The Vande Bharat project got a boost this week with significant progress in the two mega tenders to produce the semi-high-speed trainsets.
Five players are slated to qualify for making 200 trainsets on Wednesday, in a tender floated a few months ago, merely a week after two mega players put in their technical bids for 100 aluminium Vande Bharats — a first in India. French rolling stock major Alstom and Swiss makers Stadler with India’s Medha — the two players who have bid for the aluminium trainsets — have jumped into the fray for the 200 trainset deal.
Along with them are consortia of Indian makers BEML and German multinational Siemens; BHEL and Kolkata-based Titagarh Wagons; and Russia’s largest rolling stock maker Transmashholding (TMH) with railway PSU RVNL joining the list to bid for the tender. They had all submitted the tender in November last year.
The technical qualification round may be opened on Wednesday, enabling the players to participate in the financial bids round that will follow next to decide the final winners.
Eventually, the deal to manufacture and maintain may be split between the lowest and the second-lowest bidders, wherein the one quoting the lowest price will get to manufacture 60 per cent and the second-lowest bidder will make the rest. Sources said a part of the deal would also include sleeper versions. The deal consists of a maintenance contract for 35 years and the upgradation of maintenance depots.
The government in the 2022 budget had set a target of rolling out 400 Vande Bharat trainsets over the next three years.
While these 200 trainsets will be made of steel, the other 100 will be made of aluminium, something India has always shied away from because it is typically more expensive, and the country still needs to get the coach-making technology for it. Railways has decided to change that. Globally, aluminium trainsets for high-speed projects are common.
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Sources said that if made with aluminium, the Vande Bharats may cost around Rs 130 crore per trainset. Railways wants these trains to be unmatched in terms of reduced noise levels and better stability as felt by passengers riding them, besides being safe. However, engineers say the overall gain comes from saving energy and better speed, translating into higher earning potential.
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About the higher cost, officials said that by factoring in inflation and other associated costs of the current steel-made Vande Bharat trainsets, the aluminium ones come out to be marginally higher, whereas the money saved by way of less energy consumed and faster turnaround for each trainset, is much higher, translating into a higher revenue potential in operations.