powers. Procurement, if any, should have been done by the General Manager, Rail Coach Factory.

    The rush to buy further assets at exorbitant assets defies explanation. If left unchecked, this procurement has the potential to become another Bofors, Tatra Trucks or Augusta Westland like scandal.

    Train sets - A Scam In The Making

    The best way to pass a scandalous project through the process of scrutiny is to give it the colour of modernity, safety, patriotism, national security and/or new technology. The scrutiny mechanisms, such as Finance, Audit and even the CVC often blink when presented with such arguments of public good. Needless to say, such products and projects, whether for Defence or Railways come from the Developed World, where they are made to local standards, local competing needs and at local costs. Trainsets being procured by the Indian Railways belong to this genre of procurement.

    1. WHY THIS DOCUMENT : Indian Railway has issued a global tender for procurement of fifteen trainsets of twenty coaches each, totalling 315 coaches (including 15 spares). The qualifying round of the tender is opening in August.

    2. WHAT IS A TRAINSET : A trainset is a fixed formation of train consisting of passenger coaches and driving units. They are operated and maintained together as designed and built. The normal train that we see in India and even in the developed world consists of a formation of coaches, which are hauled by locomotives. These are known as loco-hauled trains. Since locomotives are rotated in service, they do not meet the definition of "trainsets". There have been trainsets which are loco-hauled, though the loco is built and painted like the coaches, so the train looks like regular trainsets. Early TGVs of France were of this type. They are still in service.

    When a loco hauled train is operated, the hauling power is concentrated at the head of the train. Sometimes two locomotives are also used, one in the front and one at the back. In a regular trainsets, as trainsets have come to be defined now, the hauling power is distributed along the train, using smaller units of power. This is called "Distributed Power". Shinkansen of Japan and ICE of Germany are examples of this type of Distributed Power trainsets. In modern parlance this is what is meant by a trainset.

    3. FEATURES OF TRAINSETS : Often plush interiors of Japanese or European trainsets are shown to gullible persons to impress them and tell them what they can expect when a trainset arrives in India. Cost is not mentioned in such presentations! The interior is a function of furnishing and upholstery. It is not unique to a trainset. Any passenger coach running on IR can be furnished to those standards. It is a matter of how much we are willing to pay for such provisions and their maintenance. It is also a matter of environment - with Indian food habits, crowding, dusty and humid environment, a rexine upholstery is more suited than expensive fabric. But, if European style interiors are required, they can be provided in existing coaches, without resorting to imports. A design of such a coach called the "ANUBHUTI COACH" is ready, prototype built, but it is not being allowed to proliferate or else it would block import of trainsets!

    Then, what is special about trainsets?

    Trainsets come with enormous hauling power per coach, ranging between 800-1000 hp per coach compared to about 200-300 hp per coach in vogue today on IR or elsewhere with loco-hauled trains. This gives them good acceleration, but at great cost of energy. Besides the horsepower available in trainsets is meant to take them to 300+ kmph, speeds unthinkable on IR's network. Such speeds in Japan, China and Europe are possible only on dedicated high speed tracks. IR is constrained to use its tracks for goods and passenger services both, a reality that is impossible to change, given the high cost of high speed tracks (Rs. 250 crore per km compare to Rs. 5-10 crore per km now) and the difficulties in land acquisition.

    Such high power help trainsets accelerate fast and achieve high speeds. But, more importantly, a trainset is bidirectional. It does not require reversal of the locomotive at the terminal saves about half an hour at the terminal. Over a journey time of 10-15 hours, such savings are miniscule. Besides, even today's trains can be configured to be bidirectional as explained later in this document.

