Tuesday, November 22, 2016

By Kamal Mishra, Mumbai Mirror | Nov 22, 2016,

Over 140 people were killed in the train accident near Kanpur on Sunday; (inset) Suresh Prabhu

Old, less technologically advanced ICF coaches make up the bulk of the Indian Railways’ fleet.

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu yesterday announced “strictest possible action” against the guilty, and a thorough probe aided by the latest technical and forensic analysis into Sunday’s train accident near Kanpur, in which over 140 people were killed.

Speaking in the Lok Sabha, Prabhu said that the exercise to replace old coaches lacking crash-worthy features announced in the Railway Budget will also be expedited.

And that is where the government could be faced with a huge problem: over 80% of passenger trains in the country use the ‘old’ Integral Coach Factory (ICF) coaches.

The Integral Coach Factory, located near Perambur, near Chennai, is one of the railways’ main coach production facilities. The coaches are made of mild steel (a less ductile material, heavier than stainless steel) which is less effective in protecting occupants in the event of a collision.

Making a suo moto statement yesterday, Prabhu said that old technology coaches lack the crash-worthy characteristics of modern coaches. “I had informed this House during the previous Railway Budget that such coaches will be progressively replaced and phased out. This will be expedited,” he said.

The Railways plan to replace the existing compartments on passenger trains with Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches. At the moment the Indian Railways only has around 10,000 LHB coaches out of a total of 60,000 passenger coaches. LHB coaches, which cost over Rs 2 crore, are safer and more crashworthy than ICF coaches. The coaches, which are made of stainless steel, are also equipped with disc brakes as opposed to ICF coaches that have a threadbrake system, which impacts their stopping distance. They can absorb the shock and impact of derailment more effectively than ICF compartments and, as a result, do not topple, thus reducing the loss of lives in case of an accident. The coupling system on LHB coaches reduces the relative motion between two compartments and also prevents one coach from ‘rising’ on the other in case of a mishap. LHBs also have better suspension, ride quality, significantly larger windows and sound reduction.

According to experts, LHB coaches are safer as compared to ICF coaches. “If we were to talk about this recent mishap, LHB coaches would have significantly reduced the number of casualties, ” said Subodh Jain, a former member (engineering) of the Railway Board and former general manager, Central Railway. Another former official said that replacing the coaches could take as much as eight to ten years.

The Railways had imported a set of coaches from Linke-Hoffman-Busch (now a part of Alstom) for testing and use in India in the late 1990s, and LHB coaches became popular once a few glitches were ironed out. Today, they are manufactured at the Rail Coach Factory, in Kapurthala, under a Transfer of Technology agreement.


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