Itarsi-Betul railway route set to complete 100 year

The Itarsi-Betul section in the Nagpur division of Central Railway will be completing 100 years tomorrow.

The 108-km rail route, a vital link connecting the north with the south via Nagpur, was opened on May 13, 1913.

Laying the rail route crisscrossing the entire Satpuda Valley was a major challenge back then. But engineers of erstwhile Great Indian Peninsula Railways (now Central Railway) achieved it by constructing nine tunnels and over 300 bridges in the valley, Central Railway Public Relations Officer Praveen Patil said.

In those days, the trains had steam engines and took three hours to cover the 108 km distance. The modern diesel and electric locomotives now take 1 hour and 45 minutes to cover the same stretch.

Diesel locomotives were introduced in the section in 1970, and electric locomotives followed suit 21 years later (1991).

Grand Trunk Express (New Delhi to Chennai) and Dakshin Express (H Nizamuddin to Hyderabad) are the oldest trains running on this route.

The centenary would be celebrated at a function at Betul station tomorrow.

Agitators warned against climbing loco’s rooftop in TN

The Administration of the Tiruchirapalli and Salem division of the Southern Railway has warned agitators not to go near the electric traction as it would endanger their lives. A Southern railway press release yesterday said that in the recent rail-roko incidents, agitators were found atop locos with flags in large numbers. Railway traction distribution wire carries 25,000 Volts. So, it is dangerous to climb atop loco, and such agitators were hereby warned not to go near the electric traction.

Also disrupting rail traffic is a punishable offence under Railways Act 1989 Section 174. Offenders are liable for two years imprisonment or fine up to Rs 2,000 or both, it added. It also warned that voltage of the overhead lines of the electrified railway tracks is 25,000 volts and any person coming within the vicinity of 2 meters distance from the overhead traction, will suffer severe electric shock. Even the top of the electric locomotives are of 25,000 volts electric system and if anybody climbs on the top of the electric locomotive, he is likely to get electrocuted.

Bombardier, Siemens, GE, Alstom, EMD at war over Rs 40,000-cr locomotive market

In eight years, Indian Railways wants to be in a position to issue a ticket within five minutes of a traveller demanding it. For anyone who comes across this idea enshrined in a report titled Vision 2020, the road ahead is absurdly simple: technology would help issue more tickets to passengers at their doorstep through an array of devices.

But the Railways, even as it gets to that part about delivering the ticket, also has to deal with the fact that it needs to be able to run enough trains to meet the massive demand for seats. It is obvious to anyone who travels by rail for the first time in India that the demand for seats is much more than the supply, which is why tourists get to shoot those postcard pictures of villagers travelling on top of trains.

By 2020, the Railways needs to procure 5,334 diesel locomotives and 4,281 electric locos, spending an estimated Rs 1,20,000 crore. Given that its production units are overburdened, the Railways has decided to procure locos through public private partnerships. The Railways also does not have the resources to adequately fund its massive capital expansion needs on its own, given a surging wage bill which has significantly inflated its overheads.

The Railway Board will soon finalise a tender, to be opened in a few months, for procurement of electric locomotives vis-a-vis a joint venture with the private sector in Madhepura in Bihar. Another tender for a similar diesel loco manufacturing plant may also happen this year. Together, the two contracts are said to be worth around Rs 40,000 crore spread over a supply period of 10 years.

Keen to Join the Bandwagon

According to the plan, the Railways will provide land while the selected bidder would set up the infrastructure and assure a roll-out for a given number of years. The Railways plan to acquire around 800 electric locos from the private sector player. The modalities of the diesel loco project are being worked out. Given the massive procurement plans of the Railways, India has become an exciting market for international manufacturers.

This is why Bombardier, Siemens, GE, AlstomBSE -0.33 % and EMD have all become aggressive about their presence here. Several cities in India are also constructing Metro rail system, which opens up an additional market for these companies which manufacture coaches, locomotives, signalling systems, etc.

Bombardier for instance has set up a new Railway vehicle manufacturing site at Savli, Vadodara, Gujarat, as well as a propulsion systems manufacturing facility and software development centre for signalling and traction applications in Vadodara.

