Bela Rail Wheel Plant waiting for its VVIP inauguration

Bela Rail Wheel Factoryबेला Bela (BELA): The official at the Rail wheel plant at Bela near Chapra has an air of nonchalance as he says: “We have not produced anything in the last two months but workers and technicians have been trained. Some quantity of wheel sets have been manufactured and supplied to various railway zones.”

In the private sector, such under-use of infrastructure and manpower would be considered blasphemous. But officials of the Indian Railways believe it is normal for a production-ready factory to be waiting for three years for the opportune time and date for inauguration by a VVIP!

Built over 295 acres at a cost of Rs 1,417 crore, the Rail Wheel Plant in Bihar is capable of producing one lakh “Box-N” type wheels (used in freight wagons) a year, but has manufactured just 13,000 wheels since it was declared ready for production in March 2012.

Thirty kilometers from Chapra is Marhoura, the location designated in September 2007 for setting up a plant to make high power diesel locomotives. But for the twisted and rusted signboard, there is nothing to show that a rail factory is be set up at the site.

Farmers, who have already been paid compensation for land acquired for the factory, continue to cultivate their fields. “Another round of protests and demonstrations to demand a bigger amount of compensation will begin when –and if – actual work on the construction of the factory commences,” quipped a local scribe.

Marhoura, in any case, seems far from being launched any time soon. Just 220 of the proposed 1,200 acres required for the factory have been acquired. Compensation has been paid for only about 75 acres. A similar story is repeated at the nearby town of Madhepura, where authorities proposed the setting up of an electric locomotive factory in 2007.

What do the narratives of Bela, Marhoura or Madhepura have to do with Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu’s ambition of yanking the Indian Railways out of its financial crisis? The consensus in the Indian Railways is that the sprawling organisation needs to address its freight versus passenger distortions. For every rupee earned by the railways, 64 paisa comes from freight, 34 paisa from passengers and the remaining 2 paisa from sundry earnings.

The railways has been unable to correct or reverse this situation because of its inability to scale up its freight operations. To be able to do this, it requires more wheel sets, more high power locomotives and more tracks.

The Bela factory, for one, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The plant – built by Larsen &Toubro – has been ready for commissioning but seven kilometres of track to link the factory with the mainline network of the Indian Railways is still being built.

The facility – declared by the railways as one of its production units in August last year – does not have a full-time general manager and approximately 30% of sanctioned posts are vacant. The  railways can be faulted for shoddy implementation, but not quite for its intentions. The Bela plant was conceived and built to augment the capacity of the Rail Wheel Factory at Bengaluru, but the manufacture of wheel sets has remained almost static in the past three years.

While the Bela plant has been idling, the Container Corporation of India – a public sector undertaking of the Indian Railways – has been importing wheel sets and axles every year. (Courtesy: HT)

Chhapra Rail Wheel Factory yet to start Production

च्छपरा Chhapra (CPR): Railways is yet to start production at the Chhapra Wheel Factory. The performance guarantee test (PGT) of the wheels was conducted in 2012 itself. This test was mandatory before starting production.

According to an ECR official, the wheel plant at Chhapra has successfully carried out wheel casting process. About 500 semi-manufactured wheels, which had come from Bangalore railway wheel factory, were given finishing touches at the Chhapra factory, he said.

Railways would begin a new chapter of rail network development in Bihar after commissioning of the wheel factory. Railways had used about 17 tonnes of superfine scrap materials to produce these wheels during PGT. Rare equipment and machinery have been installed to produce quality wheels, said an official.

According to sources, technical experts of the railways found certain shortcomings in the casting of the wheels during trial production. Several pairs of the manufactured wheels were thus rejected by the experts at the initial stage of wheel casting process, sources said, adding this was a part of trial production of the wheels.

The project has cost the railways about Rs 1,417.23 crore. Former railway minister Lalu Prasad had kicked off the civil work of the wheel factory on July 29, 2008. Since then, work on the project continued, sources said.

Railways had acquired 138 acres of land for the project. This included 52 acres for the factory, 35 acres for rail siding yard and 51.76 acres for constructing colony for its employees, sources said, adding Chhapra wheel factory, which is the second in the country after the one in Bangalore, would fulfill the needs of Indian Railways.