    4. WHAT PRICE TRAINSETS : A typical metro coach in the world market costs over a million Euros apiece. This translates to nearly ten crore Rupees landed in India. Mainline coaches that are planned to be inducted as trainsets are far costlier. Metro coaches are lightweight and run at not more than 80-100kmph. The Japanese prefeasibility studies for semi-high speed trainsets indicate the price of a mainline coach as JPY606 million, i.e. Rs thirty crores per coach. Add duties, oceans freight etc. and the price goes up to Rs 40 crore per coach. Even considering huge markdowns and effective negotiation, it would be impossible to get a coach for less than Rs. 15 crore each. Let us consider that we settle for inferior Chinese supplies at Rs. 10 crore per coach and compare the economics in the most charitable manner:

    * Trainset
    Twenty one coaches @Rs 10 crore each          :         Rs. 210 Crs.
    (One spare as a standard norm)

    * Conventional Train:
    Twenty one air conditioned coaches                :        Rs. 31.5 Crores
    (@Rs. 1.5 Crores each)
    One locomotive                                            :        Rs. 7 Crores
    Alternatively, two locomotives                        :        Rs. 14 Crores
    A full train                                                    :        Rs. 38.5 Crores (or 45.5 Crores)

    * What are the claimed benefits of that a six to seven times costlier train?

    * Lower Energy Consumption : Not possible. Laws of thermodynamics and physics do not permit this. Power per coach is nearly three times higher. No amount of energy conservation measures can deliver better energy efficiency than a conventional train.

    * Higher speeds : Speed on Indian Railway network is governed by a large number of factors - track conditions, traffic density, permanent speed restrictions on account of curves, bridges and other reasons, signalling efficiency which do not permit anything above 160kmph, overhead wire and pantograph interface, number of stoppages etc. besides, it is not the maximum speed that matters, it is the average speed. Claims that journey time between Delhi and Kolkata or between Delhi and Mumbai can be cut down by three to four hours are utopian. Computer simulations (done on internationally acclaimed software) do not indicate savings of more than 30 minutes even when the trainset is given through passage everyday and for every trainset train, an impossible task given the kind of mixed traffic we operate. For a mere 30 minutes of time saving over a journey time of 15-16 hours, are we going to spend seven times?

    * Eliminates Locomotives : Elimination of locomotives does generate seating space, but on-board equipment on train sets do exist which require space of their own. Locomotives are not always a drawback. At the terminals, locomotives can be taken away to haul other trains, whereas in a trainset the power unit is embedded and remains locked up during lie over of trains at the terminals.

    * Eliminates Power Cars : Power cars can be equally easily eliminated by using locomotives with hotel load, one at each end as envisaged. This technology is available indigenoously and has been tested repeatedly. Locomotives with proven hotel load capability exist both on electric as well as diesel traction.

    * Elimminates Pantry Cars : Pantry car is a matter of choice.  Mere adoption of train sets does not eliminate pantry car.  Technically speaking, pantry car can be eliminated even today from LHB rakes if the mini pantry in each coach is used efficiently in conjunction with base kitchens.

    * Higher seating capacity : This is a matter of interior furnishing and not limited to trainsets.

    * Safety : The LHB design of coach, already being built by IR, has an impeccable safety record and it is b etter than an unknown design we intend to import.

    5. IS THIS THE APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY FOR INDIA : At six to seven times the cost, it is not. With a majority that cannot pay even second class fares, spending such huge sums on imported solutions on an imagined need of public is not only a wasteful luxury, but a mockery of the poor. Apart from being an economic disaster, it is also a scandal as explained later.

    6. BULLET TRAIN vs. TRAINSETS : Bullet Train was a fancy name given to the high speed Shinkansen trains of Japan. The name Bullet Train has come to stay for High Speed Rail (HSR). An HSR system is defined as a railway system capable of a maximum speed of 250+kmph. All HSR in the world works with trainsets, since only in a trainset it is possible to provide a thousand horsepower per coach. Exceptions like the early TGV of France exist, which are capable of the same speeds even with conventional (loco-hauled) trains. The TGVs, though, are painted and done up like a regular trainset.

    7. HIGH SPEED RAIL IN INDIA : The speed constraints on IR do not permit 300kmph operations, or even 160kmph operations. HSR operations, all over the world, are done only on dedicated high speed tracks. IR has mixed tracks with freight and low speed passenger and super fast (110-130kmph max) trains running all day long. Only a short stretch of track between Delhi and Agra has been tried out for 160kmph, with special efforts and barricading of tracks to prevent trespass by humans and cattle. In other words, 160kmph (max) operations on IR network is far into the unknown future. Even with building of Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFC) the existing lines will continue to carry substantial freight traffic. In other words the DFCs will be dedicated to freight, but the remaining network will never be dedicated to passenger services since they will continue to carry freight as well.

