It was a moment of great pride for the team that created Vande Bharat trains (also known as Train 18) when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced production of 400 trains over the next three years, said the train creator.
Presenting the Union Budget for 2022-23, Sitharaman said 400 new energy efficient Vande Bharat trains will be introduced in three years.
He also hoped that the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) would soon be working on the project of sleeper version of Train 18 christened as Train 19 when they started work on it but was later discontinued by the Indian Railways and the aluminium-bodied energy-efficient Train 20, the project lying in limbo for three years.
"As the creator of the Vande Bharat trains/Train 18, it is a moment of great pride for me and the team which built the first rakes 2018-19," Sudhanshu Mani, retired General Manager, Integral Coach Factory (ICF) told IANS.
Now an independent consultant, Mani added: "It is also a vindication for me and the team as the project had been dragged into an unnecessary controversy since early 2019 and things improved after the new rail minister took over."
Former ICF officials were of the view that importers' lobby were behind the vigilance probe that was initiated in connection with sourcing of items for Vande Bharat Express/Train 18.
According to officials, the realisation of Train 18 by ICF is an achievement similar to Brahmos missile.
Mani said 400 Vande Bharat trains in three years is an extremely ambitious target, and if it happens, he would be the happiest.
"At the same time, I would think that a more realistic target of say 150 trains in three years would have been better. This target itself would need very concerted and committed action by railway executives, particularly at ICF," Mani said.
Concurring with Mani was a senior official of Indian Railway who said 400 Vande Bharat trains in three years seems to be a tall target as the third prototype is yet to be rolled out.
However, a senior official of the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) told IANS that "the third prototype of the train has to be rolled out first and cleared by the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO). Once that is done, production can be streamlined".
Currently, only two trains are in service - Delhi to Varanasi and Delhi to Katra.
The official said the third prototype is getting delayed due to production bottlenecks and logistical challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Vande Bharat Express or Train 18 is a semi-high speed train designed, developed and built by the ICF at an outlay of Rs 100 crore.
It is one classic example of Make in India and far cheaper than similar trains that are rolled out by foreign companies.
The train has only about 15 per cent import content which will further go down if production volumes increase, officials had told IANS earlier.
According to Alain Spohr, Managing Director, Alstom India & South Asia, the highlight of the budget was the announcement to introduce 400 new Vande Bharat trains, introduction of the state-of-the-art KAVACH TCAS signalling systems over 2,000 kms of railway network, larger investments to provide for sustainable and integrated urban transport systems.
The total budget estimates of Rs 23,875 crore for MRTS & Metro Projects will incentivise faster implementation of projects and the standardisation of metro design systems will provide the much-needed stability for manufacturers, Spohr said.
The development of 100 Cargo terminals over the next 3 years will also improve India's competitiveness in faster and cleaner logistics and freight movement by rail.
Introducing productivity linked incentive (PLI) scheme for railway manufacturers and exporters promoting Make-in-India would have been ideal for fast-tracking the implementation of projects and supporting the manufacturing ecosystem, Spohr added.