Explained: The big plan for 400 Vande Bharat trains and what it means for Indian Railways

Vande Bharat Trains: Budget 2022 lays out a grand plan to introduce 400 semi-high-speed, next-generation Vande Bharat trains over the next three years. FM Sitharaman points out that these “new generation” Vande Bharat trains will offer better energy efficiency and a better driving experience for passengers. But that’s probably not the only reason the country’s budget and Indian Railways seem to be betting big on fancy new trains that were first launched in 2018 as Train 18.
Experts say multiple goals, including the need to improve rail finances and operational efficiency, are also a factor. The ambitious 400 figure, if achieved, will help the railway earn better passenger revenue and give ‘Made in India’ component manufacturers a boost, they say.
From a passenger perspective, these trains definitely offer a better travel experience. According to experts, railways will be able to charge premium fares in line with airlines. But this tracking also has some implementation obstacles that the experts pointed out to us.
What is Vande Bharat Train?
These trains were first revealed in 2018 capturing the imaginations of train-goers even while at the prototype stage. For those still unfamiliar, these Vande Bharat trains (also known as 18 Trains after the year of manufacture) are 180 km/h air-conditioned seat car services. Similar to bullet trains in appearance, railway lines currently run two such trains on the Delhi-Varanasi and Delhi-Katra lines.
Known for their faster acceleration and deceleration, the Vande Bharat train dramatically cuts travel time, while saving energy. The Vande Bharat self-propelled train set doesn’t need any locomotives to pull it, thus also reducing turnaround times – something very important for railways.
From a passenger’s point of view, the Vande Bharat is a clear step up from the Shatabdi. Trains feature fully enclosed corridors to ensure a dust-free environment, bio-vacuum modular toilets, revolving seats in Executive Class, personalized reading lights, automatic entry/exit doors Active with sliding footsteps, diffused LED lighting system, small pantry, sensor-based connecting doors in every trainer.
Vande Bharat Train: The Future of Rail Travel in India
Last year, Indian Railways awarded a contract for autonomous systems and equipment for 44 Vande Bharats trains. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech last year said that 75 Vande Bharat trains would connect different parts of the country by the end of 2023. The railways then made a tender. another for 58 new trains, but that train has yet to be awarded.
The first two Vande Bharats were built in ICF, Chennai, and upgraded rakes will also be rolling out from there to start. But with ambitious goals for the next three years, the railway is also upgrading its other training plants – RCF and MCF – to build the capacity to manufacture Vande Bharat-style trains.
According to Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, the first upgraded Vande Bharat train will be tested in April this year. Some of the improvements would be; centralized coach monitoring system, seat recline arrangement, emergency windows, disaster warning lights, flood protection for bottom equipment, more emergency push buttons, etc.
Speaking to reporters, Vaishnaw said, “The first version of the Vande Bharat capable of turning 180 km/h has gone online. The second version has been designed and is currently in production. It will be available. ready for testing in April this year, and the series of production of these trains is likely to start in August-September this year.”
Vaishnaw added that the third version of Vande Bharat will now be designed and developed based on the Budget announcement.
Business case for 400 Vande Bharat . trains:
According to the National Railway Plan 2030, passenger data from 2010-11 to 2017-18 shows that rail passengers have grown at a CAGR of 2% per year. Maximum growth has been witnessed in the AC category; 3rd AC at 10.33%, 2nd AC at 6%, 1st AC at 6.74% and car and luxury AC at 9% & 12% per year respectively.
Data from CAG’s report on railway finances for 2020 shows that AC and AC3 passenger cars are the only passenger car classes that are operationally profitable.

The capacity and earnings trends of Vande Bharat trains in the pre-pandemic years suggest good revenue potential. Data on pandemic years has not been analyzed because it does not accurately depict the average demand picture.

