New Delhi: Indian Railways has been unable to keep up with its wagon manufacturing target, completing just 7,000 of the 18,000 set by rail minister Mamata Banerjee for acquisition this year.
Reasons for the delay include the railways not finalizing the design for a new type of wagon and shortages in some raw materials such as stainless steel, said railway ministry and company officials.
The 7,000 “wagons are mostly produced in the private industry”, said a railway officer, who did not want to be named.
The contracts governing wagon manufacture state that the national transporter is required to acquire and provide the steel for wagon manufacture, which it hasn’t done according to company officials. The railways typically provides steel, wheel sets and bearings that go into wagon manufacture, the official said.
Compounding problem: One of the reasons for the delay in wagon manufacturing is the shortage of raw materials such as stainless steel. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Wagons are acquired from private manufacturers such as Titagarh Wagons Ltd, Jessop and Co. Ltd and Texmaco Ltd, as also from state-owned enterprises. The railways holds over 200,000 wagons in its inventory.
The railway official said the problem was also because wagon makers have never had to manufacture so many wagons, with the target going up steeply from 13,000 wagons last year to 18,000 this year.
The design issue has compounded the problem,
“The issue is not (whether we can make) 11,000 or 12,000 or 18,000. On the one hand, they are asking for a huge design change, and on the other, they want to go for bulk (production),” said an executive with a major wagon supplier for the railways, who did not want to be named because he’s not authorized to speak to the media. “These two cannot go together.”
“Orders were placed in October, but for 14 months the design was not frozen,” said A.K. Sinha, senior vice-president (rolling stock) at Texmaco. “So naturally, there is slippage” in targets. Texmaco is part of the KK Birla Group, promoter of Mint’s publisher HT Media Ltd.
Sinha said the railways decided to change from a swivel door to a sliding one, apart from alterations to the roof.
The ministry official said the national transporter hoped to soon sort out the issues. It also wants the wagon makers “to move beyond labour contracts, including exercising control on their raw material”, he said.
“The railways should insist on quality of output,” said Akhileshwar Sahar, a former railway employee who heads government and multilateral advisory services at infrastructure consultancy Feedback Ventures Pvt. Ltd.