These are just some of the features of the new line of AC coaches being readied to replace the ordinary sleeper class on trains designed to run at 130kmph.
A prototype of the new 3-tier “economy AC class” coach is being developed at the Rail Coach Factory (RCF) in Kapurthala. Ravinder Gupta, GM of RCF, told The Times of India: “This will be a first-of-its-kind coach – an economy AC coach with luxury features of the upper class.”
Gupta said the prototype will be ready early next year, “subject to approvals from the Railway Board.” Designers are working on the interior of the coach, which will have 83 berths, as against 72 in the current AC-3 and sleeper class coaches. However, they will not feel cramped like the Garib Rath coaches rolled out in 2005.
Garib Rath coaches were based on the older ICF design and increased capacity by adding middle berths on the aisle side. The new economy AC coach, however, is based on the German LHB (Linke-Hofmann-Busch) platform that Indian Railways uses now. To create space for 11 extra berths, the electrical controls have been slung under the carriage – a first for mainline coaches of Indian Railways, Gupta said.
The coaches offer an upgrade from the non-AC sleeper class without a significant reduction in space per passenger. Smart design helps create a feeling of roominess. “Taking inspiration from aircraft and car designs, the new AC coach will have personalised niches to create a de-cluttered feel,” Gupta said.
Covid has made hygiene a priority, so the coaches will have foot-operated water taps and soap dispensers in the toilet, forearm door handles, etc, to reduce touching of common surfaces. They will also have better insulation to avoid heat loss and improved suspension for the additional load of passengers. The coaches are disabled-friendly with wider doors for easy wheelchair access to berths at the end, and one disabled-friendly toilet per coach.
Need for speed
The need for a new type of economy coach arose as the railways plans to run some mail and express trains at 130kmph, up from a maximum speed of 110kmph now. It says non-AC sleeper coaches can run at up to 110 kmph, but trains running at 130 kmph need to be fully air-conditioned. Sleeper coaches will continue to be used in trains running at up to 110 kmph.
While the railways is upgrading the Golden Quadrilateral and its diagonals to 130 kmph speed potential, the plan is to run trains at 160 kmph eventually. The first two priority corridors to get a Cabinet nod for a 160kmph upgrade are Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah.
The prototype is likely to cost Rs 3 crore to make, as against Rs 2.8 crore for an AC-3 LHB coach. Economy AC tickets will therefore cost more than ordinary sleeper class but less than the normal AC-3, Indian Railways officials have said.
The new class is likely to be profitable as a CAG report tabled last year showed that AC-3 and AC chair car were the only profitable classes in 2016-17. AC-3 has always been profitable and railways has increased the production of its coaches from 488 in 2014-15 to 885 in 2018-19.
The RCF hopes to roll out 100 economy AC coaches this financial year, subject to the Railway Board’s approval, and 173 more in the 2021-22 financial year.