Changing with the times

Print edition : April 23, 2004

Interview with Surinder Jain, general manager, CLW.

Surinder Jain, general manager of Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, talks about CLW's ongoing projects and its plans for diversification, in an interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay. Excerpts:

Where does India, CLW in particular, stand in the international locomotive manufacturing business?

The Indian Railways have two major locomotive building facilities, which cater to the captive market of the parent organisation. One of these units is the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, which was set up first and dedicated to the nation on its first Republic Day. It is a matter of pride for us that CLW is as young as our republic. Although CLW is geared to produce 150 locomotives a year, innovative and imaginative measures enabled us to produce a record 165 locomotives about five years ago. Today, CLW is one of the major state-of-the-art electric loco producers in the world. Its earliest product fired coal and its latest product fires semi-conductors. Not only has CLW made steam, diesel and electric locomotives, it has also made locomotives for different gauges and for different niche applications. It is satisfying to see CLW's diesel workhorses still running on precarious routes such as Kalka-Shimla and the electric ones on the treacherous K-K (Kirundul-Kottavalasa) line.

Current products of the CLW include two classes of freight locos and three classes of passenger locomotives. The WAG-7 freight loco rated at 5,000 hp with a maximum speed of 100 kmph is predominantly used in the entire Indian Railways network for freight operation. The WAP-4 class passenger loco also rated at 5,000 hp having a service speed potential of 140 kmph is the workhorse for most of the passenger trains. These are with tap changer control. The WAG-9 class loco employs modern technology of three-phase drive propulsion, acquired through transfer of technology from erstwhile ABB-Switzerland. It is being serially produced at CLW and deployed in the heavy sections for hauling ores and coal. This is rated at 6,000 hp having a service speed potential of 110 kmph. WAP-5, which is the corresponding passenger loco, also employs three-phase drive technology. Rated at 5,440 hp, it now operates at a speed of 130 kmph. Its speed upgradation to 160 kmph is under trial. CLW, with its own innovation, adapted the WAG-9 freight class locomotive for passenger operation for speeds up to 140 kmph for hauling longer passenger trains such as the Shatabdi Express, which is WAP-7 class with 6,000 hp. Having produced over 60 three-phase locomotives with modern technology since 1998, CLW has attained a confidence level with which it can address the needs of developing countries with similar requirements.

What are the important ongoing projects at CLW?

CLW is one of the pioneers in the railways in adopting latest train control technology and topologies. Today, apart from working on ergonomically designed cabs for the older generation locomotives, CLW is working on the next generation of propulsion for its state-of-the-art three-phase locomotives. Upgradation of GTO thyristor-based converters to IGBT technology has been taken up. In another two to three years, IGBT-based solutions would be much more affordable. Having acquired and assimilated the three-phase technology, indigenisation, in order to eschew foreign reliance, and competition, for cost reduction, have been identified as the key missions. Efforts towards indigenisation were made even during the technology transfer phase, which started in 1995 with ABB. In a few years, most of the equipment/systems will be indigenised through Indian industry partners, thereby substantially reducing the production cost. Through multi-sourcing, the issues of obsolescence and fleet sustenance have also been taken care of. Fast obsolescence is a reality to be reckoned with in the electronics industry. The computer system onboard the locomotive is of 1980 vintage. Realising such future dangers, CLW has already initiated a project for upgrading a vendor-independent loco control platform for three-phase locos to international standards. Besides this, many more small projects are being undertaken to improve the safety of the locomotives, including a "black box" for recording the driver's actions and the working of the locomotives, remote diagnosis based on the Global Positioning System or the Global System for Mobile Communications and so on.

The country's first 6,000 hp three-phase state-of-the-art electric locomotive of the WAG-9 type.-

Are there any plans for diversification?

CLW is very sensitive to the saleability of its principal products. We manufacture electric locomotives, traction motors, bogies and component castings to meet the needs of the Indian Railways. Though we foresee that locomotive-based train operation would be the dominant mode of railway transportation on the Indian Railways network, we are alive to the needs of other train compositions such as train sets, preferred elsewhere. We are working on the new traction control topology; one of its objectives is to have a resilient control and communication platform, which can handle alternative train topologies. In the field of steel castings, we are planning to cast CMS crossing for the Indian Railways' tracks, GM Loco Bogies, Arm for LHB Coaches, cast steel brake beam, MG bogie for export through M/s. Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES), and so on. Thus our aim is to not only cater to the needs of the present customers but also be ready to meet any demand arising in the global market in the fields of electric locomotion and steel castings.

CLW is engaged in social work also...

As a national organisation with the primary task of transporting freight and passengers across the length and breadth of the nation, the Indian Railways have to discharge certain social obligations - to their employees, their families and the nation. Being one of the premier production units of the Indian Railways CLW is also fulfilling its social obligations in a befitting manner. CLW extends extensive medical and educational facilities, organises cultural, sports and scouting and civil defence activities. By maintaining a clean and green environment in the township, one of the major social objectives is fulfilled. CLW has got a very dynamic, focussed, committed and result-oriented non-governmental organisation called Chittaranjan Locomotive Works Women's Welfare Organisation (CLW-WWO), which runs activity centres such as Asha Kiran, a school for spastic children; Masala, file and fabrication centres, which provide employment opportunities to the downtrodden women, a computer centre and a library where excellent reference books for competitive examinations are available for students. CLW-WWO also organises vaccination and health camps and annual "healthy baby" shows. At the annual cultural function organised by CLW-WWO artists of national repute perform.

After more than 50 years in the locomotive business, how does the future look for CLW?

We always believe that the future is as bright as we see it and want it to be. We are confident about our ability to change. We have already acquired and absorbed the latest three-phase state-of-the-art technology, which is being upgraded because of the fast changes taking place in the field of electronics and communication. We have an excellent steel foundry where bogies for different types of loco are cast and despatched to different countries. Representatives from Switzerland, Turkey and South Africa have inspected CLW and accepted it as one of the world's most highly integrated loco manufacturers. In fact, last year CLW participated in the tender floated by South Africa for the supply of locomotives to that country. It is our endeavour to ensure that in the near future CLW exports locomotives with three-phase state-of-the-art technology to different countries and emerges within a decade as a major supplier of locomotives in the world market. We have the necessary will, the skill, the dedication and the capability and together, we are surely determined to march ahead to higher levels of glory. Being Asia's premier locomotive manufacturing and steel casting conglomeration, entering the global market is more a question of demand. Supply is not a problem. In view of our capacity and capability, the country's own requirement and the demands made by globalisation, CLW's future is no doubt bright.

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