Indian Railways has been undertaking major modernisation programs like electrification, high-speed trains, etc in the last few years. Research Designs & Standards Organisation (RDSO), which functions as the technical advisor to railway board zonal railways and production units, is playing a major role in this transformation. RDSO is the backbone for technology on Indian Railways, says Virendra Kumar, RDSO’s Director General. RDSO, an ISO 9000:2008 research and development organisation under the Ministry of Railways, is the sole R&D organisation of Indian Railways. In this freewheeling interview with IPF’s Rakesh Rao, Virendra Kumar highlights changes taking place in Indian Railways and role played by his organisation in making railway operation safer, more comfortable and economical.
How is RDSO rendering its services to railways?
RDSO is the backbone for technology on Indian Railways. It is fully involved in development, adoption and absorption of new technologies; development of new and improved designs of equipment and systems and setting standards for adoption on Indian Railways. RDSO, an ISO 9000:2008 organisation, is also involved in technical reviews, statutory clearances and testing, apart from giving technical guidance to Zonal Railways. Vendor development with approval and inspection of major items are important mandates of RDSO.
Currently, what are the focus areas of RDSO?
Development of new technologies, adoption of latest technologies and up-gradation of present technology are focus areas of RDSO to meet the challenges of enhanced safety and throughput. RDSO has started several initiatives in this area.
Reaching out to industries for better quality sources for new and existing railway products is also a key endeavor in the recent past and this momentum will be continued in future. RDSO, in association with local industrial bodies, has held vendor meets at 37 different cities across India to educate the industry about RDSO, the products it controls and process for registration with RDSO for supply of items.
How do you perceive Indian industry to rise up to your expectations?
We expect and hope that more manufacturers come forward to work with us by joining the critical supply chain of the lifeline to the nation, be an active partner in nation building and be a proud partner of Indian Railways.
Safety and comfort are the two most critical aspects for railways. What steps has RDSO taken in this direction?
RDSO has developed and is working on several technologies for safer train operation. To name a few, train collision avoidance system (TCAS), fog vision system, advanced passenger coaches like Tejas, heavier and wider sleeper for track, air-conditioned EMUs for Mumbai Metro, Bio-toilet for coaches, etc are noteworthy.
To facilitate advanced research in railway technology, RDSO has centers of Railway Research at five IITs, and has MoU with Korean Rail Research Institute.
How important is the role of RDSO given the fact that Indian Railways has been undertaking major modernisation programs?
RDSO is the statutory body for giving safety clearance to new rolling stock, including metro railways. For all new designs, safety and design clearance is given by RDSO. Thus RDSO’s role is very important.
Are present railway tracks capable to handle high-speed trains (and later Bullet train)? What kind of up-gradation will be needed in railway infrastructure for handling such high-speed trains?
The Indian Railway routes can broadly be classified in two speed categories:
Suitable and up to 110 kmph (loosely called “Mainline Standard track”)
Suitable up to 130 kmph (loosely called “Rajdhani Standard Track”). With inputs, these can be upgraded to 160 kmph. RDSO has already issued roadmap for such up-gradation and it is planned to increase speed potential to 160 kmph on the “Golden Quadrilaterals” and “Diagonals” connecting New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
Beyond 160 kmph, very major changes are required, which include realignment of track, and that is impractical. So for speeds of 200 kmph and above, new track alignments shall be required.
Indian Railways has to focus on 100% electrification. Will this move require new standards for equipment? How equipped in the domestic industry to tap the electrification opportunity?
The equipment and materials required for electrification are standardised and we have supplier for them. However, supply chain logistics is becoming an issue due to the increasing pace of electrification. The industry has to rise to meet the increasing demand for electrification.
Is RDSO open to collaboration with private sector for R&D? If yes, can you please share some of the examples of collaborations?
Many developments take place in association with industry. RDSO develops its requirements, frames specification and then invites industry to develop and supply. RDSO remains closely associated during development and testing.
Is “Make in India” initiative giving a boost to local production of railway equipment?
Yes, very much so. It has always been an endeavor to develop indigenous sources for equipment which were earlier imported.
SMEs play a big role in manufacturing sector. Is RDSO taking steps to encourage or educate SMEs about standards & research in railways, thus helping them to become suppliers to railways?
We at RDSO do want to encourage MSME sector to come forward for supply to Railways. We held first vendor meet with MSME vendors on August 29, 2017 at RDSO, in close association with Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), SMERA (vendor rating agency), Federation of Indian Micro & Small and Medium Enterprises (FISME) and Indian Industries Association (IIA). The meet was attended by over 150 vendors from various states.
Another special vendor meet, especially for SC/ST category in association with MSME, NSIC, KVIC and DIC organised at RDSO on October 25, 2017 in which more than 60 vendors participated. We have started monthly meetings with CII representing industry.
What institutional arrangements is RDSO making to make it more attractive for industry to associate with Railways?
Over the last one year or so, a lot of effort has been put in by RDSO in this regard. The vendor approval procedure has now been redefined and made uniform for all the Directorates. Complete process is a time based process now, both for RDSO and manufacturers. The process is totally online and transparent including document submission and prospective vendor need not even visit RDSO. All documents have been made available online which include specification, drawing and STRs, the procedure of e-payment has been simplified and made effective.
Mobile Apps have been developed for vendor registration as well as for product inspection.
For the items which have less than three vendors, and other items/technologies, expression of interest (EoI) is uploaded on RDSO’s website http://www.rdso.indianrailways.gov.in under link Vendor Interface -> Expression of Interest (EOI). This information is also regularly published in leading newspapers. A vendor support cell to help and facilitate existing & potential vendors has also been set up.
What are your future plans for RDSO?
We want to make RDSO a more dynamic and flexible organisation with modern facilities and laboratories to implement latest technology of rail sector and make railway operation safer, more comfortable and economical.