Vande Bharat Express, India’s indigenously developed semi-high speed train is yet to find any takers abroad. This, despite its apparent cost advantages, compared to similar technologies from developed countries.
The train was developed under the ‘Make in India’ project at Chennai’s Integral Coach Factory. It was first launched on the New Delhi-Varanasi route in 2019, with the second generation version being launched in September of this year.
RITES, the government-owned consultancy agency which markets rail-related products in most foreign nations, has been making pitches and trying to bag offers for some time. Back in summer, a RITES official had told a business daily that teams from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal had expressed interest in the train and that they would visit India to get “a look and feel” of the modern semi-fast train.
However, RITES chairman and managing director Rahul Mithal, on Tuesday, revealed that till now they are yet to get any finite orders. “It is early days yet,” Mithal said, adding, “It is a world-class product…and much more economical (compared to similar models from other countries).”
One issue may be the fact that the Indian government is more keen on producing for the domestic market before taking on foreign orders. In this year’s budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said the government plans to make and launch 400 Vande Bharat trains over the next three years.
Gauge issues are another. While India now has a more or less predominant broad gauge standard, it varies across the world, from standard gauge to narrow gauge. In fact, in about 12 countries in Africa, a traditional buyer of rail rakes and technology from India, a unique standard called Cape Gauge is used — this means any such order would include a total overhaul of the body, design and aerodynamics of the train to suit this ultra-narrow mode.
The train has had a string of accidents, primarily from hitting livestock, since its launch in 2019. In the most startling incident in October this year, the train’s fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) engine was damaged after hitting a herd of buffaloes between Gandhinagar and Mumbai.