The Central Railway's ambitious plans to convert — or retrofit as they call it — old Direct Current local trains into trains that could run on both Direct Current and Alternating Current (DC/AC locals) is turning out to be a disaster of gigantic proportions.
These trains, each converted at a cost of over Rs4 crore, are prone to an alarmingly high rate of breakdowns or unit failure as the railways officially puts it. Such breakdowns have jumped from around 250 a couple of years ago to over 1,050 in the past 12 months. The loss of manhours — with thousands of commuters missing precious hours because of every such breakdown and its cascading effect on the timing of other trains on the line — runs into several millions over a year, say CR officials.
CR currently has 25 such retrofitted trains, with a cumulative cost of upwards of Rs75 crore, running mainly on the Harbour line and between CST and stations beyond Thane. Central Railway's electrical system is a mix of DC and AC. It runs on AC traction between Thane and beyond, while it runs on DC from CST to Thane and on the Harbour line.
These 'jugaad' trains fall from grace has been dramatic. After the first such rake was introduced on CR on March 25, 2011 with the inaugural run at 1:04pm between CST and Kalyan, railway electrical engineers patted themselves on the back for this technical oxymoron. It went on win the Railway Minister's award for Innovation for the year as well.
"But things soon soured. These trains can't run at more than 80kmph so they slow down other trains and disrupt the timetable," a senior CR official said. "Their behaviour on stretches that connect AC and DC tractions, what we call neutral territory, is cumbersome and often leads to breakdowns. Occasionally it requires a engine to push these trains out of the way after such breakdowns. That takes almost an hour and throws the timetable out of gear."
As CR moves towards converting all its lines into AC, except the Harbour line, by August, the usage of these retrofitted trains would increase and with it the headache for commuters as well.
"CR is supposed to get some retrofitted trains from Western Railway when they start getting the Bombardier rakes. But the performance of the rakes on WR has also not been encouraging. The only solution is to increase the production of AC trains at Chennai and convert our lines to AC quickly. Running these 'neither here neither there' trains is nothing but taking commuters for a ride," the official said.