Subrat Nath, Area Director, Asia-Pacific, Talgo, a privately-held rolling stock and maintenance equipment manufacturer headquartered at Madrid, says that the firm is keen to not only change the way railway journeys are undertaken in India, but also make the country a major manufacturing hub for its products.
What makes a Talgo train different?
A major differentiator is that a Talgo train is lightweight. Most of our trains have two bogies below a coach. Consequently, a wheel set is shared by two coaches. Talgo is an articulated train, which enables it to provide a lot more comfort and safety to passengers. It also comes with independent wheels which enable you to travel at a higher speed than normal trains on straight tracks. The most important feature of a Talgo train is its natural tilting system which not only enhances comfort for the passengers, but also enables the train negotiate curves at higher speeds.
What are your key areas of focus as far as the Indian railway sector is concerned?
There are two kinds of projects that we are interested in. The first is the high-speed train project. But as far as I know, presently only the Mumbai-Ahmedabad project is on. There is already a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with the Japanese for the purpose. But we will be very happy if there is open tender at least for the rolling stock as we are here with a very good product. We have won the tender for a high-speed train in Saudi Arabia after a highly competitive bidding process.
Our core objective in India is to provide trains that will change the way people travel. We have already conducted a trial and proved that we can save time on the existing tracks, even by following speed restrictions and using the same engine.
Will you be carrying out major modifications to make your trains suitable for India?
A train is a social product. Wherever you go in the world, passengers have different kinds of requirements. We already have an appropriate design for India. We will introduce that once we get the opportunity to manufacture in India.
Will that involve any major technical modifications to the train design?
No technical modifications are needed as the Talgo technology is different from that of other existing trains. The only things changes required are in the coach and seating configuration. And those things being modular, it is very easy to carry out any changes. For example, in Spain chemical and vacuum toilets are used. But in India, the Railways has decided to go for biological toilets.
However, reports in the vernacular press quoted the Railway Board Chairman saying that Talgo trains will have to be substantially modified to run in India.
He is right in a way. And that is because, as the Chairman of the Indian Railways, he has only seen the 32-year-old train that came here for the trial run. That train was built according to the requirement of the Spanish railway. We requested one of our clients, the Spanish train operator, Renfe, to give us a train on rent. Train manufacturers are like aircraft manufacturers. You can't buy a train off-the-shelf.
Purchase always happens through a bidding process. It takes around three years to manufacture a new train. And every train is different. No changes will be required in the design that we have prepared for India. But for that we have to compete and win the tender to manufacture locally.
But will you be able to do that? It was initially projected that Talgo trains will start running on the tracks here by 2018.
That is a different thing. We have a request from Indian Railways to lease four trains. You don't make money on that number. But then India is a priority market for us and we know that the country needs Talgo. So we told the Railways that we were ready to do that and have given them a proposal. Our ultimate objective is to set up a factory and manufacture a train made in India for India.
Will your proposed factory also serve as an export hub?
Of course! The biggest strength of India is its citizens. The country has a well-trained pool of engineers. And it is no big secret that there is a huge difference between manufacturing costs in Europe and India.
So, making in India will give us a competitive edge. And we will not only be looking at India but also outside India.
Will you be running the first four trains on a profit-sharing basis with the IR?
We haven't reached that stage as of now. The leasing part is more to bridge the gap between the trial and setting up of the factory. We are however open to any model of development. If there is profit sharing, we will go for it. If the Railways proposes fixed lease, we are ready for that. Or, if it offers to buy outright, we are open to that too.
And does that include manufacturing your flagship high-speed Talgo Avril locomotive in India?
Talgo Avril is only good for dedicated high-speed train lines. And we would like to introduce it here if ever there is an open tender for high-speed corridors other than the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route.
What are the major takeaways from the trial runs for the Indian Railways?
The most important thing that we have learnt is about the greatness of the Indian Railways. It's an organisation that is both robust and amazing. For example, it is a Herculean task to move a train from one region to another with so many other trains running simultaneously. I really salute the Indian Railways that they manage to run their services so efficiently. The second thing is, when our engineers arrived from Spain they weren't very happy about going to Bareilly. For them it was like visiting some distant corner of India. But then the Indian Railways staff treated them so well that when it was time to install measuring wheels on the train in Agra, our engineers insisted on going back to Bareilly to do that!
On the technical side, the Indian Railways was stringent at each step. Everything was thoroughly tested. From the engine to the tail, the entire train was fitted with sensors and the minutest movement was noted down. When the time came for 180 km per hour speed trial, we were asked to get measuring wheels. These specially-made wheels measure forces on the track at one-twenty thousandth of a second. It normally takes a year to manufacture a wheel like that. But the Railways asked us to obtain them within three months' time. It was tough, but thanks to the trial we now know that the force that a Talgo train exerts on the track is only one-third that of any other train travelling at the same speed.
- Manish Pant