Business

Semi hi-speed EMUs set to zoom past bullet train plans


By Ranjana Narayan
New Delhi, April 8 (IANS): As Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to France and Germany, cooperation in modernising India's giant but creaking railway system is to be a key focus area.

With bullet trains in India likely to take some years in the making, the government is set to go ahead with the purchase of a cheaper, safer and smarter option - a la the Metro trains - called train sets.

The prime minister's first stop will be in France on April 10 where the focus will be his Make in India initiative, according to diplomatic sources. While France has its famous TGV high-speed rail service, it is equally keen to offer its expertise in semi-high speed rail technology.

The railway ministry has announced global tenders for purchase of train sets called Electrical Multiple Units (EMU), and is looking at European countries, especially Germany, France and Spain, where such trains are popular.

The purchase initially could be off-the-shelf, with Transfer of Technology clause included so that manufacture could later be done in India, an official source told IANS.

The train sets, running on the existing broad gauge lines, would zip at speeds of 130-150 km/hour.

The move, announced in the Railway Budget by Minister Suresh Prabhu, is expected to "revolutionise" train travel in India.

The train sets would have an advantage over the Rajdhanis and Shatabdis in that instead of having a locomotive to haul the coaches, the carriages themselves are mounted with electric traction motors to power the trains. In suburban trains, usually two carriages have the motors.

In Rajdhanis, the average speed works out to 90 kmph becasue the trains have to slow down to about 8 kmph while approaching stations and on the way to picking up speed. The train sets are made for fast acceleration and braking within short distances and would keep to the 130-150 kmph average.

The train sets also have driving cabs at both ends like suburban trains. A train set would be able to pack in more passengers, dispensing with extra coaches like ones for air conditioning, engine, pantry and brake van.

Train sets are safer. They have less tendency to turn turtle or of coaches to propel into each other in case of an accident, says an expert who did not want to be named. "There would be less chance of fatalities," he added.

Further, these EMUs would prove cheaper than bullet trains.

An imported 24-coach train set costs $20 million or Rs.125 crore. But after they are manufactured in India, the price is likely to come down substantially.

In comparison, laying a bullet-train corridor could cost up to $16 million (Rs.100 crore) a kilometre, which would increase with the added infrastructure required for signals and other equipment.

The proposal for introducing train sets was first mooted in 2012 in the Railway Budget presented by Dinesh Trivedi. But nothing moved. Now Suresh Prabhu has given the move an impetus.

The Chinese and Japanese are keen to launch their bullet trains in India. French Railways, SNCF, has also carried out the feasibility study for a bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The government, though, has yet to give its nod to bullet trains.

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