Indian Railways new Dwarf Containers have 67% more volume; could be a game-changer in capturing high-end traffic

Vamana, or the ‘dwarf’ container, is the latest of Indian Railways’ initiatives that is expected to grow into a giant, capturing high-end traffic it lost to the road sector over the years when, in the 1980s, end-to-end running of block rakes was introduced.
First Double Stack Dwarf Container train flagged off at Rajkot station by P.B.Ninawe – Divisional Railway Manager, S.S.Yadav – ADRM and other senior officers of Western Railway’s Rajkot Division.

NEW DELHI: The Hindu mythology talks about Mahabali (Bali Chakravarthy), the Asura, who grows too big for his boots. In a ceremony where he is giving away gifts, Lord Vishnu appears disguised as Vamana, a dwarf, and asks him three paces of land, and Mahabali agrees. Immediately, Vamana assumes the shape of a giant. With one step he covers the Earth, with another the Heaven, and for the third Mahabali offers his head, which Vamana steps on, sending him to the Paatala (the Netherworld).

Similarly, the vamana (or the ‘dwarf’ container‘), is the latest of Indian Railways’ initiatives that is expected to grow into a giant, capturing high-end traffic it lost to the road sector over the years when, in the 1980s, end-to-end running of block rakes was introduced. While this step had reduced wagon turnaround significantly, it had also closed avenues for booking of individual wagons.

Very few business entities were prepared to book an entire rake to transport products from their manufacturing plants to different destinations. On the other hand, road transport offered flexibility as well as door-to-door service of even small consignments. Later, the Container Corporation of India captured almost half the export-import cargo of International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) containers, in particular between Dadri-JNPT and Dadri-Pipavav/Mundra corridors, yet domestic traffic still eluded the Railways on account of higher tariffs.

A standard 8x8x40 feet ISO container does not make use of the 4-feet additional height available up to the 25kV OHE catenary wires, but a double-stacked dwarf container service does so, enabling almost 30% savings in freight charges. This could prove to be a game-changer for the Railways, winning back bulky low-density traffic such as plastic granules, white goods, FMCG products, PVC fabric, even automobiles.

New ‘dwarf’ containers are lower in height by 662-mm (26 inches) and wider by 162-mm (6.3 inches) than standard ISO containers. Inside space has been maximised by adopting FRP (fibreglass reinforced plastic) flooring—only 9-mm thick, as against ISO’s 28-mm thick hardboard flooring.

The ‘dwarf’ provides 67% increase in volume when double-stacked and can carry a weight of 71 tonnes, against 40 tonnes by an ISO container. This maximises the available envelope of moving dimensions under the catenary as well as the permissible axle load.

It’s the brainchild of Naresh Kumar, an engineer who left his job with the Railways to try his luck in the private sector by setting up his own company Kalyani Cast Tech. He had to make quite a few trips to the Research Designs & Standards Organisation and Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety, both based in Lucknow, to get necessary clearances, as well as convince Railway Board mandarins of the ‘dwarf’s’ unique role in boosting the Railways’ freight and parcel earnings.

The first consignment of polypropylene granules in 82 double-stacked containers was moved from Reliance Industries’ own siding in Kanalus near Rajkot in Gujarat to Rewari in Haryana, earning the Railways Rs 31.4 lakh for the round trip. This ‘green’ initiative also helps to keep thousands of trucks spewing noxious fumes off the road.

The saga of the ‘dwarf’ began in 2006 when Kumar was on deputation to the Pipavav Rail Corporation, a JV company of Indian Railways, when he conceptualised running of double-stack ISO containers only on non-electrified sections since it would permit a height of 19-feet from rail. These trains have been running on the Rewari-Pipavav/Mundra non-electrified route for almost a decade now. The idea of ‘dwarf’ container was soon born, which Kumar designed with elongated corner castings so that the standard locking arrangement on container flat wagons could be used, even when the container is wider. So far, 90 units have been made, 180 more are on order, and the tally could reach over 2,000.

Moving 1.7 million tonne of assured cargo annually from Reliance’s facility in Jamnagar to Rewari, Ludhiana, Hyderabad, Bengaluru is just the beginning. The sky is the limit as more electrified sections are certified fit for running these double-stack containers. Reportedly, Kumar is open to sharing technology and perhaps some of the other 17 private sector container train operators will join the gold rush, enabling the Railways’ high-end freight business to finally take off.