Strong even in its 60s, ICF adds one more Feather in its Cap

Man and Machines work together at ICF to create a masterpiece in metal, as the Integral Coach Factory celebrates 60 years this week

MOSR at ICF flagging off ceremony
MOS (Railways) Manoj Sinha flagging off the first indigenous three phase AC propulsion system Electric Train Set (EMU-Electric Multiple Unit) manufactured for Mumbai Suburban system, on the occasion of the Celebrations organised on eve of 60th year of ICF/Perambur

Perambur, Chennai: Chennai : Integral Coach Factory (ICF), the prestigious unit which manufactures coaches for Indian Railways turned out to be an attraction place on Friday, when the valedictory function of ICF’s diamond jubilee celebrations was held in its premises.

Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha flagged off the first indigenous three phase AC electric train set (EMU-Electric Multiple Unit). The first electric train set with indigenous three phase propulsion system for Bombay sub-urban train has been designed and manufactured at ICF.

These coaches have improved interior passenger amenities and will provide better travelling experience for the commuters. Sinha said the design and manufacture of the new electric train is in line with ‘Make in India’ campaign being taken up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. ‘I congratulate every worker involved in the making of this train’, he said.

The Union Minister said that with the valedictory function of the diamond jubilee celebration falling on 2 October, it puts a more responsibility on ICF. It is on this date that birth anniversary of two noble personalities Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shashtri falls. They strived hard for the welfare of the nation and following their path, ICF too can work for the betterment of this country in its own way, he said.

Engineers Honoured: Around 60 engineers from ICF and Southern Railway participated in the Engineers Day celebration. The theme for the occasion was ‘Engineering Challenges for Knowledge Era’. The portrait of M. Visvesvaraya was garlanded by K.S. Sreedharan, IRSME, deputy chief mechanical engineer, ICF, who was the chief guest. A few engineers were given certificate and mementos for their technical support rendered and new process ideas exhibited during the year, said a press release.

Ran Vijai Pratap, IRSME, principal, TTCICF and Ravichandran, PE/PL/ICF were the other guests.

A.K. Dhanakumar, C. Sambandam, G. Anandakumar, N. Jagadeesan, Arivudai Nambi, C. Muralidharan and Venugopal co-ordinated the events.

A special postal cover on ICF and three books namely ‘Tracing the Roots,’ ‘Coffee Table Book’ and ‘ICF Product Catalogue’ were also released by the Minister.

ICF general manager Ashok Kumar Agarwal said it was on 2 October 1955 that first coach was rolled out of ICF, which was  inaugurated by then Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. It was on 2 October 1962 that furnishing division was inaugurated, and since then, the organisation has come a long way with presently having a capacity to manufacture 2,000 coaches per year.

Railway Board member (Electrical) Navin Tandon said ICF has made strides on the energy saving front. ICF could bring down the energy spent on manufacturing a single coach from 10,000 units to about 6,850 units.

Chief Post Master General of Tamilnadu Circle Charles Lobo said the specially launched postal cover contains a railway coach and this will be exhibited at all philately exhibitions to inform people about the history of ICF. He also suggested installing CCTV cameras in railway mail service vans to ensure safety of parcels being transported and prevention of theft.

This will go a long way in retaining the trust of the people on the postal system and railways, he said. Railway Board member (Mechanical) Hemant Kumar and ICF chief mechanical engineering L C Trivedi were among those present.

Interesting Story of ICF coach manufacturing

Former Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at the inauguration of ICF in 1955
Former Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at the inauguration of ICF in 1955

In the diamond jubilee years, ICF has not only emerged as a hub of rail coach production, but has also redrawn the skyline of Perambur and its surroundings. M/s Swiss Cars and Elevator Manufacturing Corporation, Zurich, has to be thanked for letting Perambur occupy a place in railway history. This was the company that transferred technology for broad gauge coach building to India, to the Perambur Coach Factory (as ICF was called for a while) in 1949.

