Nirmal Mathur - 2 March 2017
Passenger safety has assumed critical importance in material selection for coach bodies used in India, with stainless steel becoming the preferred choice.
Indian Railways is the largest railway network under a single ownership in the world. The system is the lifeline of the nation, carrying over 1,000 million tons of freight per year and more than 23 million passengers every day. It has about 250,000 wagons and nearly 70,000 passenger coaches.
As the economic growth picks up, Indian Railways will have a challenging task ahead because of line and terminal capacity constraints in transporting incremental traffic. While initiatives are afoot to decongest the existing network by introducing high-speed trains, passenger safety has assumed critical importance in selection of design and material of construction for coach bodies.
With such a large network, there has been incidence of horrific accidents happening over the last few decades, resulting in human loss and tragedies. Over the years there has been continued demand for ‘crashworthy’ coaches made of superior material and structural design, with discussions intensifying after every major accident.
The ideal situation for any vehicle crash is for the passenger to be enclosed in a rigid, safe structure and wear seat belts so that they don’t get thrown around violently and suffer serious injuries. This is demonstrated by modern automobile cars wherein the passenger compartment is designed as a safe, rigid cell, and the front and rear of the car as crumple zones that collapse to absorb impact energy.
Indian Railways has understood the importance of stainless steel for coach manufacture as far as passenger safety is concerned and for the same reason introduced the LHB (Linke Hofmann Busch) coaches from Germany in 2000, currently used in Rajdhani, Shatabdi and other premium trains. According to a senior Rail Ministry official, “LHB coaches made of stainless steel have more inbuilt safety features as they can absorb shock and impact of derailment more effectively and as a result do not topple, thus reducing the loss of lives in case of accident.” In 2016, Indian Railways planned to roll out 4,000 LHB coaches in India, and as stated by Mr. P. K. Agarwal (Additional Member, Mechanical Engineering, Railway Board) in his speech at the Rail India Conference 2016, “the Indian Railways will make a complete switchover to LHB coaches by 2018.”
Stainless steel coaches can save many human lives and mitigate human suffering resulting from such accidents. Indian Railways’ decision to fast-track a complete replacement of steel coaches with stainless steel coaches so as to ensure the safety of its passengers will no doubt greatly increase the consumption of stainless steel in India.