Chhapra Wheel Factory yet to be declared open

PATNA: The clearance from Railway Board notwithstanding, the wheel factory located at Belapur, Chhapra, is yet to be declared open by the railways. The factory has not been made functional despite installation of machinery plants at the factory and completion of trial production under the supervision of experts.

According to sources, railways conducted trial production of wheels from this factory in March last year. As per the plan, it also took up performance guarantee test (PGT) of the wheels in August last year which was mandatory prior to starting full-fledged production of wheels, sources said. The wheel plant at Chhapra had successfully carried out wheel casting process. The semi-manufactured wheels, which were brought to the factory from Bangalore railway wheel factory, were given final finish here. About 500 such wheels were given final finish at the Chhapra plant, sources said.

According to an ECR official, the railway successfully produced a set of seven wheels during trial production stage. Railways used about 17 tonnes of super fine scrap materials to produce these wheels. Rare equipment and machinery tools have been installed at the factory to produce quality wheels to fulfill the needs of railways, he said.

The project has cost about Rs 1,417.23 crore to railways. Former railway minister Lalu Prasad had kicked off the civil work of the wheel factory on July 29, 2008. Since then work on the project continued uninterrupted, sources said. Railways has acquired 138 acres of land at Belapur. It acquired 52 acre land land for the factory, 35 acres for rail siding yard to store wheels in stacks and 51.76 acres of land for constructing railway colony for its employees, sources said, adding Chhapra wheel factory which is the second in the country after the one in Bangalore, would fulfill the needs of Indian Railways.

The factory has the capacity to produce about one lakh wheels of goods wagons, passenger coaches and locomotives per year fulfilling the needs of the entire eastern and northern regions of the country. Besides, wheels at this factory is being manufactured on the latest US based Griffin technology, sources said adding railway colony is a must on the factory campus so that staff and officials could live on the campus to monitor production process shiftwise. Uninterrupted supply of electricity is also required for the factory to complete wheel casting without any hindrance, sources said.

Credit war looms over big rail units in Bihar

The inauguration of two big-ticket railway projects in Bihar looks set to trigger a credit-taking exercise amid first signs that the Congress may be getting into poll mode in the state for the next general elections.

Congress working committee member Gulchain Singh Charak announced either Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi would inaugurate the projects at Harnaut (Nalanda district) and Belapur (Chapra) early April.

The catch is the Rs. 328-crore railway coach maintenance factory at Harnaut and the Rs. 1,417.23-crore railway wagon wheel manufacturing unit at Belapur are seen as pet projects of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad.

“Any Congress attempt to corner credit for them will not go down well with either,” said a leader from the CM’s Janata Dal (United). “Lalu Prasad supports the UPA at the Centre and the Congress is reportedly trying to woo the JD(U).”

JD(U) spokesman and MP Shivanand Tiwari said, “The people of Bihar are well aware all credit for the Harnaut unit goes to Nitish Kumar just as the credit for the Chapra factory lies with Lalu Prasad.”

Unmindful of such resentment, Bihar Congress spokesman HK Verma said the Congress-led government at the Centre deserved full credit for supporting the two projects and ensuring their completion. “This shows our commitment to the development of Bihar.”

Other Bihar Congress leaders said the timing of the proposed inauguration was significant because the party central leadership had told the state unit to be poll-ready in three months.

“We were told as much at a meeting in New Delhi on March 13, which was marked by the presence of Congress VP Rahul Gandhi,” said a leader who did not want to be named.

Bihar sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha. At present, the Congress has two Lok Sabha members from the state, the JD(U) 20, the BJP 12 and the RJD 3.

Eye on 2014, PM, Sonia may open Patna railway plant

PATNA: Apparently seeking to reap electoral dividend in the next general elections, the Congress leadership is keen to be involved in the inauguration of the railway wheel factory in Bihar by April this year.

Although the decide to to finalize details of inauguration function of the railway wheel factory depends on the railway ministry , the Congress has proposed that it should take place next month and either PM Manmohan Singh or Congress President Sonia Gandhi should inaugurate the project, AICC secretary in-charge of the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee Sanjay Nirupam said.