Is Alstom’s Design for India’s Locomotives Faulty ?

Indian Business Standard has reported a problem with the design of electric locomotives designed and delivered  by Alstom under the ‘Make in India’ initiative of Indian Railways (IR).

The newspaper however reported that the French major’s electric locomotive  has failed to clear a trial conducted by the Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO).

On April 10 last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had flagged off the new locomotives from Alstom India’s Madhepura facility in Bihar. The facility is officially a joint venture, with the company having 74 per cent of the equity and IR the other 26 per cent.

According to an official source, during trial of the company’s prototype, “oscillation peaks beyond acceptable limits have been observed for a speed of even 70 km per hour and above”. This is expected to bring production from Madhepura on a slow track.

An Alstom spokesperson said: “Alterations and adjustments are a normal process when introducing a new product.” In 2015, the railways had signed a €3.5 billion (Rs 28,000 crore) deal with Alstom. This included the supply of 800 electric double-section locomotives, each with 12,000 Hp. It is still the largest foreign direct investment in this sectorr.

A government official said Alstom was in the process of modifying the bodie’s suspension for retrial. Oscillation trials are done for certification of the maximum permissible speed in rolling stock. Alstom’s WAG12 electric locomotives are designed to run at a maximum of 120 km an hour while hauling 6,000 tonnes.

On questions from Business Standard, the company spokesperson added, “The prototype has passed the primary tests pertaining to safety standards, proving the product to be successful in terms of safety metrics. The rest of the tests are underway, post the completion of which, the locomotive will be ready for the next phase.”

Officials, however, said the company was yet to offer the locomotives for re-trial, though RDSO had asked it to do so six months earlier.

“Alstom has been working to build the Prima WAG12 locomotives on parameters specified by IR. The prototype is a quantum leap over existing locomotives in terms of technology, power and traction capacity. It is the first time that such a product in this range is being tested under Indian track conditions,” the company spokesperson said.

Under the contract with IR, the first five locomotives were to be imported, while the remaining 795 were to be manufactured as part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative. The company was expected to supply the first five in 2019, 35 in 2020, 60 in 2021 and 100 every year thereafter till the order was completed.

About 90 per cent of the components for the project are being sourced locally, making Madhepura one of the flagship ‘Make in India’ projects.

“Alstom is working in close cooperation with IR to ensure India’s most powerful e-loco delivers high performance throughout its lifecycle,” the company spokesperson added. 
The locomotives from Madhepura are an important part of IR’s plan for 100 per cent electrification in the near future.

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