Stung by the initial setback in procuring wheels for the Vande Bharat Express from war-torn Ukraine, which is now stuck in Romania, the Railways has now decided to manufacture them at its wheel factory to ensure that the PM’s cherished project does not face any further roadblocks, sources have said.
The 128 wheels which were brought from Ukraine by road to neighboring Romania are scheduled to arrive in India in the third week of May after being airlifted, sources said.
In the Union Budget for 2022-2023, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed that 400 new Vande Bharat trains will be developed and manufactured over the next three years. The target for this year is 75 such trains, according to the timeline announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Railway Wheel Factory (RWF) in Yelahanka, Bangalore, Karnataka will focus on manufacturing wheels for two Vande Bharat rakes on priority to create a surplus of wheels for the trainsets. The RWF is also manufacturing the axles needed for the wheels of the trains.
Problems for the trains occurred when an order of the Railways to a Ukraine-based firm for 36,000 wheels at $16 million looked undeliverable due to the war with Russia. After a series of meetings involving the ministry of railways, the ministry of external affairs, and the Indian Embassy in Ukraine, 128 wheels were moved to Romania by trucks to be airlifted to India. They are likely to reach their final destination between May 15 – May 20, sources said.
The decision of the Railways to use the RWF to manufacture these wheels is also an attempt to see if it can reduce its dependence on imports for wheels required for trains. Currently, the Railways imports 60-70 percent of wheels every year, mostly from abroad.
The war in Ukraine, which is one of the largest manufacturers of wheels worldwide has also raised fear of a major shortage in the global market with the war-torn country holding 70 percent of orders of the European Union of wheels for freight railcars.
The officials said that the supply of railway wheels is a highly concentrated market with just about 20 factories worldwide.
The wheels being sought from abroad and now to be made in India are forged rail wheels which are manufactured from a large solid piece of steel. The steel is heated to extreme temperatures and pressurized to take shape. This thermal cycle causes forged wheels to be stronger than any other kind of wheels.