Sudhir Rao, MD, India, Bombardier Transportation, elaborates on his company’s starring role in infusing a renewed momentum in modern India’s ambitious rail journey.
by Mitalee Kurdekar
For years, India’s rail story was limited to a singular chapter: the technology brought in and the network laid out during the British Raj. While the same stood the country in good stead for the better part of half a century, it was high time a new chapter was etched into the pages of this book. And that time has now come. As India makes strides towards a modern rail network, it has attracted a lot of attention – and investments – from international players in the domain. One such name is Canadian rail equipment maker Bombardier Transportation.
The company was one of the first overseas entrants to the Indian market, and in 1993, Bombardier’s electric locomotive technology was introduced in the Indian Railways network. In the 25 years since, it has crossed a multitude of milestones. In 1997, it began producing propulsion and controls equipment for the Indian Railways, through its Propulsion and Controls Production and Development Centre at the Maneja site, near Vadodara, while also supporting other rolling stock projects. And, more recently, it aided in India’s transition to an advanced transportation nation with the setting up of a state-of-the-art facility in Savli, near Vadodara, and the subsequent supply of Bombardier coaches to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) from 2009. In fact, it has since reached a remarkable manufacturing rate of one car per day for the DMRC rolling stock order. Yet, the story has only just begun.
“With the basic foundation established, our goal now is to scale up. The way we are doing that is by enhancing our engineering strength,” states Sudhir Rao, MD, India, Bombardier Transportation. In this respect, the company set up a new engineering centre in Hyderabad in 2017, which hosts the development of two important rolling stock products, one specifically for metro rail projects and the other for regular commuter trains.
On track with technology
As a matter of fact, a focal point for the organisation is its reliance on advanced technology to stay ahead of the game. “We do believe that our technology is leading, and it is very appropriate for the needs of modern India. And that is something that we would like to keep progressing. We think that the technology upgradation is badly needed, not only in terms of train safety, but also in terms of the conveniences and features offered aboard trains in India. Metros have brought in a lot of the modernisation and technology ethos, which has rolled over to the Indian Railways, and that is what we would like to take forward as part of our corporate strategy,” Rao professes.
An example of this was when, in 2016, Bombardier announced that they are developing a high-capacity metro platform called MOVIA Maxx for emerging markets. It was following this announcement that the new engineering centre was opened in Hyderabad, in order to support product development and design activities at the company. This new facility is an expansion of Bombardier’s global network of specialised centres with a precise focus on the development of metro and electrical multiple unit (EMU) product platforms and engineering design for transportation projects, both locally and globally. As part of their commitment to developing local talent, they aim to continue growing the team in Hyderabad, whilst lending support to their product development strategy and innovation as well as improving services provided to customers.
Of course, they are not on their own in terms of access to technology. “We get a lot of support from the parent, because unless and until we get that, we are not able to upgrade our own skills as an organisation here in India. More importantly, we will not be able to translate the global products that we deliver for the local market. It is therefore critical to have that connection to Bombardier’s global expertise. Also, typically, knowledge about the railway industry has been restricted to the Indian Railways, but now, we have been able to create a new industry in the private sector, which didn’t exist to this level of robustness up until a decade ago. It has been a challenge; however, we have been able to overcome it, and do so without the support of global resources,” Rao announces with pride.
Over the years, Bombardier has been growing its engineering presence in India quite significantly. The company boasts a new Rail Control Solutions India Centre for Engineering and Product Development (EAPD) in Gurugram; a Train Control and Management System (TCMS) centre in Vadodara; a bogie, car body and vehicle engineering centre as well as the engineering centre in Hyderabad; along with project engineering teams at their manufacturing sites near Vadodara.
“Local engineering is such an important part of the whole ecosystem that we are developing in order to be able to be an efficient and India-oriented train manufacturer. It really is an integral part of our DNA in the sense that it allows us to develop products suited for India, designed in India, made in India and, hopefully at cost level, that Indian customers are comfortable with,” says Rao, adding that without local engineering centres, they would not have been able to accomplish what they have.
Safe, Strong & Successful
Even as Bombardier enhances its engineering prowess in India, the company’s intrinsic ethos is derived from tenets laid out by its parent company. The most elementary of these is its pledge to safety. “As a company, Bombardier is extremely committed to safety, something that extends to all aspects of our business. We are proud to say that our factory in Vadodara was awarded the 2017 gold medal within Bombardier for safety, just about six months ago. Thus, our global safety culture is an important ethic for us, and one that we take forward in India,” Rao states.