    8. JAPANESE STUDY FOR HIGH SPEED : A free study by a Japanese consortium is being showcased by IR as a pre-feasibility study into High Speed Rail. Routes such as Mumabi-Ahmedabad, Delhi-Chennai, Delhi-Chandigarh etc. are being "studied" for High Speed Rail. When the Japanese realised that HSR, as it is understood (250+kmph) is not feasible, they coined a new term "Semi-High Speed" just to fool us. They defined semi-high speed as 200kmph for us. Why was a free study permitted by a consortium of trainset builders, equipment manufacturers and financiers needs to be questioned. They have a vested interest in selling Japanese trainsets (Shinkansen) to us and just for this reason they are keen to make is appear feasible, by jugglery of words such as semi-high speed, on IR's network.

    If we needed a study, we should have hired transportation experts and paid for it. Hiring an interested party for consultancy is a conflict of interest that stares in our faces. The Japanese have sponsored IR Officers' trips to Japan at this cost to "study" the HSR in Japan. Such sponsored visits, with expenses paid by an interested party, vitiates decision making. It should be investigated into. Even recently, the Chairman and two Members of the Railway Board were scheduled to go to Japan to study High Speed Rail system. Fortunately the visit was put off, when it got exposed in the media.

    Even the 200kmph being pushed by the Japanese was found infeasible. There is no way we can't reach those speeds without barricading of tracks, introducing cab-signalling and a major exercising in straightening of curves and strengthening of bridges. All of these are extremely costly and probably impossible tasks. Straightening of curves require massive land acquisition, for example. Barricading of tracks divides villages and obstructs movement of men and cattle - it has vast socio-economic repercussions whether we accept it or not.

    9. NOW THE TRAINSETS : The intention, from the beginning, was always to import trainsets, firstly as High-Speed, then as Semi-High speed and now as a 160kmph trainsets. It has been realised that Bullet train, as it is understood, is not feasible in IR in the near future. The initial proposal from the Electrical Directorate was to introduce train sets for 200 kmph operations. Even the original AM Committee Report of 2007 mentioned speeds of 200 kmph to be achieve by such train sets.

    Now the current tender mentions speeds of 160 kmph.  It seems that the intention is to introduce train sets at any cost even if it means compromising the speed potential of such train sets, which are available internationally for the speed range of 200-325 kmph.

    A separate organisation with its own profit and loss account, it's own balance sheet and its funding separate from IR is required to operate HSR and has rightly been mooted.

    But, the lobby interested in import of trainsets will not give up. It now wants trainsets come what may. It should be noted that in the developed world, trainsets are built for High Speed operations. So, whatever is available in the world is for 250kmph or higher, up to 325kmph. Hence what we will get is one of these existing designs. No respectable manufacturer will downgrade its technology to specially design a low speed (160kmph) trainsets for us. Even if he does, the design, trials, and certification costs will peg the price at the same levels as those of existing trainsets, if not higher. Ultimately IR will end up buying trainset coaches at eight to ten times the price at which India manufactures train coaches.

    10. ARE TRAINSETS MEMUs? : The tender very cleverly mentions the term “MEMU Trainsets”. Lest it be misunderstood, it should be clarified that train sets are not extensions of EMUs/MEMUs. EMU/MEMUs are local/suburban stock which are essentially low speed and stop at every station.  The safety requirement in such stocks is minimal.  Moreover, EMUs operate on unidirectional tracks, hence the chances of collision and their severity is minimized.  The consequences of accidents in such suburban stock are, therefore, not severe.  Long distance train sets are mainline trains which run non-stop at high speeds and require the same levels of specialized maintenance that a mainline train undergoes.

