India’s import orders to a Ukrainian firm for thousands of wheel sets for Vande Bharat trains have been hit by the war, but 128 wheels have been taken to neighbouring Romania by road and these will be airlifted by the railways for trials next month, sources said.
They also said that to meet its target of launching 75 semi-high speed trains on prominent routes across the country by the end of this year, India has now placed orders for wheels with Czech Republic, Poland and the United States.
The sources also said that India may look at China too as it supplies wheels.
The sources indicated that Ukraine, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of such wheels, has virtually stopped new production with most staffers joining the war effort against Russia.
With this, they said, the Railways’ plan of launching dozens of new Vande Bharat train this years ran into troubles as the entire order given to a Ukraine-based firm — 36,000 wheels at a cost of $16 million — looked undeliverable.
The sources said the payment was to be made through a Letter of Credit.
The wheels were planned to be shipped from the Ukrainian Black Sea Port to Maharashtra’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), which has not happened due to the war.
However, the sources said told PTI this has not delayed trials in India scheduled for next month.
“With the efforts of the Railway Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs, 128 wheels required for the trial of two trains were sent to Romania by road on trucks from the wheel factory in Dniepropetrovsk, Ukraine,” a source said.
V K Tripathi, Chairman and CEO Railway Board, told PTI. “There is no delay in the manufacturing of Vande Bharat Trains. All the required items like wheels and axles will be delivered in time.” The axles needed for the wheels have been manufactured at the Railway Wheel Factory in Bengaluru.
The sources also said that the move to place orders with other countries will substantially raise the cost of procurement “because the demand is high and supply constrained”.
“Also, Ukraine is the cheapest option,” a source said.
Sudhanshu Mani, a former general manager of the Integral Coach Factory (ICF), Chennai and the brain behind the Vande Bharat trains, told PTI that supplies hit by the Russia-Ukraine war will not be a severe setback for the Railways’ efforts.
“The first rake was not going to be out before May anyway and it would still be out in June/July. Last time. the wheels were ordered from a Czech company, this time it has been ordered from Ukraine.
“If they get the minimum requirement of 128 wheels for the first rake, they can begin the trials and then perhaps try to further expedite deliveries from Ukraine through Romania or some other neighbouring country or as an emergency measure, even procure quickly from some other company,” Mr Mani said.
While the Railways is focused on getting the Vande Bharat trains running on time, more than 70 other trains have to wait for the wheels to arrive from their new destinations to hit the tracks, the sources said.
“We have a two-month window from when the trials of the two Vande Bharat trains begin and the procurement of the wheels. We should be able to get them for all the trains. It is not just India, but the problem is across the world. Ukraine is one of the largest suppliers of wheels so there is bound to be a global shortage,” a senior official told PTI.
The sources indicate that there is a fear of a major shortage of wheel in the global market with Ukraine holding 70 per cent of orders of the European Union of wheels for freight railcars.
This also means that there will be a huge price escalation for India, which, the sources said, depends on the war-ravaged country for wheels for its other premium trains as well.
The officials said that the supply of railway wheels is a highly concentrated market with just about 20 factories worldwide.
In her 2022 Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced that 400 Vande Bharat trains will be manufactured in the next three years, which are expected to cost between Rs 40,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore.
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