Spacious and technologically advanced 'Super AC' coaches for Rajdhani trains are on the anvil with the Rai Bareli coach factory being asked to undertake the new project.
"The conceptual design for the Super AC coach with just 44 berths is being finalised and instructions have been issued to the Rae Bareli coach factory for manufacturing a prototype," a senior railway ministry official involved with the project said.
At present, the second AC coaches in Rajdhani trains have 55 berths, while there are 72 in third AC coaches.
Though the fare structure for the Super AC coaches is yet to be finalised, it is expected to be higher than the current second AC rates but less than first AC.
The railway coach factory in Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh has been demmed the task of manufacturing 25 Super AC coaches for Rajdhani trains in the first phase.
"The unique feature of the new coach being designed in Rae Bareli is that it will be more spacious than the existing ones in Rajdhani trains. Later, we may consider it for other mail and express trains," the official said.
Proposed in the Rail Budget, the new Super AC coach with 44 berths will have wider windows and more leg space, particularly for side berth passengers.
"It is aimed at providing high-end service to passengers with better ambiance, more amenities and will also be equipped with a small pantry car," he said.
The lightweight Super AC coaches will be made of stainless steel and will have all safety features.
Besides the proposed Super AC coach, Rae Bareli factory is currently manufacturing new-generation Linke Holfmann Bush (LHB) coaches.
"Six LHB coaches are ready to roll out from the factory," the official said.
The factory, which was inaugurated by Rae Bareli MP and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in 2009, is expected to cater to Railways' increasing demand for coaches by rolling out about 1,000 units every year.
"Our target is to manufacture 1,000 LHB coaches every year. In the first two years, we would produce 60 coaches a year as per the first phase production target," the official said.
"The coach factory spread over 1,500 acres of land is entirely eco-friendly and we have adhered to highest standard of pollution safety norms," the official said, adding that the first phase "always takes time as it involves acquiring land, procuring machinery and finalising contracts".
Currently, the Railways requires about 4,000 coaches every year with the launch of nearly 100 new trains.
The annual requirement, however, is likely to go up to 6,000 coaches, according to a vision document.
While the Rail Coach Factory at Kapurthala produces 1,600 coaches, the output at Integral Coach Factory in Chennai is 1,500 a year. Railways procures 450 coaches from Bharat Earth Movers Limited.
The Railways have also finalised plans to set up coach factories at Kanchrapara, Haldia and Palghat.
"The manufacturing of coaches at Rae Bareli factory is crucial for Railways as we depend upon it to meet our growing requirement," the official said.
Now the conventional coaches in trains will gradually be replaced by high quality stainless steel-bodied high-speed coaches (LHB coaches), as in the Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains at present.
These coaches have higher carrying capacity and passenger comfort and are safer in operations with features like the more efficient disc brakes and centre buffer couplers with superior anti-climbing features.
Apart from resistance to corrosion to give longer life, the official said, these coaches have modular fittings, microprocessor controlled air-conditioning, environment-friendly controlled discharge toilet systems.
"The riding of these coaches is much better and they have sound and thermal insulation, public address system, panoramic windows, toilet occupancy indicators and rounded berths," the official said.