    There seems to be a presumption that by calling train sets, “MEMU-type” the maintenance would be done by the Electrical Department alone.  This is a recipe for disaster.  A train set is as much of a train as any other long distance train.  The role of Electrical Department will, therefore, be limited only to air-conditioning and train lighting. Rest of the maintenance such as the coach body, interiors, passenger amenities, toilets, cleanliness and the entire undergear will remain with the Mechanical Department as is the practice now. Any deviation from the practice would be an invitation to trouble.

    11. WHY IS IT A SCANDAL : The entire episode of tendering for trainsets has been wrapped in secrecy, bypassing of procedures, sidestepping the allocation of work and misguiding the Railway Minister – standard techniques of a scamster. Let us see how:

    * The estimated price for 315 coaches being talked about is Rs. 2500 Crores. That was the price mentioned in the Parliamentary sanction for production in the Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala. There is no way such prices will materialize in this global tender as explained in para 4 above.

    * There has been no demand survey, no calculation of fares that would make this expensive asset break even and no attempt to check if the rest of the rail system can cope with this new asset.

    * We must watch out for a high price bid being received and put up for acceptance as fait accompli in view of modernity and international trade. Better still, stop this import of product and insist on transfer of technology for a true Make in India project.

    Masquerading as Make in India : This project is being pushed as fulfillment of PM’s call for Make in India. Nothing can be farther from truth. A project for trainsets was already sanctioned for design, development and production in the Railway Budget of 2015-16 as follows:

    Item no. 1203 (Rolling Stock Programme – Railway Board)

    Design, Development & manufacture of 15 train sets Rs.2500 to run at 160/200 KMPH ex - RCF

    But the tender has been issued for : Procurement-cum-maintenance of EMU train sets : 'Make in India' Project. Please note that in the tender, which is in violation of the Parliamentary sanction, there are following deviations :

    * There is no design and development activity involved in the advertised project

    * It is not going to be sourced ex-RCF but through some private party selected by a procurement bidding process. It was envisaged in the Parliamentary sanction that the technology will be transferred to the Indian Railway’s own World Class Production Unit, the Rail coach Factory, Kapurthala and all coaches would be manufactured there. But, now the technology will not belong to Indian Railways.

    * Maintenance activity has been added, which is not a part of the sanction. No Railroad company in the world outsources maintenance of trains. There are serious safety issues involved, for which in house training and expertise are provided to ensure accountability. All that IR has outsourced so far is housekeeping and linen. Outsourcing of maintenance is not only unprecedented anywhere in the world, but is fraught with danger of shortcuts and lack of accountability.

    * This is clear case of bypassing in-house expertise and capabilities and specifying a fuzzy indigenization (the tender provided for manufacture of 275 coaches in India) target. There will be no technology transfer, neither for manufacture nor for maintenance, a sure recipe for permanent dependence on a foreign supplier.

    * Using the phrase 'Make in India' in the tender notice is a clever ploy to divert workload from an in-house Production Unit to an unspecified private entity, keep transfer of technology out of the purview and promote a high cost product. It needs to be pointed out that IR’s own Production Units have assimilated technologies from USA (DLW), France (CLW) and Germany (RCF) and have indigenized production of locomotives and coaches to such a large extent that our production costs are one third to one tenth of world prices. This has also given rise to a huge ancillary industry and provided for employment to lakhs of persons.

    11. How Did This Scandal Take Shape?

    (a) As per allocation of work in the Ministry of Railways, Passenger Coaches come under the purview of the Mechanical Directorate. All matters of design, development, modification and production are to be controlled by the Member Mechanical, Railway Board.

    (b) But, in a gross and total deviation from the laid down responsibilities, the Electrical Directorate, through a mischievous note, which was approved by the Minister for Railways, abrogated to itself all matters of trainsets. This is in spite of the fact that the sanction (para 10.1 above) in the Railway Budget was obtained on a proposal by the Mechanical Directorate.

    (c) The Member Mechanical was even kept out of the proposed visit of Railway Board officials for studying train sets in Japan. Fortunately, the trip has been cancelled.

    (d) Such major changes in the allocation of work can only be done by a full board Resolution. That is what the Board is meant for, taking policy decisions.