The latest railway report from the Brand Equity Fund of India, an initiative of the Ministry of Commerce, says that Indian Railways is looking at new revenue generating prospects. One of them is to change the composition of coaches so that it can promote a “more profitable” tour of the AC coach. Incidentally, the railway recently introduced an economy class AC3 passenger bus that will gradually replace sleeper buses to encourage AC travel.
Indian Railways also hopes to fully upgrade the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata expressways to a speed potential of 160 km/h in the coming years. This will allow faster trains like Vande Bharat to reach their revenue potential.
According to Jagannarayan Padmanabhan – Practice Lead and Director, CRISIL, from a rail finance perspective the new Vande Bharat trains will mean better revenue generation, thus helping to slightly improve operating rates . “I would guess that with 400 trains, about 60-70% of the rail network will be covered. New semi-high-speed trains with higher comforts will help pick up lost passengers and low-cost airlines. cheap,” Padmanabhan told TOI.
Infrastructure expert Manish Agarwal believes adding Vande Bharat trains is a step in the right direction, but may not have too much of an impact on the rail’s financial health. “The Vande Bharat trains can certainly recover operating costs, but the bottom line is that the air-conditioned train class carries only a very small percentage of the total rail passenger traffic,” Agarwal told TOI. . “Even if it doubles, Vande Bharat trains will create a small crack in the positive direction for the rail’s operating rate.” he added.

Vande Bharat in Rajdhani style
Sources told TOI that Indian Railways is currently looking to design a Rajdhani-style version of Vande Bharat. Sources said: “The third version will be for Rajdhani-style high-end air-conditioned trainers. Experts are also of the opinion that car trains alone will not meet the diverse travel needs of railways in India. In addition, as demonstrated above, AC3 level trainers, a key component of Rajdhani-style trains, are profitable.
Sudhanshu Mani, former ICF CEO & the man behind Train 18 says the railway should start operating on a Rajdhani-style version with sleepers immediately. He told TOI: “The new 18/Vande Bharats will replace Shatabdi trains, including several other Shatabdi day trains, and another 50 will replace Rajdhani Express, including some fast night trains. than. “All of these trains will save considerable time and also bring huge revenue to the railway. The sleeper version, if designed in time, would take about six months to go into production. and so the prototype can launch and complete testing as early as 2023,” he added.
G Raghuram, Principal Academic Advisor at NRTI says that the Vande Bharat trains make financial and economic sense if they are introduced in both seat and Rajdhani versions. He told TOI: “The Vande Bharat trains in the carriage configuration with seats may not work if we are looking to make up to 400 of them. There may not be enough demand for them. “However, if the railway changes its internal design to accommodate sleeping berths, the new trains could become passenger trains such as overnight trains for distances over 700 km and up to 1500 km,” he said. , especially when an average speed of 100 km/h would be feasible”.
As for the wagon version, Raghuram says that from both a passenger and rail point of view, it makes more sense to run these trains on routes shorter than 700 km (with an average speed of 90 km/h). ) travel between cities. “In routes below 400 km, this will allow multiple runs in a day, which will be taken advantage of. This can even be discounted during midday rush hours,” he added.
The key to success of the Vande Bharat . project
Sudhanshu Mani feels that beyond 100 trains, railways should start focusing on aluminum trains, with the project being designed similarly to ICF’s 2017 Train 20 concept. “With meaningful assimilation of technology from a foreign OEM, railways can acquire some trains from abroad and eventually fully learn how to build the trains of the future,” he suggests.
According to Mani, for the success of these new trains, you need to spend time in different areas to adapt to the new technology. “Vande Bharats should initially only be placed in 2-3 places so Northern Rail’s maintenance knowledge can be gradually transferred; any train rushing into new depots will backfire. and may result in service cancellation”. he says.
Manish Agarwal believes that the key to success is increased network capacity and less congestion. “Semi-high-speed trains need to run at an average speed of over 100 km/h and the network is not congested to ensure punctuality,” Agarwal said. CRISIL’s Padmanabhan also emphasizes the need for network upgrades and punctuality.
The Train 18 man concluded that other versions of the Vande Bharat should be planned with 400 counts, such as a slower version running at 110 km/h. “These next-generation AC trains can replace the rest of the critical Mail/Express trains and also help generate additional revenue through better fares, faster travel times and turnarounds,” he said.
Indian Railways is heading towards a new era of travel with upgraded next-generation trains. At a time when low-cost airlines and a smooth network of roads are in fierce competition, new trains could help railways maintain traffic and even grow it. Timely execution of the ambitious project and keeping in mind the travel needs of various walks of life will help ensure the success of the Vande Bharat project.

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