One down, six to go. No, this is not the Indian batting card against England, but Calcutta Metro’s ageing fleet struggling to stay alive.
One of the seven rakes, which at age 30 are as old as the Metro itself, was phased out last week after an inspection conducted by engineers revealed that it was “unsafe” to run it any longer.
Some other rakes in the same age bracket are in danger of being run out in the run-up to the peak festive season when the city’s transport lifeline carries maximum passengers.
Metro authorities had approached the railways-owned Research Designs and Standards Organisation, Lucknow, to extend the lifespan of the seven rakes for the second time. The RDSO had granted Metro Railway permission to run the old coaches more than two years ago on condition that they would be overhauled.
With the two-year period over and the new rakes yet to arrive, Metro had moved for the second extension. “RDSO had asked our engineers to make a safety inspection and find out whether these rakes are safe to run. The first rake that was examined failed the safety test and had to be grounded,” a senior official told Metro on Tuesday.
He said the other six rakes would be examined by engineers at Metro Rail’s Noapara maintenance base in phases to find out whether they were safe to run. “However, given the wear and tear the metal bodies and undercarriages have undergone, it is difficult to continue with those,” he said.
The seven rakes in question completed their normal lifespan of 25 years in October 2010 and were given an extension. Around 60 of the 112 non-AC coaches have been in service since the first Metro train rolled out of Dum Dum in 1984.
According to officials, the rakes, that were carrying passengers beyond capacity for years, have suffered extensive damage. “These rakes undergo frequent repairs like welding of the undercarriage. Ideally these shouldn’t be operated for much longer,” said an official.
The Railway Board has placed orders for 10 AC rakes to Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Perambore near Chennai.
However, it would take months before the first rake would roll out of the factory, said officials. “The tender for procuring electronic equipment is yet to be sanctioned by the Railway Board. We have written to the board last month, requesting them for the sanction,” said a Metro official.
“The manufacturing process will take three to four months,” said an ICF official,
The Metro fleet comprises 27 rakes, of which 13 are air-conditioned ones. To run trains at five-minute frequency, Metro Railway needs at least 21 rakes on a given day.
Once the seven rakes are withdrawn, the strength of the fleet will be down to 20, leaving no room for snags and routine maintenance.