NITI Aayog’s innovation committee may decide Talgo’s fate in India
NEW DELHI: To acquire lightweight aluminium-bodied Talgo coaches on a ‘preferential basis’, the Ministry of Railways may approach the Empowered Committee on Innovation Collaborations. Under the rules governing the railways, it can award contracts to lease or buy only through a global tendering process. However, the Committee, a part of the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog has been vested with the power to allow a contract to be awarded to a particular firm if it is convinced by the value it brings to the country.
The Committee was constituted in October 2015 with the aim to promote innovative collaborations for infrastructure projects. It is headed by Niti Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya, and has Shaktikanta Das, the economic affairs secretary, among others, as member.
“We can lease a couple of rakes and we plan to go to the Committee to seek permission to engage with Talgo directly,” said an official at the ministry of railways requesting anonymity.
It was earlier opined that Indian Railways may lease out coaches from Talgo initially to expedite the process of inducting Talgo coaches to run on Indian tracks.
The Committee had given the railways such preferential nod for the high-speed bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai being built on Japan’s Shinkansen technology.
“The Committee only permits to acquire a technology on a preferential basis if it is convinced. It is not an easy process. There is a formal procedure of approaching them, we will be doing that in a day or two,” said another official at the ministry of railways who also did not want to be identified.
The national carrier is also exploring to set up a rail coach factory at Palakkad to manufacture aluminium coaches on public-private-partnership basis, as reported earlier.
In a trial held in September between New Delhi and Mumbai, Spanish Talgo coaches hauled by Indian locomotives covered the distance in 11 hours 48 minutes, nearly four hours less than the time taken by Rajdhani Express.
In the earlier trials, Talgo was tested at a speed of 115km per hour (kmph) between Bareilly and Moradabad, at 130-150 kmph between Mathura and Palwal, and at 180 kmph between New Delhi and Mumbai. However, the last leg was affected due to water-logging on tracks, which delayed the train.
According to the second official quoted above, the railways is looking at multiple options to acquire Spanish coaches.
“If we have to lease, we will have to do single tender since it is in a small quantity. We are looking at multiple options right now. Either we seek technology for ourselves through open tendering wherein Talgo will be free to bid, or go ahead and select its technology (though Committee’s permission), or we go for a PPP-based tender,” the official added.
Queries emailed to the spokespersons of the ministry of railways, Niti Aayog and Spanish Talgo on 17 October remained unanswered.
The aluminium coaches are one of the options the national carrier is experimenting with in its quest for speed. Apart from a bullet train corridor being set up between Ahmedabad and Mumbai using Japan’s Shinkansen technology, the railways is also evaluating push-pull locomotives, magnetic levitation trains, among others, to increase average train speeds and decongest the network.
According to experts there are certain aspects of Talgo which makes it easier for experimentation and unique.
“Talgo comes with some unique features such as lighter coaches, the number of axles and wheels are fewer and in a way these are actually shorter coaches. The railways should first lease a set of coaches for quicker experimentation and once it stabilises then they can think of global tenders,” said transport economist G. Raghuram, who is also professor at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad.