Rake retirements: Kolkata Metro worried on Board’s silence on replacements

Kolkata:  Seven creaky Metro rakes soldiering on past their lifespan are to be withdrawn starting October, but replacements have not been ordered yet to maintain the transport lifeline’s peak-hour frequency of trains every five minutes.

Five of these rakes, all of them as old as the Metro itself, will retire this year and the other two by March 2015, a senior official revealed.

“The old, non-AC rakes have a normal lifespan of 25 years, which they have overshot by more than three years,” he said.

Metro Railway is worried about it’s peak-hour service coming under strain because of a shortage of rakes. The authorities had written to the Railway Board in January, requesting seven air-conditioned rakes to replace the old ones that would be withdrawn. There has been no reply yet, sources said.

The Metro fleet comprises 27 rakes, of which 13 are air-conditioned ones. To run trains at five-minute frequency, Metro Railway needs at least 21 rakes on a given day.

Once the seven rakes are withdrawn, the strength of the fleet will be down to 20, leaving no room for snags and routine maintenance.

“We have not received an instruction yet to manufacture more rakes,” said an official of the Integral Coach Factory at Perambur near Chennai, where the 13 operational AC rakes were built.

The official said it would take 10 to 12 months to manufacture a rake. “We need at least six months to procure materials, including engines, doors and spares. After that, another four to six months are required for manufacturing.”

Going by this manufacturing schedule, even if an order is placed this month the first rake won’t roll out of the factory before next year. “Post-October, it will become difficult to run trains at five-minute frequency with just one extra rake above the daily requirement. Once all seven of the identified rakes are withdrawn, we will be one short,” the Metro official said.

Metro trains now run at five-minute intervals between 9am and 11am and from 5pm till 8pm on weekdays.

According to officials, they need at least four rakes in running condition as back-up since the other non-AC trains are ageing too. The seven that are to be withdrawn completed their normal lifespan of 25 years in October 2010. Metro Railway had to seek special permission from the railway ministry to continue to run them.

Around 60 of the 112 non-AC coaches have been in service since the first Metro train rolled out of Dum Dum in 1984.

The railways-owned Research Designs and Standards Organisation, Lucknow, had granted Metro Railway permission to run the old coaches on condition that they would be overhauled.

Maintenance of rakes suffered after the Metro route was extended in the south by 9km in two phases — till Garia Bazar on August 22, 2009, and up to New Garia on October 7, 2010.

Trains used to cover 16.45km from Dum Dum till Tollygunge. Post-extension, they run 25.13km till New Garia. The extra distance has increased the average monthly run from 6,000km to 10,000km.

A section of officials accused Delhi of short-sighted decisions. The Railway Board had first placed an order for 13 non-AC rakes in 2007, only to change its requirement to AC rakes the following year. That delayed the process by at least a year, primarily because the design had to be modified too.

“It was known that the non-AC coaches would need to be junked, starting 2014. But there was no advance planning,” a railway official said.