Alstom plans to make train batteries in India for Vande Bharat, metro rail

Alstom’s Maneja facility in Gujarat, which is already making rail components, would be used to make batteries for the first time India. (Mint)
Alstom’s Maneja facility in Gujarat, which is already making rail components, would be used to make batteries for the first time India. (Mint)

Summary

Alstom is planning to bring large batteries to power traction components in train systems in the next one year after testing the technology in several European countries

New Delhi: France-headquartered Alstom SA plans to manufacture large batteries for railway traction components in India over the next one year, its top executive said. The batteries can be used to move various railway systems such as Vande Bharat trains, metro rail, etc. 

According to Henri Poupart-Lafarge, CEO of the multi-national railway infrastructure manufacturer, the company plans to bring the batteries to India after testing the technology in several European countries.

These batteries can supply auxiliary power to diesel and electric railway powertrains in situations such as power supply failure or to get a train over a patch that is not electrified, or even to get it into a maintenance shed.

“We are now implementing some batteries for traction. There is huge work being done to adapt these large, powerful batteries (currently being used to power passenger vehicles and trucks) to rail applications," Poupart-Lafarge said in an interview. “We are bringing this in India as well." 

Also Read: ‘From 2,500 new general coaches to 50 Amrit Bharat trains’, Ashwini Vaishnaw shares big plans for Railways

The batteries will initially be imported from France and, eventually, Alstom will make indigenous cells in India. The CEO said the company's Maneja facility in Gujarat, which is already making rail components, would be used to make these large batteries locally.

Why battery-powered trains

Battery-powered trains are energy-efficient and help in reducing carbon emissions, Poupart-Lafarge said. These trains, along with rolling stock made of aluminium, will be a part of the company’s pipeline for India.

Battery-powered trains will also increase connectivity in India as they can travel across non-electrified routes. Further, battery-powered traction can help metro systems provide commuter comfort and hindrance-free run in case of power failures.

Also Read: Budget 2024: Defence, railways, infra, renewable energy sectors to remain in focus, say analysts

The batteries, with lithium-ion elements, will be made for rail traction components, but the product has multiple uses and its different forms can be used for other modes of transportation, including ships and vehicles.

"The new battery technology will power an auxiliary supply of electricity for air conditioning and lighting, especially when the train has stopped. 

Indian railways have added a generator car to some trains in the past to ensure continuous power supply for travellers," said Subodh Kumar Jain, former member engineering, Indian Railways, adding that the weight of batteries has always been an issue. 

"Currently, we have to control auxiliary supply in trains manually. An optimised battery may help improve the quality of service in Indian railways," Jain added.

The Indian market 

India’s market will see a demand for more rolling stock because of growth in urban transportation, particularly the metro rail, in multiple cities in the country, Poupart-Lafarge said. Rolling stock refers to both engines and coaches.

Alstom is still far away from meeting market needs in India. While the railway manufacturer has operation and maintenance contracts that will increase the life of its trains, India will still need more rail lines, the CEO said, indicating that Alstom sees growth in India for the railway infrastructure business in both manufacturing and maintenance.

The French transportation giant also plans to increase the number of maintenance teams and sites in India, Poupart-Lafarge said.

India is a promising revenue source for Alstom, especially after completing its integration with Bombardier's rail business in 2021. Since then, Alstom has continued to focus on investments in India due to the country's large revenue share in the Asia-Pacific region.

In FY24, Alstom earned around €2.4 billion in the Asia-Pacific region (APAC) through sales (14% of the group sales) and exports, company representatives informed Mint during the interview. India on average is about one-third of APAC revenues and out of total revenues in India, on average 25-30% comes from exports.

Alstom manufactures rolling stock, signalling technology, and other railway components. About 25% of Group engineering is today done in India. Target is to take this over 30% in the coming years, Poupart said.

Alstom is also working with the railway ministry for speedy implementation of the automated railway protection scheme Kavach throughout the country, CEO Poupart-Lafarge said. 

The push for batteries in Indian railways comes in the wake of the plunge in Alstom's net profit in FY24. It fell more than 80% for the year to €44 million from €292 million, as per the French company's annual financial disclosures. 

Alstom then engaged in a deleveraging plan by selling its signalling business in North America and raising money by issuing new bonds and rights to keep the credit rating from falling any lower from its Baa3 rating given by Moody's, the lowest investment grade rating.

“It has been an intense year, but very positive, actually. We had some cash flow issues in the first half of the year, but they were corrected in the second half," said Poupart-Lafarge.

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