In essence, the focus on safety is extended to the way products are designed, as well as the way in which operations are managed across depots within the Indian Railways or DMRC. Rao is now keen that the Indian railways roll out a significant number of kilometers – and hopes for at least 10,000 kilometers of advanced signaling or the ERTMS Level 2 – on their main line sections. He feels this will enhance the system and put in more foolproof mechanisms around safety, in turn contributing to reducing the number of accidents in Indian Railways.
Another equally important emphasis for Bombardier has been on being a customer-focused, customer-centric company. “This is reflected in our way of working collaboratively with all our customers and, to the best of our knowledge, they are very happy with the products and the services that we provide to them. Therefore, our level of customer engagement and customer satisfaction is something that we are proud of,” points out Rao.
Speaking of customers, while the company regularly supplies propulsion equipment to the Indian Railways, DMRC is Bombardier’s biggest metro customer in India, with 776 metro cars and over 1,500 bogies and propulsion equipment delivered from their Indian factories to Delhi Metro. On the other hand, Bombardier is now Delhi Metro’s largest contractor when it comes to signalling and rail control solutions, with over 120 kms in service currently or in progress for delivery. This is a big achievement for their Rail Control Solutions India office that opened in 2014.
The rail equipment giant is supporting the capital’s metro with Line 5 & Line 6’s extension works as well as the Line 7 project, by providing signalling solutions. On the recently opened Pink Line, which was inaugurated about four months ago, Bombardier’s signalling system also accommodates unattended train operation, a first-of-its-kind development in India. Currently, 21 kms of the total 59 kms is in operation with this technology. “More importantly, it is about the extensive safety features that go into being able to accomplish an operation like that,” believes Rao.
“When you add up all that we do in India, we can be identified as a full-fledged rail company, which is people-oriented and offers products & solutions from metros to commuter trains to locomotives. These happen to be the three biggest needs of our customers, whether they are the various metro operators or the Indian Railways,” he proclaims.
Making in India for the world
In its field of expertise, Bombardier Transportation has the unique distinction of being the first multi-national company with the capacity to manufacture products in India, for India, while also exporting from India. Not just that, Bombardier’s continued commitment to and investment in India has also attracted leading rail suppliers to India, resulting in around 70% of their raw material content being locally sourced. Interestingly, this has further created around 2,500 direct jobs and 5,000 indirect jobs, with the company’s suppliers establishing manufacturing units in India, a move that has also led to lower dependency for spares.
Bombardier has many such accomplishments to its credit. The Savli plant, for instance, was built in a record time of just 18 months, also making Vadodara one of the few cities in the world for Bombardier with the capacity to deliver all key electrical and mechanical components for the manufacturing of railway vehicles.
Most of all, the Savli site is executing a number of export projects for the company. The first of these came when the site was commissioned to make bogie components for Adelaide EMUs by Bombardier Transportation (BT) Australia. The factory has also exported bogie components for Victoria trains to BT Australia, and bogie frames to BT Brazil for São Paulo monorail. Following another order, 75 six-car trains are being manufactured along with bogies for the Queensland New Generation Rollingstock (QNGR) project on behalf of BT Australia.
Similarly, the Maneja site has concluded successive deliveries for furnishing propulsion equipment for Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC) in 2016. This order includes the production of 72 commuter trains of twelve cars each. Presently, all 72 trains are successfully running on the Mumbai suburban rail network. The Rail Control Solutions India Centre too supports signalling projects in Asia Pacific and the Americas.
Overall, the company’s production is divided in a 60:40 ratio between domestic use and exports. “While there is an intent to grow the exports, we also want to grow the domestic business more strongly than that. Eventually, we are trying to achieve a mix of 75% activities – whether manufacturing or engineering – being reserved for domestic consumption and 25% for export,” confesses Rao.
He agrees that there is a universal acceptance by the end customer, as well as universal acknowledgment by policymakers, that mass transit is the only way to address the challenges of congestion and pollution. There is, thus, no dearth of readiness, to do more. And Bombardier is ready to serve that demand.
“We strongly feel that mass transit is the way to go for growing urbanisation, not just in India, but globally. And we think that we are amongst the companies best suited to help, because we are a full-scale manufacturer all the way from Automated People Movers (APMs) at airports to high-speed rail,” Rao stresses. He predicts that the Government will be putting out rolling stock business in the range of $1 billion to $1.5 billion on an annual basis during the next few years, and he wants a large share of that pie.
“I think it is fair to say that we have done well in India. But we are ambitious to do more. We are certainly not happy with the level of penetration we have into the customer base and want to grow our business beyond Delhi. And the way in which we want to do so is through the building blocks that we have established with our people in Hyderabad, Gurugram, Vadodara, and so forth. We would like to grow at a rate greater than 25% a year,” Rao concludes on a high note.