Train-18 Project Comes under Vigilance Radar after External, Internal Complaints

The railways has received both internal and external complaints that a domestic company was favored during the purchase of electrical equipment.

New Delhi: Further manufacturing of the much-acclaimed Vande Bharat Express, the indigenously built trainset which is made at the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai, has come to a halt as it has fallen under the radar of the national transporter’s internal vigilance department.

According to sources, the internal vigilance department is inquiring into the purchase of electrical equipment for self-propelled trains, which includes the Train-18 project at ICF. 

This comes, sources say, apparently after the railways ministry received internal and external complaints alleging that undue favour was shown to a domestic company. The external complaints were made by a few multinational companies and vendors.

Also read: Railways Infighting Over Vande Bharat Express After Decision To Review 2016 Reforms

The Train-18 project has also been a source of intense inter-departmental rivalry, with the mechanical and electrical wings of the national transporter fighting over a number of issues. The project is currently being handled by the mechanical wing, although there has been internal lobbying to transfer it to the electrical department.

Railway insiders told The Wire that departmental rivalry, backed by multinational interest, has now put a brake on the further manufacturing of trains.

Amid the the fight between two traditional rivals, the indigenous trainset has become a casualty, with sources saying that work is unlikely to resume until the vigilance inquiry gets over.

The 16-coach Vande Bharat Express, flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February 15, is running successfully between New Delhi and Varanasi with 100% occupancy.

Though the train faced technical snags on its inaugural launch, these were quickly sorted out and since then, Train-18, the first locomotive-less train operation, has been a success story for the Indian Railways.  

In fact, the ICF has been sanctioned to manufacture a total of 40 Vande Bharat trains over the next three years – ten in 2019-20 and 15 each in the next two years.

Also read: Brake Failure Halts Vande Bharat Express On Day After Launch

Sources say that this project has now been temporarily grounded as the vigilance department has paid a visit to the ICF and taken files related to purchase of electrical equipment for the Train-18 programme.

When contacted for a statement regarding this development, a railways spokesperson declined to comment, saying that this was “speculative information”.

In May 2019, The Hindu had reported on the possibility of a vigilance directorate inquiry over allegations that the Train-18’s development team had not obtained proper technical approval for the project’s electrical systems.

Over the last two years, the Railways had floated the tenders for manufacturing of trainsets twice. But both the times, the bids were discharged as no players came forward for it.

Finally, the ICF went ahead in manufacturing the first locomotive-less train indigenously in record time: 18 months.     

Equipped with top notch facilities, such as automatic doors, wi-fi availability and CCTV cameras and many other advanced features, the Rs 100 crore Vande Bharat Express is aimed to replace the Shatabdi Express.

It also has GPS-based passenger information systems, modular toilets with bio-vacuum systems and rotational seats that can be aligned in the direction of travel.

Arun Kumar Das is a senior journalist and  can be contacted at akdas2005@gmail.com