Wheels of progress

Published : Apr 23, 2004 00:00 IST

At the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, locomotives of types WAG-7, WAG-9 and WAP-4. - PICTURES: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

At the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, locomotives of types WAG-7, WAG-9 and WAP-4. - PICTURES: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Chittaranjan Locomotive Works' technological advances and its modernisation drive have helped India become part of a select group of nations with the capacity to build locomotives indigenously.

THE need to develop an indigenous locomotive-building capacity was acutely felt in pre-Independence India as the import of locomotives became expensive and difficult, especially during the First World War. In order to meet the rising demand, the Peninsular Locomotive Company was formed in 1921. But within three years the company shut down as a result of internal problems without having produced a single locomotive.

A committee consisting of M/s Humphries and Srinivas was set up in the late 1930s to look into the matter. The site initially considered by the committee at Chandmari near Kanchrapara in Bengal, had to be abandoned because of the partition of the country. Subsequently, the present site at Chittaranjan in Burdwan district was selected, and it was approved by the Railway authorities in 1947.

Chittaranjan is only 32 km from Asansol, the coal belt of West Bengal, and 230 km from the Kolkata airport. Construction work began in March 1948 when the railway siding at Chittaranjan was connected to the Eastern Railway main line. By the end of 1949, the plant got its first machine. Production began on January 26, 1950, and the first steam locomotive rolled out of the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) factory on November 1. Known as Loco Manufacturing Works earlier, it was renamed on November 1 as a tribute to the famous freedom fighter from Bengal, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das.

Originally, the plant was designed to produce 120 average-sized steam locomotives and 50 spare boilers. By 1972, when the manufacture of steam locomotives was discontinued, CLW had already produced 2,351 of them in five different types. In 1963, the company produced its first air-conditioned locomotive, Bidhan.

In 1967, CLW began manufacturing broad gauge (BG) diesel shunting locomotives, metre gauge (MG) and narrow gauge (NG) main line locomotives. A total of 852 locomotives of seven types had been brought out from CLW until 1993 when their production was discontinued. Manufacture of broad gauge electric locomotives began in 1961. Two years later, the company began producing 25 kV AC Electric Locomotives. Their design was obtained from a number of European companies, and later modified and improved by CLW to suit the operating and environmental conditions of India. Fifteen versions of these locomotives had rolled out of CLW, the latest in the freight division being WAG-7 and in the passenger division WAP-4. In 1993, Indian Railways entered into an agreement with AD tranz of Switzerland for the manufacture of state-of-the-art three-phase 25kV AC Electric Locomotives.

CLW is the first production unit of its kind in the developing world, second in Asia and fifth in the world, to manufacture the three-phase state-of-the-art GTO thyristor-controlled electric loco, and the 6,000 hp freight electric loco WAG-9, called Navyug. In 2000-01, the first passenger version of the three-phase loco WAP 5 called Navodit was manufactured. The same year, two new versions of WAP-7 and WAP-9 were developed. It is to CLW's credit that today, India is among the select band of five nations with the capability to manufacture the three-phase electric locomotives.

THE CLW Steel Foundry was set up in 1963 in collaboration with the United Kingdom-based M/s F H Lloyd for production of steel castings used in steam locomotives. After CLW shifted from the production of steam locomotives to that of diesel and electric locomotives and traction motors, the heavy steam locomotive castings made way for lightweight steel castings. The modernisation project of the foundry was completed in 1995-96. The technological know-how came from Atchison Castings, United States.

The company has an exclusive Centre for Design and Development (CD&D), which was set up in 1993 coinciding with the signing of a transfer of technology agreement with ABB Transportations Systems Ltd of Switzerland. Apart from developing the WAP-7 passenger locomotive and the WAG-9H freight locomotive, CD&D played a crucial role in the production of four major equipment - traction converter, auxiliary converter, transformer and controlled electronics. This indigenisation has brought down the company's cost of production substantially.

THE township built around CLW is considered the best of its kind in the country today. Covering a total area of 18.3 sq.km, the workers' colonies are spread in such a manner that access to the workshop is not hindered. Each colony has community and health centres, primary and secondary schools, dispensary, play grounds and parks. Initially, the township was planned to house 5,000 workers. Today, it has 9,224 quarters, accommodating 45,924 people. The town has 38 schools, of which 22 belong to the railways, a college, a 200-bed hospital, seven health units, eight community halls and two sewage treatment plants. The main source of water for the township is the Maithon Dam reservoir. During summer, the seven lakes situated within the township help meet the water requirements of the people. The average consumption of filtered water is around 45 lakh gallons a day. The power supply for CLW is assured from the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC). In Maithon town, the DVC has 40 mw hydroelectric and 90 mw gas turbine stations, which are connected to its main grid, from which CLW receives power. As a stand by, there is a third feeder up to HCL Rupnarayanpur. Apart from these sources, CLW has a captive plant capable of generating 11.16 mw in the event of a total failure of power supply from the DVC.

In order to conserve energy, CLW has been, since 1986, modifying its manufacturing process and replacing old machinery with new. Sodium vapour lamps lit the streets and office and domestic buildings are encouraged to use fluorescent tubelights. As a result of these measures, maximum power demand has been brought down from 12.5 MVA (mega-volt ampere) to 12 MVA.

Chittaranjan's environment remains clean and green. Every year, between late October and early April, a variety of migratory birds flock to this part of Bengal from northern Asia, Europe and Siberia. Earlier, more than 24,000 winter visitors have come to roost near the lakes of Chittaranjan; now the number of such birds has come down to around 10,000.

Pisciculture also flourishes here. Four lakes have been licensed out to the Chittaranjan Employees Credit Cooperative Society, and one to a private individual. The local residents can buy fresh fish for less than half the market price from the society.

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