Trying to increase its low 2% share of transporting cars within India, the Indian Railways will test a new prototype double-decker car carrier in February that would allow it to move 270 cars in one trainload.
As of now, the railways is able to carry about 135 cars per train by essentially cobbling together parcel vans based on demand. Meanwhile, trucks that carry the bulk of cars within India can take around 20 vehicles at a time.
The railways charges about Rs12,000 to carry a car from, say, New Delhi to Mumbai. It costs about Rs10,000 by road.
Railway officials involved in the car carrier project, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say the new carrier could bring the per-car cost down to about Rs9,000.
According to Railway Board officials, the car carrier, which is being developed for the first time in India, will take about six months to manufacture once it clears the pilot test phase.
“The prototype for the car carrier will be tried out in February. We have been working on a basic design,” said V.N. Mathur, member (traffic), Railway Board.
These car carriers, similar to those used in the US, are being designed in-house by Research Design and Standards Organization, or RDSO, which is the technical adviser to the Railway Board.
Member (mechanical) R.K. Rao said foreign collaboration, if needed, will be limited to some specific aspects of running car carrier operations.
“Most of the work will be done by RDSO,” said Rao. “The design once finalized will be put into production locally by the railways. However, I will not be able to put a figure to the order size as those details are yet to be worked out.”
However, a railway official familiar with the project who didn’t want to be named said the car carriers could cost around Rs14 crore per train.
International companies that manufacture such auto carriers include General Electric Co.’s GE Transportation unit and FreightCar America Inc. Both companies declined to comment when asked if they had been approached by the railways for technical collaboration.
The decision to look for a suitable car carrier design came up after much debate over a similar solution provided earlier by Pipavav Railway Corp. Ltd, a 50:50 joint venture between the Indian Railways and Gujarat Pipavav Port Ltd.
It had designed a modified double-stack container, which would help carry eight cars per wagon instead of three, thanks to collapsible platforms that allow cars to be placed in a slanted manner.
According to Mathur, the railways preferred the new car carriers to the modified containers as the former was a tried and tested solution abroad. “We will use the modified containers also, but only on some routes,” he added.
“If the delivered quality is good, the cost is good, we’ll consider that form of transport (rail),” said Debasis Ray, a spokesperson of Tata Motors Ltd, India’s largest auto maker by revenues.
A spokesperson for Hyundai Motor India Ltd said it would continue to use road transport despite the plan proposed by the railways “as it finds it too cumbersome to use multi-modal transport.”
According to R.C. Dubey, who was part of the team that designed the modified containers at Pipavav, a back of the envelope calculation shows that Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, for instance, could save around Rs40 crore a year if it were to transport all its cars by rail once the modified containers are put to use by the railways.
This would amount to about 9% of the car maker’s Rs467 crore net profit Maruti reported in the quarter ended September.
A Maruti spokesperson declined to comment about their interest in the new technology.
“The only point the railways need to keep in mind is that delivering cars on time is as important for the auto companies as it is to cut down on costs,” says Abdul Majeed, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Ravi Krishnan contributed to this story.