The Indian government’s plan to launch dozens of new Vande Bharat trains this year seems to have run into trouble with the import orders from Ukraine being stuck due to the Eastern European country’s ongoing war with Russia.
According to news agency PTI, India had placed an order for 36,000 wheels at a cost of $16 million with a Ukraine-based firm. The payment for this 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). But this has not happened until now, due to the war.
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.
The Indian authorities have managed to only transport 128 wheels to neighbouring Romania by road, from where these will be airlifted for the trial of the trains 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,” PTI quoted a source as saying.
Due to this, they said, trials in India will not be deferred.
Sudhanshu Mani, a former general manager of the Integral Coach Factory (ICF), Chennai and the brain behind the Vande Bharat trains, also stated 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,” said Mani.
“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,” he added.
Further, to meet the target, India has also now placed orders for wheels with the Czech Republic, Poland and the United States. The country may look at China too as it supplies wheels.
But the move to place orders with other countries will substantially raise the cost of procurement “because the demand is high and supply-constrained”.
There is a fear of a major shortage of wheels in the global market with Ukraine holding 70% of orders of the European Union of wheels for freight railcars.
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 ₹40,000 crore and ₹50,000 crore.
With inputs from agencies.