The made in India Vande Bharat Express train will get Indian made wheels, as a result of the war in Ukraine. While the semi-high speed train is designed and made in India, its wheels were planned to be imported, including from Ukraine. But the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has halted the import of the wheels, forcing the Railways to make the wheels also in India.
The wheels will now be made by Railway Wheel Factory in Bengaluru, and the factory has already issued tenders for parts needed to make the wheels. The factory is already making the axels for the wheels, and will now make the wheels also.
Reportedly, the first batch of 128 wheels were already made in Ukraine, but they are stuck in Romania due to the war. Now efforts are being to bring them to India, and it is expected that the Ukraine made wheels will be air-lifted to India later this month. The wheels will be brought to Chennai in batches between May 15 and May 20, and then will be taken to the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai where the Vande Bharat trainsets are being assembled.
The 128 wheels will be enough for one Vande Bharat train, because the train has 16 coaches, and each railway coach runs on 8 wheels, fitted on two bogies at each end.
Other than the 128 wheels from Ukraine stuck in Romania, other wheels ordered with two other foreign companies will also reach India by next month. These wheels will be used for the trial of the new version 2 of the Vande Bharat Express trains, and subsequently for the trains ordered by Indian Railways. After that, wheels made in the Indian plant will be used, as the manufacturing of wheels in Ukraine has stopped.
An official said that the goal is to have enough wheels not only for the 75 Vande Express trains planned to be rolled out by August 15 next year, but also surplus wheels for future productions. The required number of wheels will be made withing 2-3 months by Railway Wheel Factory. Railway Wheel Factory in Yelahanka in Bengaluru will give priority to these wheels for now. A total of 36,000 wheels have been ordered for the trains.
At present only two Vande Bharat Express trains are operating, between Delhi and Varanasi and Delhi and Vaishno Devi Katra. From this year, the version 2 of the train will be launched in several other routes.
At present, Indian Railways imports nearly 60-70% of the wheels needed by it, but it may change following the fallout of the Ukraine war.
Train wheel making is a specialised process, only some plants across the world made them. The wheels are made from a single piece of steel, which is heated to a high temperature, and then pressed to give them the shape of the wheel. Such forging technique produces very strong wheels.
In this year’s budget speech, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced that 400 new Vande Bharat trains will be introduced in the nest three years. The govt plans to introduce 75 trains by August 2023. The Railways has already started identifying routes to deploy the advanced trains. In most routes, initially the Vande Bharat trains will replace existing Shatabdi and Jan Shatabdi trains, as the Vande Bharat trains only have chair cars. However, Railways has already started the process to develop sleeper versions of the coaches, to replace Rajdhani Express and similar long-distance trains.
Tenders for development of 200 such trains already have been invited, which will be version 3 of the Vande Bharat train. These trains will have AC-3 Tier, AC-2 Tier and AC-1st class coaches, like the Rajdhani Express trains. Bids have been invited for 3200 such coaches.
Originally referred to as Train 18 during development, Vande Bharat Express does not have dedicated locomotive. Instead, every alternate coaches of the 16 coaches are motorised. Both ends of the train has driver cabins, which makes turning around the train at terminating stations faster and easier.