INDIAN prime minister, Mr Narendra Modi, inaugurated an upgraded version of the Vande Bharat EMU on September 30 and announced that 75 of the trains will enter service by August 2023.

Vande Bharat 2.0 offers several updated features over the previous version, including improved acceleration and a maximum speed of 180km/h. The train is equipped with the locally developed Kavach signalling technology, which equivalent to ETCS Level 2. It is also lighter at 392 tonnes compared with 430 tonnes of the previous version. Electrical equipment is protected against floods of up to 650mm.

In addition, the train's air conditioning is 15% more energy efficient, and with improved reclining seating, passenger comfort has been improved. The train is equipped with passenger Wi-Fi while a 32-inch screen in every coach provides passenger information and infotainment. The coaches are also equipped with automatic plug doors, touch free sliding doors and emergency communication units. 

The new train will begin commercial runs on the Mumbai - Ahmedabad - Gandhinagar route at an average speed of 91km/h, covering the 491km distance in 5h 45min. On the return journey, the train will clock an average speed of 87 km/h, and offer a 5h 45min journey time. 

Two separate tenders for the manufacture of 44 and 58 trains have already been awarded and they are being assembled by the Chennai-based state-owned Integral Coach Factory (ICF), Amethi-based Modern Coach Factory (MCF), and the Kapurthala-based Rail Coach Factory (RCF). A third tender for the manufacture of 200 coaches is scheduled to open on October 10. Tenders are also in the works to manufacture sleeper variants, with bidding for 100 vehicles likely to begin the end of the year with the procurement of another 100 planned.

Two of the EMUs, built at ICF more than three years ago, are in service on the Delhi - Varanasi and Delhi - Katra routes. The Delhi - Varanasi Vande Bharat set operates at an average speed of 96km/h. 

Although the run time of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Vande Bharat will approximately be one hour less compared to the premier Shatabdi Express. which runs on the same route, experts are disappointed about the "modest speed" of the train. 

"Big expectations had been built up about the Vande Bharat by comparing the train with the proposed high-speed line in respect of acceleration,” says former ICF General Manager Sudhanshu Mani, known as the innovator of the T-18 or the Vande Bharat trains. 

“The final timetable of 5h 45min is a disappointment as it barely exceeds the speed of the existing Tejas and Shatabdi trains, which run at an average speed of 86km/h. One had expected that the Vande Bharat would cover the Ahmedabad - Mumbai distance in less than five hours, with an average speed of 100km/h plus.”

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