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Published on: April 4, 2023, 12:01 p.m.
Titagarh Wagons rolls along
  • Umesh Chowdhary: gained prominent presence in railways; Photos: Sajal Bose

By Sajal Bose. Executive Editor, Business India

A few years ago, Kolkata based Titagarh Wagons Limited (TWL) adopted a strategy to reduce its dependence on only the wagon business and quietly forayed into the evolving passenger rolling stock segment. It has been manufacturing EMU, MEMUs, coaches as well as refurbishing metro coaches. The company also acquired Italy based Firema – a pioneer in modern day commuter railway technologies – in 2015. Its foresight and spot-on strategy for the future, combined with its vast experience in engineering paid dividends to the company. “Today we offer complete solution in mobility whether they be wagons, passenger trains, ships or bridges,” says Umesh Chowdhary, vice chairman and managing director.

While emphasis was on the passenger rolling stock, the company also worked meticulously to strengthen its competitive advantage in wagon manufacturing. When the wagon industry was struggling with orders from the railways few years ago, TWL focused on efficiency in manufacturing and strengthened its supply chain.

In the last few years, it has been investing to improve wagon manufacturing. The present capacity of 700 wagons per month will go up to 1,000 wagons in the next few months. The demand for wagons today is on the rise as the railway capital outlay has been increased significantly in the budget.

Having created the necessary infrastructure, the freight rolling stock capacity of the railways was enhanced. In this growth opportunity, TWL continues to retain its leadership position in wagon manufacturing with the largest share of orders. Texmaco and Jupiter are the other two large players in the segment. Freight rolling stock still contributes 80 per cent of TWL’s total revenue of Rs1,475 crore. But this is expected to change in the next few years. “We are the only company in India to manufacture both freight and passenger rolling stock,” claims Chowdhary.

The big boost for TWL came in August 2019 when it outbid large overseas and domestic players in passenger rolling stock manufacturing and won a Rs1,200 crore order for the designing and manufacturing of 102 ultra-modern aluminium bodied metro rail coaches for Pune Metro. The tender was issued by Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Limited (Maha-Metro). It has already supplied over 50 per cent of the order.

The metro rail coach order was a major breakthrough for TWL in the passenger rolling stock segment. Recently, it bagged two large orders from Indian Railways, winning an order to manufacture Vande Bharat trainsets and wheels for semi-high-speed and high-speed passenger trains over a period of 20 years.

A man of many ideas

The TWL story is remarkable in its ability to build through acquisition. Its founder JP Chowdhary began his career as an account assistant in a tea estate in Darjeeling. He later moved to Calcutta and joined Bhartia Electric Steel Company (BESCO) a steel casting company for the Indian Railways. His commitment and knowledge helped him rise from an accountant to CEO of the company. The zeal to become an entrepreneur was always within him and he founded the closed foundry division of Britannia Engineering, owned by the government at Titagarh in north Calcutta.

He acquired the unit in 1982 and started producing railway casting such as bogies and couplers in the name of Titagarh Steels. Later in 1994, he acquired Titagarh Paper through BIFR. This, however, turned out to be a misadventure. When the government abolished import duty on paper, the plant became unviable.

  • Prithish at the metro coach manufacturing line in Uttarpara

A man of many ideas with a sharp business acumen, Chowdhary started manufacturing crossing component for railways. The big change came when he set up a wagon manufacturing unit as part of forward integration with a production capacity of 180 wagons a year in 1997. Today TWL is the largest wagon maker in the country and has a total capacity to produce 12,000 units per annum. The 83-year-old patriarch Chowdhary, is supported by his son, Umesh, 49, who is now the driving force behind the company and has taken the group to new heights with diverse portfolios. His son Prithish also helps him grow the business.

Today TWL offers various mobility solutions and has a prominent presence in both passenger and freight rolling stock. It is the largest private sector manufacturer of wagons and railway coaches (EMUs, MEMUs). The company today has 5 manufacturing facilities. Two units are in Titagarh. One for wagon, shipbuilding, and engineering; the other one is for foundries. The unit in Uttarpara is for passenger coaches. While the one in Bharatpur, Rajasthan manufactures wagons, loco shells and is responsible for the maintenance of defence products. The 5th, Titagarh Firema, is in Italy.

