Railways to manufacture Vande Bharat wheels in Bengaluru to make up for supply crisis
With its plan to import Vande Bharat train wheels from Ukraine hampered by the ongoing war, Indian Railways decided to manufacture them at its factory in Bengaluru to ensure the PM’s pet project gets rolled out in time, according to sources.
The first batch of 128 wheels, out of a cumulative order of 36,000 at a cost of $16 million, was transported from Ukraine to neighboring Romania by road and is currently stuck there. These should be flown to India by the third week of May, they said.
With manufacturing in Ukraine halted by the war, the Yelahanka Railway Wheel Factory in Bengaluru will now prioritize the manufacture of these wheels for two Vande Bharat rakes. A rake of the posh Vande Bharat Express includes 16 coaches.
The Railway Wheel Factory (RWF) has issued tenders for the parts needed for these wheels and is expected to complete production within the next two to three months, the sources said.
The factory makes axles for these wheels, even imported ones.
The decision will also help railways reduce their reliance on imports for train wheels. Currently, the national carrier imports 60-70% of the wheels it needs.
The ongoing war raises fears of a major shortage in the global market, with Ukraine being one of the largest wheel manufacturers in the world. It obtains 70% of European Union orders for wheels for freight wagons.
Officials said about 20 factories around the world make these wheels.
With the war hampering the supply of wheels, the Ministry of Railways held a series of meetings with the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Embassy in Ukraine and decided to transport the first batch of 128 wheels to Romania by trucks.
The wheels will be brought to Chennai in batches between May 15 and 20 and transported to the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) where the trainsets are assembled.
The wheels are made from a large, solid piece of steel, which is heated to extreme temperatures and pressurized to form. This thermal cycle ensures that forged wheels are stronger than other types.
The railways are now trying to ensure they have surplus wheels not only for the 75 trainsets they need to assemble by August 15, 2023, but also for the next batch.
“The wheels will land from Romania in time for the train trials and the orders we then placed with two other companies abroad will also reach us by next month. “by June-July this year. The aim is to have oversupply to be able to move on to the next batch of trains,” a senior official said.
In the Union budget for 2022-2023, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed that 400 new Vande Bharat trains be developed and manufactured over the next three years. The aim is to deploy 75 such trains by August 15, 2023, according to a schedule announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.