SAIL adds Rail Capacity to retain Key Business from Indian Railways

Banks on Universal Rail Mill for orders

BHILAI: Faced with the prospect of losing exclusivity in the supply of rails to the Indian Railways, the Steel Authority of India Ltd.’s Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) has added a Universal Rail Mill (URM) as part of its effort to scale up capacity at BSP to 7 million tonnes of crude steel per annum.

“The URM, which has the capacity to produce 1.2 million tonnes of rails per annum, would help the company to meet the increasing demand of Indian Railways for more volume of 260-metre rails,” said Vijay Mairal, BSP’s deputy general manager (public relations). “SAIL would be in a position to supply about 2 million tonnes of rails to the railways annually which will be the largest rail production capacity in any steel plant globally.”

The Indian Railways has invited global expressions of interest for the supply of rails as part of its plan to renovate the track network and improve operational safety. The vast state rail operator, which is undergoing a $130 billion, five-year overhaul to modernise the world’s fourth-largest network, is set to open up annual purchases worth up to $700 million to the private sector, Reuters reported last month, citing sources.

Train accidents

Railway officials, who did not wish to be named, told The Hindu frequent rail fractures or weld failures that had resulted in train accidents had been a key factor that led the railways to call for open tenders to procure rails. In a note on accident mitigation measures sent to all zones, the Railway Board had noted that procurement of superior quality of rails had to be expedited.

Responding to queries about the capacity of its steel plants and quality of rails in the backdrop of the railways floating global tenders to procure long welded rails, Mr. Mairal said BSP had commissioned a new Long Rail Welding complex. The 130-metre-long rail rolled at the URM was the world’s longest rail in a single piece, he said.

The Railway Board had insisted that long rails should be deployed as a rule so as to minimise the number of in-situ welds which were more vulnerable.

“Deployment of 13-metre long rails is not desirable on the safety front,” a top railway official said . “We have been flagging this issue with the suppliers for over 8 years now. Since SAIL is the sole supplier, railways is left with no other option but to lay 13-metre-long rails. Of the 7,100-km of new lines, gauge conversion and relaying of old tracks announced by the Minister of Railways in the budget, only 25% per cent is being considered for long weld rails,” the official said. “Rail and weld fractures remain a perennial threat to safety of train operations and shifting to 130-metre or 260-metre weld rails” is the best option.