All systems go!
Manufacturing of rail components have advanced to incorporate plenty of technology and safety features.
by Jayashree Mendes
By some measures, india’s railways are booming. Although the network continues to remain in the hands of the government, the railway authorities, in the last couple of years alone, have introduced connectivity to smaller towns and villages that were cut off from civilisation for long. However, what has been ignored for some time now is the safety factor. The number of rail accidents in India, not to forget the number of lives lost, has buoyed the government to look at enhancing safety mechanisms in trains through adoption of technology.
According to reports, train accidents have increased by 25% due to track defects in past two years (2014-2016). This led to the government introducing a $15 billion safety fund. Now an effort has been undertaken of modernising the Indian rail network over a five year period at an estimated cost of $130 billion. The report also says that the Indian Railways have plans to revamp 3,500km long tracks by the end of 2018.
Increasingly, most of the deaths have also been caused due to people crossing the railway tracks and are run over, besides when trains collide or derail. If one examines the numerous causes, most of them can be an inherent lack of safety concerns, negligence, chronic under-investment, and systemic factors.
In India, as much as 40% of the railway divisions currently run above the line capacity, according to a paper issued by the Ministry of Railways. Line capacity is the number of trains a track can handle in 24 hours. Naturally, this compromises safety.
Understanding the need to create a safety guard, the Indian Railways has begun upgrading its technology and adopted new methods of welding and testing its rails over the past few years, although the traffic and congestion on the rails is too high to implement this technology properly. It has also laid out stringent rules for its component manufacturers that they adhere to quality when it comes to manufacturing components that play a critical role in safety.
Munishvar Gaur, group president, marketing, CMI, says, “As an an ISO 9001, ISO 14001 & OHSAS 18001 company, we follow high quality standards. Since cables are an integral part of safe running of trains, we believe that precise performance of cables is necessary under varying conditions continuously. We have various quality certifications not only from Indian Railways/railway units, but also from other sectors.”
Safety concerns and economy of operations has forced railway operators world over to switch to long rails with limited weld joints. Another type of rails that have gained prominence lately are ‘head hardened rails’. Head hardened rails are typically used in metro rail projects and for high speed freight corridors. They are manufactured through a special heat treatment process which requires precise temperature control to achieve nearly 50% higher hardness as compared to a normal rail.
Sandeep Fuller, CEO (heavy engineering), Texmaco Rail & Engineering, says, “There is not much innovation when it comes to manufacturing for the Railways. The manufacturing has to conform to railway design/specifications (generally prescribed by RDSO). However, the Indian Railways are open to suggestions for improvements which may be incorporated by them after due consideration by their design organisation (RDSO).” Texmaco Rail & Engineering has five factories close to Kolkata and its manufacturing shops are equipped with the latest production technologies and adhere to strict quality assurance standards. One out of every four freight cars running on Indian railroads has rolled out of Texmaco Works. These comprise both conventional and custom-built wagons, catering to diverse requirements, such as petroleum, chemicals, cement, alumina, transformers, etc. Currently, the company has taken the lead in turning out the new generation, commodity-specific, high payload freight cars in stainless steel construction for Indian Railways.
While manufacturing defects in railway components are few and far between, Gagandeep Singh Anand, director, Bull Forge, says, “Railways are particular when it comes to components and prefer a sound manufacturer with quality systems installed at site. They generally accept a unit with ISO/TS with full implementation.” Bull Forge is one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers of railway forging products in India. It manufactures close-die, open-die forgings and in-house machining unit for railway parts and general engineering applications from all types of materials like carbon steel, alloy steel, structural & tool steel, low carbon steel & stainless steel.
Just like the auto components and aerospace industry, railway components manufacturing is dominated by precision, and the contracts are large. For instance, Texmaco Rail and Engineering is set to benefit from two mega orders bagged by two global majors, GE and Alstom, who would set up diesel and electric locomotive factories at a cost of about Rs 40,000 crore. Texmaco has won major contracts from both these projects wherein it would undertake key fabrication work for locomotives. Towards the end of 2015, the Indian Railways had awarded contracts to General Electric and Alstom to set up diesel and electric locomotive factories in Bihar. The contracts, which could be the country’s biggest foreign direct investment in the railway sector so far, would involve manufacturing 1,000 diesel locomotives and 800 electric locomotives a year over the next 10 years.
Similarly, having gauged the explosion in metro-rail projects, Alstom SA and Bombardier Inc are also poised to use the nation known for being the world’s back-office as a manufacturing export hub. According to reports, the French and Canadian multinationals that set up manufacturing and engineering operations between 2008 and 2010 to tap into India’s rapidly-growing urban transportation market will now export to Australia, the Middle East and Asia from these facilities.
Anand of Bull Forge says any railway components manufacturing starts with procuring of raw material, checking, cutting, forging at defined temperatures (different temperatures for aluminium, brass, stainless steel and alloy steel forging), heat treatment, magnetically crack checking, machining, final gauging, and packing and dispatch.
Innovation is a continuous and evolving process for meeting the demanding needs of the clients, and railways in particular, where speed and safety are paramount. Gaur of CMI says that depending on varying applications and the constantly changing technologies, it is important that the component manufacturer continuously focus on R&D to come up with unique products and solutions. “OEMs are receptive for innovative products. However, the Railways have pre-determined criteria/specifications in mind while floating tenders,” he adds.
Development of metro projects across India created ample opportunities for wires and cables industry, which helped CMI. It is estimated that more than Rs 500 billion ($7.7 billion) worth of metro projects are underway in India and, going by the enthusiasm, this pile will probably grow. Most cities with ongoing projects require companies that bid for supply contracts to manufacture in India, which led to the setting up of facilities in the country.
In August last year, Chinese rolling stock and components conglomerate CRRC opened its first joint venture manufacturing plant in India. With a total investment of $63·4 million, the CRRC Pioneer (India) Electric Co plant located in Haryana’s Bavo Industrial District will manufacture electrical equipment such as traction motors, as well as assembling and repairing complete locomotives. CRRC Pioneer will also provide technical support for railway operations across the country, and hopes to supply electric transmissions for India’s oil, wind power generation and mining sectors.
Similarly, in end 2016, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu laid the foundation stone for the Rolling Stock Component factory, estimated to cost nearly Rs 300 crore, in Maharshtra’s Ratnagiri district. The centralised Railway Rolling Stock Components factory can discharge the works of overhaul and rehabilitation of safety sub-assemblies of railway rolling stock.
Another global player is looking at raising India’s share to Bombardier Transportation’s global sales to double digits. The Canadian railway vehicle and signalling system major is looking to serve Asia Pacific through its Savli plant in Vadodara. It already supplies components to overseas markets from Savli, but is now looking at vehicle supply (from Savli) depending on the countries it has focused on.
Indian Railways is also looking at replacing the conventional coaches with safer superior Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) ones. The LHB coaches will be built primarily at the newly-commissioned Modern Coach Factory at Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh, which will make 625 of these LHB coaches. The ICF would make 423 coaches and the RCF-Kapurthala 566 coaches. One of the biggest components of the LHB coach production schedule would be the construction of 154 Antyodaya coaches.
A new company in the reckoning is auto components major Motherson Sumi Systems Ltd who has completed the acquisition of Finnish wiring harness maker PKC Group Plc Rs 4,150 crore that could open opportunities for the company to be part of the modernisation of Indian railways. This acquisition will give MSSL a presence for the first time in the rolling stocks segment.
With so much happening in the railway components industry, it is a matter of time before India runs its bullet trains and more sophisticated trains.