Indian Railways Electric locomotives use obsolete technology, reports onkareshwar Pandey
WITH SURENDRA SINGH IN CHITTARANJAN AND PRIYANKA RAI IN DELHI | Issue Dated: May 4, 2008
Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav has promised to build a world Class railway system. But, on the ground, he is miles away from his goal. A railway network needs powerful engines that are capable of pulling heavy loads on tracks that are compatible. But the reality is that India's Rail engines use technology that is 18 years old. Locomotives made in the country's only Electric Engine manufacturing unit in Chittaranjan are breaking down regularly. officers are not only fudging facts to cover their tracks, they are also merrily taking the minister for a ride.
Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s favourite Doctor Silver is stuck in the lab. He flagged it off two years ago, but the locomotive is yet to hit the tracks. Doctor Silver is the last new electric engine to be built at Chittaranjan Locomotive Workshop (CLW), India's sole electric engine manufacturing unit. But the rollout hasn't begun yet. The myopia of the railway officials is at fault. According to the Public Relations Officer Mantar Singh of CLW, “One engine is in service in the Gomoh Shed of Eastern Central Railways.” The spokesperson of the Railway Ministry, Anil Saxena, however, says: “The engine is being used to run a goods train on a trial basis.”
The truth is that this engine could not measure up to expected standards. Yet, CLW officials got it inaugurated by the railway minister without proper inspection. During the inauguration of Doctor Silver, constructed at a cost of Rs 30 crore, railway officers had made tall promises. The engine, they had claimed, would be state-of-the-art. Were it to develop any snag, the workshop would be directly intimated through GPRS technology and the driver would be able to rectify the fault on the basis of directions from there. But that system did not succeed. On the contrary, the engine turned out to be so heavy that it could be run on the existing railway tracks.
At the Chittaranjan Locomotive Workshop, General Manager V. Shankar declined to talk. The PRO, Mantar Singh, answered our questions as per the directions given by the Deputy General Manager, Amitabh Chaudhary. The PRO quoted General Manager V. Shankar and accepted that this engine of WAG-9 Class was heavy (22.5 tonne per axel). Sources revealed its weight wasn't in keeping with track and speed requirements. That is why it wasn't cleared by the railways security commissioner.
The failure of Doctor Silver is only the tip of the iceberg. The truth is that the electric engines pulling Indian Railways are based on technologies that are more than 15 years old. Earlier, Indian engineers used to make changes in the existing technology to produced new engine models. That is now a thing of the past.
The electric rail engines running in India are based on technology provided by ABB, Switzerland. It was bought in 1991 for Rs 29 crore. After the technology transfer under the agreement, some experiments were done and new engines were manufactured.
Doctor Silver was made by CLW based on the same technology and officials convinced the railway minister to inaugurate it in 2006 even before they themselves were satisfied with the engine. This WAG-9 class engine is of 6000 horsepower, enough to pull 24 to 26 coaches at a maximum speed of 130 km.
Passenger trains in Germany, Japan, France and China are touching speeds of 300 to 320 km per hour. Indian Railways has much catching up to do in terms of both speed and weight-pulling capacity. In developed countries, engines can pull up to 14,000 tonnes; in India, the figure is around 5000 tonnes. According to General Manager, Western Railways, A.P. Mishra, there are plans to make high-speed rail corridors to increase the speed of trains. The routes of Delhi-Chandigarh, Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Chennai-Coimbatore, Chennai-Bengaluru and Delhi-Kanpur have been identified for the purpose. Studies are being done, but it may take another five to six years for these corridors to start .
The troubles do not end here. The engines produced at CLW are prone to frequent breakdowns. This results in the loss of crores of rupees for the Indian Railways. Serious questions are being raised over safety. The Divisional Rail Manager (DRM) of Asansol, A.K. Rawel, wrote two letters to the Chief Electrical Engineer (CEE) of CLW. In letter no D.O.E.L.S./111/ OP/ D&F dated 12/7/07 and 06/11/06, he pointed out new electric engines produced in Chittaranjan are developing faults repeatedly.
In fact, many of the engines manufactured last year developed problems as soon as they started running. According to Mr Rawel, he had asked for necessary action but it did not solve the problem.
He not only talks about mechanical faults, but also the poor quality of production. He cited the example of Engine No 27879, which was handed over to him from CLW on June 19, 2007. Its control cable developed a snag because of poor production quality. As a result, movement of passenger trains 3049, 5049, 8183, 8068, 3021, 3185, 054 down and 132 down was affected for hours. He has passed on elaborate details about the engines that ran into mechanical problems during the last two months.
CLW buys most parts from companies that are not ISO certified. CLW's V. Shankar claims orders have been issued to stop purchase of parts from such companies. But there are allegations that this process is still going on unobstructed.
Two years ago, parts supplied by a private company were rejected after inspection. The company was asked to replace the parts as they were under warranty. But the company did not replace the parts despite receiving full payment. These faulty parts were fitted in an engine produced in late 2007.
A protest letter (Letter No. E.L.E/ T/ 21A Dated 26/6/05) was written by an officer to the Assistant Materials Manager and a copy was sent to CLW. The letter refers to numerous problems with parts of the engines under production.
CLW is ISO 9001 certified. But it has miles to go before it can give Indian Railways world class electric engines. Chittaranjan Locomotive Works
This rail workshop situated on the border of Jharkhand-West Bengal, in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, is the first industrial temple of independent India. There are seven big and small lakes around the workshop which are home to over 170 species of birds. More than 30 species come to this spot from Northern Europe, Central Asia and Tibet.
The foundation stone of the workshop was laid on January 26, 1950. The first engine was made on November 1 , 1950 and the same day it was named Chittaranjan Locomotive Workshop after the great freedom fighter Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das. It is the only workshop that makes electric rail engine whereas the only workshop of diesel engines is in Benaras.
CLW was established to produce just 120 average sized steam engines but it produced diesel in 1968 and electric engine in 1971 and kept adding new chapters in the history of Indian Railways. The Workshop produced five types of total 2351 engines running on steam and seven types of 842 diesel engines of low horsepower. The production of steam and diesel engines was stopped in 1973-74 and 1993-94 respectively and with this started the serial production of electric engines. Till December 2007, this workshop has produced 3664 electric engines of various types.