‘Our’ first train in India is operational.
Gert Klaassen (57) is Senior Technical Consultant at Strukton Rolling Stock and closely involved with the equipment that has supplied for India.
Christmas Day 2017 is a day I won’t easily forget, because that’s the day ‘our’ first train operated on the scheduled service in Mumbai, India. Or rather: the train for which my colleagues at Strukton Rolling Stock and I designed and built the electrical systems. It is, what’s more, a modern train, certainly by Indian standards, being the first local train in India with air-conditioning. Basically, it’s a tremendous milestone for this train to be carrying passengers on the Indian railway. And it’s also just the beginning, because we have at least 36 trains to go. Over 400 locomotives are also operating now using our equipment.
It was a project with a long prelude: in 2007 we signed the contract with Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL), the Strukton Rolling Stock of India, for the delivery of 25 kV AC Electrical Multiple Units (ACEMU). Strukton Rolling Stock was responsible for the design of the drive, the onboard grid systems and the control (The Train Control & Management System). This was followed by a long process of design and testing, both in the Netherlands and in India. This was of course necessary in India, not only because we had to check whether the equipment could withstand the heat and humidity, but also because of our close cooperation with BHEL, Indian Railways and RDSO (the approval body). Part of the contract involves us transferring our technical knowledge to ‘colleagues’ at BHEL, so that they can ultimately produce the systems themselves.
Back to the drawing board
In 2008 the focus was on the design, building and testing of the prototype systems in the Netherlands. We moved our base to India the following year. At BHEL in Bhopal, we re-tested everything and implemented modifications where necessary. For me, this meant a nine-month stay in India, apart from a two-week holiday.
Moving forward to the end of 2010: BHEL was able to demonstrate to Indian Railways that they had the ACEMU technology and were awarded the contract from Indian Railways to supply forty trains, with our ACEMUs. The specifications did deviate somewhat from the original design, which meant that we needed to modify sections of the system.
Later in the process, at the end of 2012, Indian Railways decided that the trains should be equipped with air-conditioning. That’s certainly no unnecessary luxury if you consider that it is always over 30 degrees Celsius in India, with peaks of 45 degrees or even higher. They also required electric doors and the sequence of carriages came under scrutiny. These changes were substantial for my colleagues and I: we needed to go back to the drawing board. A year later, at the end of 2013, we tested, approved and delivered the modified equipment to BHEL.
“We are transferring our technical knowledge to “colleagues” at BHEL, so that they can produce the systems themselves”
“For Indians, relationships play a much bigger role than doing what you promised”
The whole of 2014 involved what we call the combined system test. This means that, in a factory setting, we attach our equipment to the engines, which we then run at full power. This ensures that all systems are tested to the limits of their design. The tests took place in Bhopal, where I lived in 2014 and 2015. It was a really great experience and hard work. We worked at least six days a week and sometimes even on Sundays and public holidays. Our co-residents, namely rats, didn’t always appreciate this. On several Sundays they chewed through the cables, which resulted in delays. But you get used to everything.
At the end of 2015, when we had reached the point at which the equipment was installed in the train by train builder ICF in Chennai, the whole of public life and our project came to a standstill. The monsoon left Chennai completely under water. The airport closed and we couldn’t go anywhere. There was nothing to do but wait until the water receded.
In the spring of 2016, we handed over the train to Indian Railways. The train was tested on the track in Mumbai for the rest of 2016 and 2017, first during the night and later in day time. Does it perform well at high speeds? Does everything work? Can the equipment withstand the heat? I supported this part of the project from the Netherlands. On 25 December 2017, the train ran its first commercial scheduled service on a route in Mumbai.
Agreements and relations
It’s now been some ten years since BHEL and Strukton Rolling Stock signed the contract. Ten years of designing, testing, building, modifying plans and coming up with new designs. But it’s also ten years of immersion in Indian culture. In the Netherlands we work according to the credo that an agreement is an agreement and confront the other party if they don’t stick to the agreement. Things are really different in India, where relationships - and maintaining good relationships - play a much bigger role than doing what you promised. If I visit BHEL for a work visit, BHEL employees think it’s really normal to take me to their client Indian Railways for a cup of tea and to shake hands, even though the client is some two hours’ flight away from BHEL. Although for me, as a practical Dutchman, such a visit would be unthinkable, good relationships have proven to be the key to the success of this project, even more so than the technical systems. It became apparent that we performed well on both fronts not only because of the milestone on 25 December 2017, but also from the fact that other Indian parties have shown interest in our work. As a result, I’ll be a frequent flyer to India for some time to come.