GE India has announced plans to set up a facility that will also manufacture diesel locomotives in Maharashtra with an investment of Rs 1,000 crore. “We are targeting India. We will participate in the tender to be floated soon by the Indian Railways for 1,000 electric locomotives. We are willing to offer 10% cheaper rates than other companies,” Alstom’s locomotive platform director Jean-Marc Tessier had said in an interview earlier in France. While EMD has been a long-standing technology partner for diesel locomotives with the Railways, Siemens too plans to cash in on the opportunity.

Slow, But Not Steady

For the Railways, these tenders would mean a generational change in the way it approaches procurement. As of now, the national transporter manufactures its own locomotives and coaches as well as relies on imports. However, the idea of assuring a massive off-take to two private players is something that the usually conservative railway board is slowly waking up to.

As of now, the Railways has the least amount of exposure to the private sector among other infrastructure segments. Critics have often accused the board of moving at a snail’s pace in opening the doors to companies. Although the two projects were approved in 2006 during the regime of Lalu Prasad, the projects could never take-off on account of procedural issues. In 2008, after getting the cabinet approvals, the Railways floated tenders for setting up a diesel loco factory in Marora and an electric loco factory at Madhepura.

The tender ran into controversy as only GE submitted a bid for the diesel locos. railway officers say at that point, they were in no position to grant the contract as it would then be perceived to have been given on nomination, which would have been in conflict with CAG norms. There have also been sharp differences among Railway Board members over these contracts with some officers having objected to the manner in which the concessions were being devised.

Yet to Gather Steam

Taking into account the kind of infighting taking place at the Railway Board over these projects, the Prime Minister’s Office has started demanding time-bound action on these projects. However, the bureaucratic tussles at the board are still coming in the way of a quick closure of the issue. Recently, there was a debate on whether the winning bidder would be paid an advance for the first set of locos that they would import prior to setting up the facility in India.

A member of the board who retired recently has floated a strongly worded note objecting to such practices. On the controversy, Railway Board member (electrical), Kul Bhushan declined to comment. “The tender should be out soon and we are working towards it. Please appreciate that we are following the due process,” he said.’

There is also a talk about the turf war between the electrical and mechanical wings of the Railway Board. It is said that the mechanical department, which was earlier the sole guardian of locomotives, is unhappy that the electrical wing has got a huge role in this area of expertise due to the rising demand for electric locomotives over diesel locos.’

Globally, All’s Charged Up

This is a phenomenon taking place across the world with several countries going in for electric locomotives although a majority in use today run on diesel. The International Railway Journal says there are around 47,000 electric locomotives currently in operation worldwide with an average age of around 27 years. While the proportion of electric locomotives has increased considerably in the past few years, diesel traction remains dominant. Electric locomotives account for less than 30% of all locomotives worldwide.

Railway ministry to start work on wagon factories in 4 states

The ministry of railways will commence work on setting up new rail wagon factories in Odisha, Kerala, Gujarat and Karnataka during the financial year.

“The Railway Vision 2020 estimates a need for over 5,000 diesel and 4,000 electric locomotives over the next decade and this requires huge investments and the participation of private and public sectors. In order to meet the requirements of the coming years, we have decided to set up new coach and wagon factories at several places,” K H Muniyappa, minister of state for railways said.

He said the ministry will partner with the respective state governments to set up wagon factories in Odisha and Kerala and new coach factories in Kutch of Gujarat and Kolar in Karnataka in the current fiscal.
The second phase of the Rae Bareli coach factory will be commissioned in 2012-13, he said.

The Indian Railways will be providing bio-toilets in as many as 2,500 passenger coaches this year.

“As a goodwill gesture, the ministry of environment and forests has come forward to bear half the cost in this endeavour of the Railways to retrofit all passenger coaches on the railway system in the next five years. We will also install solar energy lamps in over 1,000 manned level crossings across the country this year,” Muniyappa said.

Installation of Integrated Security System at all 202 identified stations will be completed in 2012-13 and escorting of trains by Railway Protection Force is being extended to another 3,500 trains.

The Indian Railways will also wipe out the backlog of SC/ST/OBC categories by recruiting over 100,000 employees in 2012-13, he said.

Indian Railways is aiming to improve the Operating Ratio (OR) to around 75% by 2017 with year-on-year revenue growth of 8-10%.

