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Amid Russia-Ukraine war, Indian govt plans to airlift wheels of Vande Bharat trains

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: The Indian government’s intention to introduce dozens of new Vande Bharat trains this year appears to be in jeopardy, with import orders from Ukraine stalled due to the Eastern European country’s ongoing conflict with Russia.

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According to sources, India had placed an order with a Ukraine-based company for 36,000 wheels at a cost of $16 million. A Letter of Credit was supposed to be used to pay for this.

The wheels were supposed to be sent from a Ukrainian Black Sea port to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Maharashtra (JNPT). However, owing to the conflict, this has not yet occurred.

Ukraine, which is one of the world’s main suppliers of such wheels, has effectively halted new manufacturing, with the majority of employees joining the war effort.

Only 128 wheels have been transported by road from India to Romania, where they will be flown for the train trials next month.

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“With the efforts of the Railway Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs, 128 wheels required for the trial of two trains were sent to Romania by road on trucks from the wheel factory in Dniepropetrovsk, Ukraine,” as per reports. 

They claim that trials in India will not be postponed as a result of this.

Sudhanshu Mani, the former general manager of Chennai’s Integral Coach Factory (ICF) and the brains behind the Vande Bharat trains, has indicated that the Russian-Ukraine war’s supply disruption will not be a major setback for the Railways’ efforts.

“The first rake was not going to be out before May anyway and it would still be out in June/July. Last time. the wheels were ordered from a Czech company, this time it has been ordered from Ukraine,” said Mani. 

“If they get the minimum requirement of 128 wheels for the first rake, they can begin the trials and then perhaps try to further expedite deliveries from Ukraine through Romania or some other neighbouring country or as an emergency measure, even procure quickly from some other company,” he added. 

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India has also made wheel orders with the Czech Republic, Poland, and the United States in order to make the deadline. China may be included as well, as it is a supplier of wheels.

However, placing orders with other nations will significantly increase procurement costs, “because the demand is high and supply-constrained”.

There is concern that there would be a serious shortage of wheels on the world market, with Ukraine holding 70% of the European Union’s orders for freight railcar wheels.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman declared in her 2022 Budget address that 400 Vande Bharat trains will be built in the next three years, with a cost of between 40,000 and 50,000 crore.

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