Indian Railways test-drives new toilets, but at Rs2 lakh a pop

Indian Railways test-drives new toilets, but at Rs2 lakh a pop
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First Published: Tue, Apr 10 2007. 02 00 AM IST
Updated: Tue, Apr 10 2007. 02 00 AM IST
New Delhi: The Indian Railways is finally getting serious about waste disposal and that is likely to cost it serious money.
About Rs2 lakh per toilet.
The price is based on a prototype train toilet that reached the Research Design Standards Organization in Lucknow on Monday, courtesy California-based Microphor, a subsidiary of Wabtec Corp. which recently won a global tender issued by the railways to supply bio-waste units for trains. The prototype version attaches a treatment system, in the form of a tank, to train toilets.
The tank contains enzymes that break down the solid waste into liquid. The liquid waste is then treated and purified inside the tank and discharged onto the track.
“The remaining waste matter remains in the tank without causing any inconvenience to the passengers or us,” says a senior railways official who didn’t want to be named. The tank can then be emptied at regular intervals for cleaning.
The move comes two months after Mint first wrote that the Indian Railways had discovered that the prevailing system of simply emptying thousands of train toilets on to tracks is causing serious corrosion of railway tracks across the country. The annual replacement cost for the tracks was estimated at around Rs400 crore.
The Microphor toilet will initially be tried out on 20 coaches. “If the technology is found to be useable in Indian conditions, we will apply it across all our trains,” says the railways official. At about Rs8 lakh per coach, or four toilets, “the cost of fitting all our 45,000 coaches with this technology would be around Rs3,600 crore,” confirms the official.
The final bill is likely to be lower though, as it is unlikely that the railways will roll out the new toilets on such a large scale without substantial reduction in the per-toilet price at the prototype stage.
In addition to the new toilets, the railways is currently looking at organizations that can help pitch in with keeping the tracks clean.
“The Indian Railways has come to us with some proposals, which we are looking at,” says B.B. Sahay, a senior official with Sulabh International Social Service Organization, which is famous for its Sulabh Complexes, or pay-per-use public toilets.
The railways had looked to several options to deal with its messy problem including a vacuum retention system that collects the waste that is then vacuumed out at train stations. “This is a more expensive technology and we will have to see whether this model is viable,” says the official.
The Microphor version is a compost toilet system that ends up treating the liquid waste with chlorine, making it non-toxic and thus much less harmful to tracks than untreated human waste.
Although the specific technology being provided by Microphor would be applied only by them, railways is open to Indian companies who can come up with similar technologies. “The enzyme that will be used by these companies will have to be different from the one used in the prototype that has been sent to us by Microphor,” said the official.
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First Published: Tue, Apr 10 2007. 02 00 AM IST