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Expertspeak: A standards problem

Expertspeak: A standards problem

It's not the scale alone that will drive costs in rail and especially metro rail, Rajeev Jyoti tells us: It's also standardisation and improved technology.
 
The Indian Railways is currently visualising Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) that are fundamental for economic growth. 

But to operate a DFC connecting the entire country, there is a need for new types of locomotives, twice as powerful as the existing ones with double the capacity and speed.
While there is a need for speed, the ground realities are different in India, where 250 kmph is pretty high speed. Plans for building them are still in the initial stages since these are big investments and a practical view regarding relevance and speed is important. Rajdhani, India;s fastest train has not operated beyond 150 kmph, because we still need tracks to be guarded and segregation of traffic. It is not possible to mix multi-speed traffic in the same corridor.
 
Roadmap to growth
In order to expand its freight sector, the Railways worked closely with the private industry to evolve the technical requirements and a commercial model that would attract global firms to this challenging project. Bombardier, Siemens, Alstom and   pre-qualified after meeting their specifications and now need to make an RFP, the price bid. This is planned under public-private partnership (PPP) in a pre-determined debt-equity ratio of 74-26 per cent, where the company will set up and maintain a locomotive factory on land provided by the Indian Railways.  
 
Volume and output
The project document specifies manufacturing 800 locomotives over a 10-year period at Madhepura, Bihar, with a yearly off-take, as most of these locomotives will be built in India and there is an element of techn­ology transfer. Volume will be scaled up on a yearly basis.
Although companies can source parts from outside or their own units-for example, converters can be procured from our factory-the new plant will manu­facture, integrate, test and commission locomotives, instead of merely assembling them.  
 
Working model
The government has realised that it is not going to generate huge profits from mass transit under PPP. Therefore it is providing Viability Gap Funding (VGF) of upto 40 per cent of the project cost and the balance 60 per cent is the developers'. So, high ridership (as in Delhi Metro) is not enough; real estate development is also needed to bring in revenue.  
As more metro rail is set up, the advantages of economies of scale and the resulting extent of localisation should pull down car prices. For example, since we built over 400 cars in our Vadodara factory, we have localised over 70-75 per cent of the material. But let me also underline that there is a lack of standardisation in the metro with no modern technical documents. For exa­mple, Delhi Metro trains cannot run in Chennai. In Delhi, the first phase had broad gauge trains and the second had standard gauge trains, with power supplied at 25 KV. But Bangalore has a standard gauge track and power on a DC circuit. So, cost mitigation benefits are lost because fresh standards and certification raise engineering costs every time.  
While it is critical to step up the rate of expansion, it is important to ensure that safety does not become a casualty. The Bangalore Metro is supposedly delayed due to safety regulations not being met. Broadly speaking, the BEML Consortium, contractors of the Bangalore Metro, is capable and professional and will probably res­olve pending issues soon enough. Our trains for Delhi Metro went through the same safety assessment with independent safety commissioners who examined the documentation and ran oscillation trials, speed running and various other regimented checks successfully. 

Overall, there is an effort to introduce superior tech­no­logy such as Train Protection and Warning Systems (TPWAS), also called the European Train Control System. Today, multiple technologies are needed to upgrade the safety signalling system, including automatic block signalling, train management systems and axle counters. The challenge in India is to cover such a large, unprotected network.  
 
The author is Managing Director, Bombardier Transportation India.

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