Mumbai: Central Railway derails Western Railway's AC plan

Come April, the first AC train will reach city. But unlike expected, it won’t be used on the Churchgate-Virar line. The inside story of how Central Railway pulled off the massive coup

Central Railway, which for years has played second fiddle to the better-equipped Western Railway, has come out on top for the first time, and snagged Mumbai’s first ever air-conditioned local. What’s surprising is how CR sneaked past WR to pull off this triumph.

Also Read: Western Railway, Central Railway cold war over AC train

This development comes even as the new 12-car AC rake is in the final stages of assembly before it rolls out of the ICF manufacturing unit in Chennai and chugs to Mumbai
This development comes even as the new 12-car AC rake is in the final stages of assembly before it rolls out of the ICF manufacturing unit in Chennai and chugs to Mumbai

It is usually WR that gets first access to the latest technology, while CR makes do with hand-me-downs and trains that are on their last legs. Everyone expected it to be no different this time, but one tweet from Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu completely turned the equation: ‘One AC EMU rake has been allotted to CRly, will improve passenger experience in Mumbai. We r constantly endeavouring to improve services.’

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu

mid-day had reported last year that CR was tired of the step-motherly treatment meted out by rail authorities, and demanded that the AC locals be handed over to it first (‘Western Railway, Central Railway cold war over AC train’, August 3, 2015). Its western cousin had not only got the Siemens rakes first, but also the new Bombardier rakes.

Read Story: Railways facing logistical problems in running AC local train, says Shiv Sena MP

The 12-car AC rake is in the final stages of assembly in Chennai, and should make its way to Mumbai by next monthThe 12-car AC rake is in the final stages of assembly in Chennai, and should make its way to Mumbai by next month

Under the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), a total of 72 new Bombardier rakes will come to Mumbai, and WR was to get more than half (42 rakes).

After the Union rail budget, WR’s general manager G Agarwal also announced that they would soon receive the AC train and begin trial runs on the Churchgate-Virar route. Officials have been working on the fare structure for over a year. Then CR proposed that WR could have all the Bombardier rakes, as long as the AC rakes be introduced to the central line first. For this, CR had also written to the Railway Board and demanded 12 AC trains.

Last-minute coup
But sources in Railway Board said this decision was only finalised on Wednesday night, when the AC train proposal was put before Railway Minister Prabhu. “It is possible that strong lobbying in New Delhi could have resulted in this. After all, the previous general managers of CR were with the Railway Board,” said a WR official.

However, CR officials said no one has gone to Delhi for this purpose.

This development comes even as the new 12-car AC rake is in the final stages of assembly before it rolls out of the ICF manufacturing unit in Chennai and arrives in Mumbai in April. The trials will be carried out for three to four months, and the train might finally be pushed into service by December.

Also Read: AC coaches to mean costlier tickets

“There is only one rake being made by ICF. It will be dispatched in the last week of March and will reach Mumbai in the first week of April. But we have not received any written communication as to where it will go once it reaches Mumbai. Until now, it was to go to WR but now it seems it shall go to CR,” said A K Agarwal, general manager at ICF.

While the rake’s shell was manufactured by ICF, the electrics are by BHEL and Dutch firm Strukton, which was another factor that worked in CR’s favour, since the central line is already using trains with BHEL electrics.

“We wanted to rationalise the maintenance of rakes rather than have various kinds of electrics to be looked into. At the end of it we will be maintaining all the BHEL and Siemens make of rakes,” said Narendra Patil, chief PRO, Central Railway (CR).

Issues
The BHEL electrics could, however, pose a problem, as it has been CR’s Achilles heel so far — CR started out with 14 BHEL rakes but began to phase them out because of repeated technical failures. “The BHEL rakes used to suffer some technical failure or the other, so we are reducing its numbers,” said a CR official, adding that only four of them remain now.

A CR official also admitted that WR was better equipped to run the AC train.

“WR is better suited to run a new kind of rake like the AC one as its route is straight, unlike CR’s.”

Monster AC
Each coach will have two 15-tonne roof-mounted packaging units (RMPUs) powering the AC. These are the heaviest ever unit to be used by Indian Railways — even trains like Rajdhani use only 7-tonne RMPUs. The entire rake would have a total of 24 such units. A partition will separate the first six from the last six coaches, with vestibules between every coach.

History of delays

February 2012: AC local is announced in 2012-13 rail budget

February 2014: UPA govt sets July 2014 as the new deadline

March 2014: Construction is supposed to start, but only design of the interiors finalised. BHEL delays sending electrical motors to railways

June 2014: July 2014 deadline is pushed back to late 2014

August-September 2014: Construction of shells of the rake begins at ICF-Chennai

September 2014: Deadline is pushed to January 2015

January 2015: July 2015 is set as the new deadline

April 2015: Railway minister Suresh Prabhu says trials of rake to begin in Mumbai by September

June 2015: October 2 is set as new deadline

August 2015: Deadline is again revised to December

February 2016: Deadline changed to March 2016

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