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Railways eyeing lucrative ecommerce space, making Vande Bharat-like freight trains

After the fast-tracking of the high-speed Vande Bharat passenger trains, Indian Railways is planning to use the same platform to introduce high-speed freight trains. The prototype is being built in Chennai’s Integral Coach Factory, two officers in the know said, and the target is to launch 25 such trains.

Each of those 16-car trains with a maximum speed of 160 km per hour is estimated to cost about ₹60 crore, three times more than a normal freight train with 45 wagons. But the increased speed of these rakes – existing cargo trains in India run at a maximum speed of 75 kmph – could help the national transporter augment its freight market share from 28% now, one of the two officers said, adding that the railways has been aiming at a 40% share in freight logistics by 2030.

The prototype of the newly-designed Freight Vande Bharats – freight EMUs (electric multiple units) as referred to in Railways’ official files – is expected to be ready by December following which the transporter is planning to roll out one such train every month. All those new trains are likely to be deployed on the Railways’ busiest routes, mainly to carry parcels of e-commerce companies, a business that’s presently monopolised by roadways. This new series could be christened ‘Freight Metros’, the officer said, though the name hasn’t been finalised yet.

“As the new freight trains will run on Railways’ most lucrative routes connecting the metros and other big cities in a time-tabled manner, our target will be to carry parcels of companies such as Amazon and Flipkart. With this train, the Railways will be about 2.5 times faster than road carriers, and in certain sectors, we will even compete with air cargo carriers,” the officer said.

At present, routes connecting Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai carry the bulk of Railways’ freight traffic.

Refrigerated Cars
In addition, the last two cars on both ends of the train will be refrigerated to ferry perishable items such as fruits and vegetables, ET has learnt.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech in February talked about 400 new-generation Vande Bharat trains with better energy efficiency and passenger riding experience, but there was no mention of this new freight train series.

Yet a closer look at the Railways’ pink book which detailed assets acquisition for FY 2022-23 would reveal an allocation to procure 25 sets of freight EMUs, each costing as much as ₹60 crore. Both officers who ET spoke with confirmed that these were no ordinary EMUs, but semi high-speed trains with design elements akin to the existing Vande Bharat series.

Railways did not reply to ET’s queries on introduction of this new freight train.


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