“The need of the hour, therefore, is to get aggressive on market-focused public private partnership models by engaging rail users in the planning process for tailoring total logistic solutions. The existing schemes for wagon leasing, sidings, private freight terminals and container train operations, rail connectivity projects and others will be made more attractive from rail users’ perspective in the light of limitations of funding support from the government and constraints in regard to internal generation and market borrowing,” Muniyappa added.

Two mega rail engine projects get just one bidder each

New Delhi: German engineering services company Siemens AG and US-based conglomerate General Electric Co. (GE) have emerged as the sole bidders in separate contracts for an ambitious $6 billion (Rs29,220 crore) Indian Railways project to manufacture electric and diesel locomotives.

Three of the five companies in the running for the project have not bid amid concerns about the terms and the efforts of the railways in the last two months to accelerate the project announced two years ago.If Siemens, GE get the project, it could raise questions on the price quoted, in the absence of any competition
A government official, who did not want to be named, said that if the railways did go ahead and award the project to Siemens and GE for two factory tenders, it could raise uncomfortable questions on the price quoted by the winning bidder in the absence of any competition.
Most company officials did not want to be named because the bid process was still “live”.

On 3 February, Mint had reported that railway minister Lalu Prasad planned to fast-track proposals for this project. The railways confirmed that it had received only one bid each for the factory tenders.

The project envisages manufacturing electric locomotives at Madhepura and diesel ones at Marora, both in Bihar, the home state of Prasad. GE bid for the diesel locomotive factory; Siemens for the electric locomotive one.

The shortlisted companies that failed to submit bids were Bombardier Transportation India Ltd, a unit of Canada’s Bombardier Inc., and France’s Alstom SA for the electric locomotive project and EMD Locomotive Technologies Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of the US-based Electro-Motive Diesels Inc., for the diesel project.

“There is a possibility that the players didn’t see that this is going to happen in such a short period of time. Otherwise most of those players should have bid. Most of the companies were very keen on the project,” said Arvind Mahajan, an executive director with audit and consulting firm KPMG Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd.

An official handling one of the tenders said that GE would be awarded the contract since its competitors had failed to submit a bid. “This is final as the others have not submitted their bids,” he said on the condition of anonymity.

Confirming that GE had submitted a price bid, a GE spokesperson said, “We submitted what we consider a competitive bid for the diesel locomotive tender Indian Railways issued in September 2008… We remain cautiously optimistic that Indian Railways will consider our bid favourably. Next steps in the bidding process will be determined by Indian Railways and the government, we eagerly await their decision.”
Alstom and Siemens officials did not respond to emails seeking comment. A Siemens executive, who did not want to be identified, confirmed that the company had submitted a bid, but refused to share more details.

Another Railway Board official handling the electric locomotives contract said that while Siemens was the only company to submit a bid, another company had sought an extension.
Refusing to disclose the name of the company, this official said, on condition of anonymity: “There is no precedent as such of allowing others now, but there are a number of ways of taking such circumstances into consideration.”

Technically, the railways can award the projects despite receiving only one bid each, though some ministries, such as the roads ministry, have chosen to approach the cabinet to clear the awards of such projects.
An official from one of the companies participating in the electric locomotives tender said they had submitted a letter to the Railway Board putting across their “point of view” on the tender.

However, he insisted the letter was not a protest note and was only an effort to get some clarifications from the ministry.

The railways had issued revised draft request for proposals (RFPs)—essentially guidelines for final price bids—in the last week of January, with a deadline of 16 February. This was finalized when the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs cleared the project on 5 February, which some companies claim left them with very little time.

The winning bidder is decided based on the price they bid per locomotive, with all other costs, including maintenance costs, built into the price.

The projects were cleared for investment as joint ventures on 5 February despite the objections by the ministry of finance over many of the conditions laid down in the bids.
The clearances came after a round of inter-ministerial consultations to take the project forward.

The two projects—estimated at a combined $6 billion—include a procurement contract as well as a 15-year maintenance component, where the railways would pay 3.25% of the cost of the locomotive every year to the winning bidder for maintenance.
The winning bidder was also required to build a township, school and hospitals near the factory.

Railway equipment manufacturer GE Transportation, a unit of GE, will tie up with state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (Bhel) to manufacture the diesel locomotives, provided it wins the order estimated to be worth more than Rs10,000 crore.
“Once the tender is awarded to us, we (Bhel) are looking at a total investment of Rs1,000 crore,” he said.