New Delhi: With the Modi government opening up Indian railway infrastructure projects to foreign investments as part of its larger Make in India push, Canada’s transportation giant Bombardier is eyeing key projects worth at least $7-8 billion that will come up for grabs over the next 5-7 years.
In particular, it has zeroed in on projects in four of its core areas of expertise — high and semihigh speed trains, locomotives, signalling systems and integrated urban transit systems such as metro, light rail vehicles (trams) or monorail projects.
Bombardier, the world’s biggest maker of passenger trains, last month issued a profit warning on the back of weak demand and is aggressively seeking growth in Asia and Asia-Pacific economies. The Montreal-based company, the world’s third-largest commercial jet maker as well, is also planning to push its new short-haul commercial C Series aircraft in India, said Pierre Beaudoin, Bombardier’s 52-year-old president and chief executive officer “as the market is coming out of its phase of turmoil and reorganisation.”
However, to make Modi’s dream of turning India into a global manufacturing and export hub, he said Indian contracts must emphasise local content and indigenisation, a controversial topic for many of these mega multi-billion dollar orders. “We have always been committed to India both in good times, and not so good times. As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi was very proactive to get us to invest in a plant in Savli, near Vadodara. That plant has worked extensively for the Delhi Metro and we have already shown that we can indeed make in India and still be competitive. But currently we are using 100% capacity to export to Australia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia,” said Beaudoin, during a recent interaction with the media. “And now when I see Modi as the PM and his efforts to restart so many infrastructure projects, I feel upbeat.”
Today Bombardier is the largest contractor for Delhi Metro, having received orders of close to $1 billion since 2007 for rolling stock (614 cars) and signaling solutions. Since 2012, it has been exporting components, rakes, bogie frames, and metro cars for various projects in Australia, Saudi Arabia and even Brazil from the Savli unit. As part of a bigger global consortium, it recently won a $4.1-billion order from the Queensland authorities to deliver 75 new six-car trains that will be manufactured in Gujarat.
While Bombardier’s share of that order is $2.7 billion as the project lead, its India unit will be executing orders worth $1.5 billion for exports to Australia till 2019. It will also generate 500 full-time jobs. Recent orders also include a $214-million one for providing traction and propulsion equipment for 72 rakes for Mumbai’s suburban trains.
“We are scaling up now to cater to global orders. We shall scale up for India, depending on how fast domestic projects come to fruition. From the big loco-project that is stuck for years to inter-city trains or even the high-speed train corridor, we would like to pursue several initiatives. India today represents a great opportunity as China has been for us in the recent past,” said Beaudoin, refraining from disclosing any planned investment figures.
The company is hopeful that the railways will now speed up its locomotive modernisation programme and revive the electric locomotive factory in Madhepura, Bihar, and the Kachrapara rail coach project in West Bengal. In both, Bombardier has been shortlisted along with a clutch of global peers on techno-financial parameters, but the projects have progressed at snail’s pace following prolonged bouts of due dilligence and repeated revision of bid documents after allegations of corruption surfaced. For example, the factory at Madhepura, expected to manufacture 12,000 HP electric locomotives, received Cabinet approval in 2006 when Lalu Prasad was the minister, but is yet to materialise.
Modi’s flagship infrastructure projects include connecting the metros with high-speed bullet trains that would run through dedicated corridors such as Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Pune for which feasibility studies are underway. Similarly, semi-high speed trains with a speed of up to 160-200 km per hour, that can run on the existing infrastructure with small upgrades, are also being planned. In both, Bombardier is getting ready to compete with Japanese and European vendors.
With cities that have a population of more than 20 lakh, planning integrated urban transit systems, which will include trains, Bombardier has identified several greenfield ventures or extensions of existing projects, including in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Lucknow and Ahmedabad as a big focus. Currently, 30 Indian cities qualify, but within a decade, 20 more are expected to get added.
But Beaudoin adds a word of caution: “Just like US and Europe, India too should now take the advantage to develop its local industry and insist on local content. Still, many contracts do not. It’s always controversial, but India has a unique opportunity now since it will procure significant rolling stock,” argued Beaudoin, an industrial relations major from McGill University.
While Delhi Metro insisted that a quarter of the coaches be made in India, subsequent contracts in Kochi, Kolkata, Hyderabad did not. Seizing the opportunity, most of them were won by Chinese vendors, who also had financing support from their Exim banks.
Bombardier is still struggling to beat the duopoly of Boeing and Airbus in aviation, but is hopeful that its regional jets will have more Indian takers. There have been reports of Jet Airways buying Spice-Jet’s fleet of Bombardier Q400 turboprops to fly to smaller towns. “I do hope SpiceJet gets re-organised soon,” says Beaudoin. “We also have CRJ 200 and 700 regional jets with Air India. What’s important for me is to see our aircraft getting appreciated. If not SpiceJet, somebody else can operate them. I think our new C series will have many more opportunities. The target airline for me is IndiGo.”