However, the Indian Railways is not planning to make a complete shift to LHBs on rail tracks, but the Integrated Coach Factory (ICF)-designed old coaches will be phased out once they outlive their life span.
Conventional coaches run for 25 years and are prices at Rs 1.5 crore, while LHB AC coaches cost between Rs 2.5 crore and Rs 3 crore, serve about a decade more.
According to K K Saxena, General Manager, Rail Coach Factory (RCF), Kapurthala, a complete phase-out of conventional coaches and proliferation of LHB coaches would be possible by 2040, if there was no policy change by the government.
“The complete switchover from conventional coaches to LHBs is possible when RCF starts rolling out non-AC LHB coaches on a large scale.”
RCF produces “end-on-generation” air-conditioned LHB coaches. It is also expected to develop a second variant of the power car for non-AC coaches within the next five to six months, which will have commercially useful space on the top. At the bottom, there will be underslung power generation sets of lower capacity suitable for them.
Increase in carrying capacity and life cycle of LHB coaches is expected to bring down transportation cost for every kilometre by about 12 -15 per cent, even though production costs of LHB is higher.
RCF has invested Rs 114 crore since 2007 for the transition. Another Rs 130 crore has been sanctioned for phase II of the project, which will be invested over a period of 2-3 years, said Saxena.
To start with, trains with more than 20 coaches will use LHBs, then it will be extended to mail/express trains apart from Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto. LHB coaches manufactured in RCF in Kapurthala are mostly used in Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains while other mail and express trains are equipped with conventional coaches built at the ICF in Chennai.
Increase in carrying capacity and life cycle of LHB coaches is expected to bring down transportation cost for every kilometre by about 12 -15 per cent, even though production costs of LHB is higher. With the optimisation of line capacity, the speed potential can also go up to 200 kilometres an hour from 110 kmph now.
“Apart from the economic benefit, LHB coaches offer better safety and do not turn turtle in case of a head-on collision,” said a railway ministry official.
A senior ICF official said they have invested Rs 300 crore for 250 coaches since 2009-end. The planned rollout of LHB coaches from RCF in 2011-2012 at 450 has increased almost 77 per cent from the actual production of 257 between 2001 to 2006.
The annual production capacity projection for LHB coaches in 2011-2012 from the three factories, including the upcoming one in Raebareli will be 506 but is expected to go up eight-fold in 2016-2017. By then, the Palghat factory is also expected to join the three production units in manufacturing LHB coaches.
The Railways acquired the passenger coach manufacturing technology through two separate agreements with Alstom LHB in 1995, one for supply of 24 EOG coaches and the other for transfer of technology to produce the coaches at Indian rail coach facilities. The 24 EOGs were imported at Rs 131.37 crore.