The 25 freight trainsets are to be based on the same platform as the Vande Bharat Express Train 18 inter-city EMU.

INDIA: The Ministry of Railways has ordered an initial build of 160 km/h freight multiple-units to operate parcels and express freight services on premium routes.

To be built at the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai, the 25 electric trainsets are to be based on the same platform as the Train 18 inter-city EMU, now designated as the Vande Bharat Express.

In February Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that Rs500bn was being allocated in the 2022-23 fund 400 Vande Bharat trainsets for short and medium-distance inter-city passenger services across the country. Of these, an initial 75 are expected to be running by August 2023 to commemorate 75 years of independence.

The ministry now intends to leverage the Vande Bharat brand to transform IR’s premium freight business. It is looking to win a significant share of the lucrative small consignments business, which is burgeoning in response to a surge in e-commerce.

At present IR’s freight figures are dominated by bulk commodities, but the railway has recognised the need to break into the market for high-value fast-moving goods if it is to achieve its target of handling 45% of the country’s freight tonne-km by 2031 as envisaged in the National Rail Plan.

A prototype freight EMU is reportedly under development at ICF and is expected to be rolled out by December, with the rest of the build following at monthly intervals over a two-year period. Each 16-car set is expected estimated to cost around Rs600m, which is almost four times the price of 45 bogie wagons for a conventional freight train operating at up to 75 km/h.

Running at express passenger speeds, the units would be competitive with both road and air over distances up to about 1 500 km. They would carry unitised ‘couriered’ consignments between the principal metropolitan regions, notably on the Delhi – Mumbai and Delhi – Kolkata corridors. The trains will initially be targeted at high value, time-sensitive goods including electronics, automobile components and pharmaceuticals, but could potentially be deployed to accelerate the movement of perishable horticultural produce.

In addition to the dedicated FMUs, IR is also looking at adding 160 km/h parcels vans to some inter-city passenger trains, offering predictable and reliable journey times. These could be operated in partnership with large logistics companies such as UPS, FedEx or DHL.