There was no looking back thereon. Bullock carts carried machinery from Chennai Port to ICF in 1949. The barren lands slowly made way for full-fledged workshops in 1955 when the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru (along with Indira Gandhi) came to Perambur and inaugurated the ICF (shell division) on October 2, 1955. In barely seven years, ICF had produced 1,000 coaches and expanded into a furnishing division as well, employing over 16,000 workers who settled around the factory. Soon the few settlements turned into colonies, turning Perambur into one of the most densely populated parts of the city. So began the rise of ICF and how Perambur acquired relative fame .

QUEEN ELIZABETH VISITED ICF

ICF’s date with history has more to it than record production and development of the neighbourhood. Even the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Zhou EnLai, spiritual leader Dalai Lama and many more set foot in this vast industrial estate.

STARTED WITH 375 SHELL CAPACITY

ICF had humble beginnings: it started with a capacity of 375 shells in 1955 (its 100th coach being inaugurated in 1957). Today it has set a unique record of producing the maximum coaches in one place, 1,622 in 2013 alone (48,708 till September 2014). Be it the first non-AC coach (1961) or Rajdhani (1980) or Garib Rath (2006) or the Palace on Wheels and Maharaja Express, everything was crafted to perfection with nails and hammers at the ICF workshop.

Shell Division at ICF
Shell Division at ICF

Perambur was once a vast stretch of barren land with a few people settled there. Neighbouring Anna Nagar, now a premium micro-market, was so uninhabited that the Railway Protection Force had used it as a firing range then. It all changed between 1949 and 1955, the formative years of the Integral Coach Factory (ICF), which turned 60 on October 2.

A railway coach is a mere sheet of cotton steel, wound as a gigantic coil, before its birth. We see it waiting to be loaded into a cut-to-length machine at the shell division of the Integral Coach Factory at Perambur. The coach begins its journey at the grease-stained floors of the factory — it will soon travel across the nooks and crannies of our country and abroad. Engineers and technicians here prepare it for the countless journeys it will undertake during its lifetime of 25 years. We spend a day rubbing shoulders with these men who’ve probably spent most of their lives in the company of machines than with people.

“Watch your step. Be very careful,” instructs senior section engineer P. Sreeramulu as he leads us into the mammoth shell division, our first stop. Here is where the outer skeleton of the coach is made. Man and machines work together to create a rectangular metal masterpiece that will be embellished with curtains, fans, cushioned seats and more at the fabrication division a little distance away.

At first sight, the sheer magnitude of machinery, fascinates. The sounds sweep over us — clang! bang! drrr! zap! clackety-clack! We step inside to be embraced by the smell of metal and oil. Technicians nod at us as they turn a knob here and control a conveyor there.

Sreeramulu, a mechanical engineer who began his career at the ICF, remembers days when the unit had more people than machines. But as the years rolled on and technology advanced, machines helped cut down the workforce. “From 16,000, the workforce is now over 12,000, of which 20 to 25 per cent is women,” he explains.

A 1,000-ton hydraulic press rams at a sheet, which will later be a side pillar; a laser cutting machine sculpts metal to mechanical precision; a profile bending machine gives shape to the roof… the metal creature that’s shaped before our eyes gradually grows in size. At the assembly wing, units including the under frame, coach bottom and the bogie are fit to shape the skeleton of the coach.

But all the drama happens at the fabrication unit. Several coaches, in various stages of undress, wait to be made-up. The trademark blue curtains peep from just done-up windows; a labourer seats himself on an upper berth of a coach, his head behind a curtain of wires; two technicians are busy chattering away as they do the electrical wiring… the men travel from one coach to the other adding elements to what was once a lifeless metal frame.

Technician K. Prabu is testing the controls at the driver’s cabin — he scribbles something in his notepad as he nods to himself. He pats the shaft with a red button at the handle. This structure, that’s part of the ‘master controller’ of the train, is the single most important switch that’s responsible for every movement of the train.

“It’s called the ‘dead man release’,” explains Prabu. “The driver will hold it down to put the train in motion. If he releases it, the train will come to a stop.” The name is derived from the fact that if the driver releases the button, it means he’s in grave danger.

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