New Delhi: The Integrated Coach Factory (ICF), a coach manufacturer under the Indian Railways, has withdrawn from the project to manufacture 44 rakes for the Modi government’s showpiece semi-high-speed Vande Bharat Express trains, ThePrint has learnt.
According to sources in the railways, the ICF discharged the tender Thursday because of “administrative lapses in the tendering process and other technical reasons”. The cancellation by the ICF comes after months-long delays and controversies, and proves yet another setback for the ambitious project.
ThePrint reached Railways Ministry spokesperson D.J. Narain through text messages for a comment, but there was no reply until the time of publishing this report.
The ICF’s decision follows differences with the Indian Railways over the deadline for rolling out 44 new Vande Bharat Express trains — while the railways has so far maintained that the 44 train sets (also called rakes) will be introduced in 2021-22, an internal estimate by the ICF showed the process could take six-and-a-half years.
The Railway Board chairman had dismissed this assessment at a virtual press meet last month, saying the ICF was not going to manufacture the rakes by itself, but with two other coach manufacturing facilities, the Rail Coach Factory (RCF) and the Modern Coach Factory (MCF).
The original version of the Vande Bharat rakes — also called the T-18 trains — had taken just 18 months to cover the stages of conceptualisation, design, manufacture and rollout, and two of these rakes — built at a cost of approximately Rs 100 crore — have been providing trouble-free service on two routes: Delhi-Varanasi and Delhi-Katra.
However, the production of the rest of the 44 rakes has been mired in controversy.
Among other things, the project has faced delays since the earlier proposal to import complete train sets from foreign manufacturers had led to opposition from political parties, senior officials and other stakeholders, who had criticised the railways for ignoring local options.
The turf war between the mechanical and the electrical engineering departments had resulted in allegations of favouritism, safety compromises and other flaws, which, in turn, led to the transfer of top officials from the team.
The third and latest tender was floated by the Modi government in December 2019 with changes meant to create a level-playing field to bring down prices.
A project closely watched by the PMO
In July 2019, former principal secretary to the PM, Nripendra Misra, had written a letter to the chairman of the Railway Board about the ambitious project, emphasising the “need for transparency and dignity in the decision-making at all cost”.
“There are issues regarding quality of spares/items, response on the tender and representations by the suppliers regarding the specifications which allege to favour a specific bidder,” the letter, accessed by ThePrint, said.
“You also claimed that it is indigenously developed train set but there is a reference to Spanish manufacturer who seems to have procured developmental order. It is observed in your note that decision was taken to ‘ensure that some production continued while the eligibility condition and specification issues were resolved’.”
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.