    (e) Within a few days of such usurpation of work from another directorate, the Electrical Directorate has issued a tender for trainsets, unfettered by checks and balances.

    (f) Tender has been issued not only bypassing the Mechanical Directorate, but also in violation of the Parliamentary sanction.

    12. WHY THIS PURCHASE IS A MISMATCH : Indian Railways already possess design of Passenger Coaches (LHB design), Electric and Diesel Locomotives that have the capability of 160kmph even today. IR has recently tried out 160kmph runs between Delhi and Agra. Following needs to be pointed out.

    * A trainset can be created effectively with a formation of LHB Coaches and Modern Locomotives. These vehicles have already been tested at 180kmph and with minor tweaking can go up to 200kmph.

    * Unfortunately, IR has not been able to utilize its existing rolling stock assets on account of constraints on speed due to tracks, bridges and signals. Even the Delhi-Agra short distance trials are inconclusive and will come at great consequential costs, if they do some day.

    * Investments required in tracks and signals run into lakhs of crores to make them fit or 200kmph, even for 160kmph. Under these circumstances, procuring expensive trainsets, at several times the price will be futile.

    * High Speed Trains are built by countries as showcase of amalgamation of various technologies. These trainsets imported will in reality be a high speed train (though being imported in the name of 160kmph) at High Speed prices. No country, proud of itself, imports trainsets. But, the tender in question does not cover transfer of technology, just standalone import and some Indian Manufacture. Small volumes like 275 coaches does not justify any worthwhile investment. So, the Make in India will remain a screw driver enterprise.

    * Minor savings of half an hour to one hour over long journeys do not justify such disproportionate investments.

    * Even assuming that we are able to run a few trains at 160kmph, it will reduce the overall throughput on the track. Higher differential in speeds of various trains creates an overall reduction in traffic. This can be established by simulations.

    * One of the biggest constraints in operating any train, leave aside a new type of rolling stock at speeds of 160 kmph would be to obtain the CCRS clearance.  It is difficult to obtain speed clearances from CCRS even for 130 kmph for stocks (such as LHB coaches) which are technologically fit for 160-200 kmph. It is not understood how such speed certificates would be obtained for an entirely new rolling stock which would be an adaptation from stocks of Europe or Japan with following limitations to start with:

    * These countries operate only standard gauge.  Adopting SG vehicles to BG is a technically involved process.  None of the likely sources in Japan or Europe have done it so far.

    * The rolling stock running in Europe, China or Japan are running on dedicated tracks for which the suspension design is easy and forgiving.  Any adaptation of such suspensions firstly from SG to BG and then from operating conditions of dedicated tracks to mixed tracks would not only be a formidable task but will also be a doubtful accomplishment. This would make obtaining CCRS clearance even more difficult.

    * Even after one year of efforts the Delhi-Agra 160kmph has not been approved by the CRS. The CRS goes through a very rigorous process before according approvals.

    * Given these mismatches, IR may end up spending thousands of crores and still not achieve 160kmph. It has not achieved it in last two decades even when technology and rolling stock was already available.


    * Create a trainset with LHB coaches. Trials have already been done, but put in the cold storage.

    * LHB trainsets with two locomotives, one at each end, will not only provide adequate power for higher acceleration and speed, but will also eliminate the need for engine reversal, thus making the trainset bidirectional.

    * Run the LHB trainset at 130-160kmph on selected routes to gain experience of such operations. Experience in driving, signal sighting, maintenance, braking efficiencies, aerodynamics, noise control, barricading of tracks etc. are essential before proliferation of such services. This may take several years.

    * Konkan Railway is already built for 160kmph. Indian Railways should carry out its first trials between Goa and Mumbai, a popular train service.

    * Proliferate the 'Anubhuti' coach design for modern interiors. This design matches the best in the world.

    Most importantly, the Railway Board should be asked to explain how this procurement proposal slipped through the stages of scrutiny and checks and balances. This tender needs to be cancelled and action as per Para 13 above initiated without loss of time.

    Presented By - Surresh Tripathi

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