Chennai: The city-based Integral Coach Factory (ICF) is set to scale up production of safer Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) stainless steel coaches in two years. A contract has been given to a private firm for a Rs Rs 275 crore second unit that can churn out 600 coaches a year. It is expected to be ready in 18 months.
Rail passengers will have to put up with conventional coaches, considered unsafe, for another decade before railways is able to replace all of its 50,000 coaches.
The 300 coaches churned out by ICF and the 1,000 coming out of Rail Coach Factory in Kapurthala annually are woefully inadequate, but it will take several years before all coaches can be replaced with LHB ones. The Railway Board has not taken the initiative to leverage existing capacity of coach factories.
A senior railway official said, “There is no deadline fixed for a complete switchover and ICF-design coaches will have to be used simultaneously. Railways has assessed that around 500 LHB coaches will be needed per year. Requirement is assessed based on the plan to replace rakes of trains. Premium trains first got the rakes. Coaches of Mail and express trains are being replaced gradually.”
ICF will produce 423 LHB coaches this year against the capacity of 300 coaches.
An official said the contract for the second unit was finalised in November 2015 and a letter of acceptance was received from the company on October 3 this year. “The firm has to sign an agreement, a formality expected to be completed in 2-3 weeks. Railway ministry has allotted Rs 104 crore this year for preliminary work. Leveling the ground has started.”
While it took five years for a new LHB production unit to be set up at ICF due to slow allocation of funds, the second unit got the nod in less than a year. ICF’s first LHB coach came out in September 2014.
The railways plans to switch over in the next 4-5 years to LHB coaches that provide world class features including safety, higher ride comfort and superior passenger amenities.
But, a complete phaseout is expected to take time and factories will continue to make new conventional coaches with additional safety features, including centre buffer coupler which prevents coaches from climbing one over one another during an accident. Around 80% of the rolling stock continue to use conventional coaches.