The Rs2,000 crore Somani Group is to diversify into railway equipment manufacture, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with ThyssenKrupp GfT Gleistechnik, a German firm specializing in the sector.
“The railways are going to spend more money in upgrading technology in the next five years than they did in the last 50 years and there are going to be many opportunities for vendors in public-private partnership programmes. This is why we have decided to foray into railway equipment business at this juncture,” said Atul Kumar Varma, the group’s president.
The group plans to focus on switching equipment. One reasons is that the railway ministry itself is looking for better technology in this area, Varma said. The company also plans to capitalize on the dedicated freight corridor project where the railway ministry proposes to use rail tracks that can run wagons carrying heavier loads. Such tracks will also require better switching equipment to efficiently divert trains from one track to the other without weakening the rails.
The group is looking to use the MoU with its German associate to supply the railways with the requisite technology to manufacture head-hardened rails that are specially forged through heat treatment to fit snugly into connecting rails at railway switches.
“The forging technology vendor will be provided with rails by Steel Authority of India Ltd and he will forge the rail and send them to the switching manufacturer for installation on the track,” said Varma. Somani will also supply extra abrasive steel, which is used while switching. In this specialized type of steel, the gap between the rails is less than 10mm, which reduces friction.
As of now, switching equipment is supplied by a host of local vendors to respective zonal railways. A former railway board official, who did not wish to be identified, said that the ministry now has to plan for a technological leap. “Investment in such technology should have been made years ago. It is important to hasten the pace at least now.”