Prime Minister Modi is prepping up India for a year-long celebration for its 75th Independence Day. The celebrations are planned to begin from August 15, 2021, and a year-long celebration will continue to mark the major milestone in India’s freedom. This celebration will exhibit several of India’s achievements. Railways would not want to be left behind. It has many laudable exhibits to add to the grandeur of the mega-celebration. The indigenous Vande Bharat trains are one such shining feather.
The railway era before Vande Bharat Express (or Train 18)
Train journeys were often associated with slow long journeys, locomotives screeching through the winding tracks, making a loud clickety-clack sound that used to stay in the head for quite long even after the train journey got over. Not to miss the railway tracks lined with human excreta. It was often difficult to keep track of the stations arriving or passed in those days, and passengers were usually found asking each other, about which station is coming next.
The new era of Indian Railways
Come Vande Bharat Express, and we enter a new world of Indian Railways. We get coaches with automatic doors and retractable footsteps. We get aircraft like comfortable push-back seats with enough leg space. We get engineless trains operating at the speed of 160 kilometers per hour. We get bio-toilets to big adieu to the excreta lined tracks for good. We get on-board wifi-access, GPS-based passenger information system to bid adieu to perpetual train journey questions. We get energy-efficient coaches fitted with LED lights. And this new face of Indian railways is totally indigenous and that too at half the cost of earlier imported trains. This is train 18, renamed as Vande Bharat Express, operating currently on two routes. Between Delhi and Katra, shortening the journey to and between Delhi and Varanasi, shortening the journey to 8 hours. These self-propelled trains have a pantry attached with each coach to restrict inter-coach travel. Auto-sensor taps and no-touch bathroom fittings ensure hygiene and safety that have become an indispensable part of the post-corona world. The coaches fitted with fire-resistant fiber composites make it safer for passengers than ever before. To top-up this security, there are emergency talk-back units to connect with the crew and CCTVs fitted in every coach.
When this indigenous excellence catches the world’s eyes, not just the engineers but the whole of India rejoices in pride. Indian Railways got orders to export 18 Vande Bharat trainsets to Southeast Asian and South American nations.
The make-in-India charm
Could all this have been imagined even 5 years ago seeing the dilapidated situation of our trains? The impetus to Make in India by our Prime Minister has opened up a new vista of development in India. The push to indigenization has motivated our engineers and technocrats to achieve new heights. The engineers at Integrated Coach Factory unveiled this state-of-the-art train in a record time of 18 months, that too at a cost that no foreign manufacturer could compete with. People take pride in this indigenized development and a lot of precious billions of our central reserve are saved.
Plans were made to roll out 44 new Vande Bharat trainsets in the next three years. But one or the other stumbling block kept blocking this roll-out. Earlier it was Railway Board unable to give its nod, and then it was pouring in of foreign tenders for manufacturing, mostly Chinese leading to the raking of the tender. Among the six contenders for manufacturing the planned 44 new sets, 5 were Indian but the leading Chinese joint venture company, CRRC Pioneer Electric (India) Private limited stalled all plans. How could a train lauded for its make-in-India initiative and indigenous development go into Chinese hands? Now a revised public procurement plan is expected to be floated with more weightage to the Make-in-India component. It is expected to be completed before the year-long celebrations of India’s independence so that these trains can give their own standing ovation to new India.