Indian Railways is gaga about Vande Bharat (VB) genre of medium high speed trains. The last introduction of new technology in passenger coach design was in the early years of this century. Since then the quantum of production increased but with the same look and feel. Then came a big moment when Vande Bharat was rolled out in February 2019.
It was technological leap into the next generation. There were no locomotives in front, very high pickup - only 52 seconds from zero to 100 kmph, much better passenger ambience, Make in India prerequisite with enthusiastic industry participation. The very image of this white sleek train convinced the passenger that Indian Railways is changing under the leadership of PM Modi and the guidance of Minister of Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw.
No wonder the steam locomotive model at Rail Bhavan has been replaced by Vande Bharat Icon. The passengers symbolise Vande Bharat train as a symbol of progress. It is their first choice when making a reservation. They have travelled on trains abroad. Now it is there in India for them. As its popularity soars the routes have also saw seen addition.
The railwaymen took this train manufacture as a challenge. All designs were Indian but still there was a lot to do. IR factories at ICF, RCF and MCF reworked their manufacturing model. The expectations were speed of manufacture, technological rebirth of technical personnel while maintaining costs though were much lower than the international levels.
And all this was to happen with better than six sigma reliability. And it did as we see, now, with frequent inauguration of Vande Bharat trains. After manufacturing VB, the upgradation of maintenance and operational paraphernalia followed. They were the front end and the cutting edge for passenger interaction. Here too, the railway men achieved the feat in the shortest possible time. Even to many railway experts this was unbelievable.
The amazing part is that Vande Bharat is able to deliver better results even on the existing tracks in terms of speed of travel and overall comfort. Unlike the so called Bullet Train, new rail tracks have not been laid, no special upgradation exclusively for Vande Bharat operations have been done. It is same rail track and much reduced timings.
For New Delhi-Varanasi route the two super fast trains take as much as 10 hours 5 minutes and 11 hours 10 minutes whereas Vande Bharat takes just 8 hours. So much time gap between VB and other trains, over 755 kilometres, is not because of less stoppages or preferential operational treatment but due to inherent technicals. And mind you LHB version of IR trains have been criticised for jerks during travel but 16 coach Vande Bharat is super smooth ride, speed immaterial.
What next now?
First, Vande Bharat is a day train - morning departures and evening returns - generally around 600 to 800 kilometres one way. An overnight version is coming up. And for less populous routes Mini Vande Bharat with 8 coaches is on the cards. For regional rapid transit yet another version, Vande Metro, is being planned. Mushrooming of Vande Bharat designs, all in-house, shall be the new game changer in passenger travel.
Second, export of such trains is another area. The current designs are suited for Indian Rail broad gauge tracks. Most of the other countries are standard gauge of 1435 mm as compared to Indian rail gauge of 1676 mm. This means a complete new product needing a matching investment. Third, the experience so far has been the stray animals venturing on the rail track resulting in front end damages. The efforts to fence the tracks are on but the new designs shall incorporate cattle guards that can absorb such collisions and avoid dragging of animals under the train. Fourth, Aluminium alloys will make entry in coach shell manufacture. This shall reduce the tare weight and improve the specific energy consumption, which is presently even lower than the Shatabdi trains.
Vande Bharat had its fourth birthday in February this year. 17 rakes are already in operation and more are expected from the confirmed orders of 102 rakes. And in the recent 120 rakes global tender six international giants partnered with Indian companies and the order was bagged by an Indian company, Rail Vikas Nigam Limited in a JV with a Russian coach manufacturer at an even lower price of 110 crores INR per rake. More global interest has brought down the prices as well.
Vande Bharat is not only a new train, it has emerged as a new concept for the rail sector. It has something for everyone, be it passenger, railwaymen, industry or technology. Truly, an Indian beauty on tracks.