Railways, NID go back to the drawing board to improve efficiency

Ahmedabad (ADI): On board an intercity train called EMU (electrical multiple unit), how important is it to hold on to the grab handle so that one does not fall on some other person or in a long-distance train, to get on to the upper berth without having to go through the embarrassment of losing one’s balance?

These are some of the 50 areas identified for innovative design changes, where the Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Design will work with the Indian Railways.

“We ourselves have the capability to redesign but our responses are conditioned so we thought there is no harm in getting fresh inputs,” Hemant Kumar, member (mechanical), Railway Board, told.

The design for the ladder was specifically mentioned by Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu when the areas for design changes were being identified, said Kumar.

Earlier, ladders in passenger coaches had just two steps with the first step being too high, but then three steps were created. Initially, there was use of steel pipe but to make it injury friendly, PU cover was being used.

“Now we are studying whether a fourth step can be added. But, the biggest challenge is to climb the side upper berth where you climb in one direction but have to suddenly turn,” he said. The climbing device could be in conjunction with something else like a hand holder.

Initially, ladders, toilets and colour schemes have been identified as possible areas for redesigning. The design for toilets, for instance, has to be such that from operational and cleanability point of view, it is an improvement over the existing design. The design also has to ensure to a large extent that the toilet remains clean during the journey.

In the normal course, layout and design of trains and their coaches is worked out by the Railways’ Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO), which after being approved by the Railway Board, undergoes detailed designing by the production units like Rail Coach Factory and Integrated Coach Factory. The new initiative with NID is, however, for out of the box thinking.

Under the memorandum of understanding signed between the Railways and NID last month, an offsite facility of NID would be created within the RDSO campus. Some of the design ideas relating to station architecture, coach interiors, platforms and circulating areas could be physically exhibited at Manaknagar station which serves RDSO.

The Railways has created a corpus of Rs 10 crore with interest on this amount funding some of these redesigning activities. Monitoring would be done by a committee though the shortlisted designs would be tested and report on them would be studied by the respective directorates in the Railways.

Another important experiment with regard to design is to prevent dustbins from overflowing during journeys.

“The focus is to increase the capacity of dustbins, so we are trying out the concept of a compactor. Initial design has been tried out in one coach in the Central railway,” said Kumar. “By trial, we have seen that the capacity of dustbins increases by five to six times.”

The existing capacity of dustbins is 20 litre of garbage. The Railways are trying to bring in special bins that can carry 35 litres and then add compactor to it.

“We are seeing whether existing dustbins can be retrofitted or new ones will be required. The issue of safety needs to be resolved so that a user’s hand does not get injured in the compactor,” said Kumar.


From cost efficiency point of view, the Railways is also trying a completely new model of powering coaches. The concept of hotel load has been tried on five trains.

Power to coaches is conventionally supplied from power cars which make a lot of noise. These cars have diesel gensets mounted on them to meet the entire power requirement of air-conditioning, lighting and fan which is called hotel load.

The new idea is based on the concept that diesel locomotives are also power houses on wheels and can generate power. So, two locomotives are attached to either side of the train, and instead of the power cars, two additional coaches are attached to the rake.

Since diesel is used more efficiently by a locomotive because it has a far more efficient engine compared to diesel gensets, the total diesel utilisation would come down. Power acceleration would be doubled. With less fuel, it can generate same power. If hotel load requirement is less at a given point of time, then the balance power can be used for traction. Since more passengers can be carried in less time, the line capacity also increases. Coupler force, too, gets reduced because there is push and pull force working from back and front.

Hotel load has been tried out in the Ajmer-Rewari train set.

“We can start regular service with passenger trains during peak summer. The cost of laying extra line is Rs 8-9 crore per kilometre but if the throughput can increase through this, then it is worth it even if it means more locomotives.”