For the Vande Bharat order, the consortium of TWL and BHEL emerged as the second lowest bidder (L2). They will be responsible for the supply and maintenance of 80 trainsets. Each trainset will have 16 coaches (total 1,280 coaches). The total order value is estimated at R23,000 crore – for manufacturing 80 trainsets and maintaining them for the next 35 years. Price variations are applicable for both supply and maintenance. As the lowest bidder, the TMH Russia-RVNL consortium received 120 trainsets. TWL-BHEL consortium has now to match the L1 price to secure a share of the order of the lowest bidder.

Discussing about the order, Chowdhary says: “This is a big moment for us to participate in India’s transitional journey with the new edge passenger train Vande Bharat. We are the only consortium among 5 bidders which does not have a foreign entity.” TWL, already has experience in passenger trains with EMU and metro coaches, but did not have a presence in electricals. BHEL has strong electrical knowledge. Hence this was a perfect match. TWL owns 55 per cent in the consortium.

The first two prototype trains are to be delivered within 24 months, followed by 12 trains in first year, 18 trains in the second year and 25 trains from the third year forward. The total supply has to be delivered in 6 years. The Vande Bharat train will be made of high-grade stainless steel with a modern look and safety aspect. This semi-high-speed train can reach a speed of 160km per hour but the speed depends on the railway track speed capacity and traffic constraints. The maintenance and operational cost will be lower than other express trains. These trains are sleeper coaches. The existing design of the Vande Bharat trains will be used with modifications in respect of seating and sleeper coaches.

TWL will manufacture Vande Bharat trains at its unit in Uttarpara in West Bengal. Spread over 32 acres, it was set up in 2005 for manufacturing EMU and MEMU coaches. The land was acquired from Birla. It was part of the heavy engineering division of Hindustan Motors. It will have a dedicated unit for passenger rolling stock with a total installed capacity to produce 20 coaches a month. “Our target is to increase the capacity to 72 coaches a month, before the Vande Bharat production starts,” says Prithish Chowdhary, director marketing & business development.

  • Kandoi: retained the leadership position in wagon

The company is setting up a stainless-steel manufacturing line in the next 6 months at an investment of R250 crore The new line will be used to execute 200 metro rail coaches for Bengaluru, which was subcontracted to TWL by China based CRRC. Once this order is completed the line will be used for manufacturing Vande Bharat trains. At peak production, TWL will be able to produce 25 Vande Bharat trains a year. The final trainset assembly will take place at the ICF facility in Chennai and any capex that needs to be incurred over there will be reimbursed by the Railways.

“We will import robotic welding machines from Japan and South Korea to set up this ultra modern stainless steel coach facility. Once the line is ready, we will become the only player in India to have manufacturing capacity for both stainless steel and aluminium for the passenger segment,” says Dilip Jadeja, chief operating officer-transit & propulsion.

The state-of-the-art unit of TWL for rolling stock manufacturing in Uttarpara is currently producing aluminium coaches for the Pune Metro. More than 50 per cent of the order has been supplied and the remaining coaches will be delivered this year. This is the first time that aluminium is being used to manufacture metro rail coaches in India. The coaches are lighter than previous ones and are fitted with modern safety features. Energy consumption is also considerably reduced.

The trains are designed to run at 80 kph. The use of aluminium for the passenger rolling stock car body is the most updated technology worldwide for high-speed trains and metros. It’s corrosion and vibration resistance is unsurpassed and the metal gives it an excellent aesthetic finish. It has a lifespan of 35 years and the maintenance cost is lower than that of steel body coaches. Long pieces of extruded aluminium are currently not produced in India so TWL imports them from Firema in Italy.

“Firema’s advance technology has given the company an edge as far as the metro rail order is concerned. TWL has its own design, drawing and technology for high-speed trains. This gives us complete control of the value chain, from concept designing up to after sales services,” says Prithish.

In order to reducing the railway’s import-dependence, the government invited the industry to set up a facility to produce wheels, which will primarily be used for semi-high-speed trains (Vande Bharat) and high-speed trains (bullet train) under the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative. At present, Rail Wheel factory, a unit of Indian Railways produces wheels but the supply is only for railway requirements.

There is always a demand for wheels met through imports from the Ukraine. But due to the war, imports shifted to China. However, that country’s domestic demand for wheels has increased so supplies are limited. Today, the waiting period for wheel sets is 4-5 months as against 30 days before the war in Ukraine.

Reinventing the wheel

TWL and Ramkrishna Forgings Limited, as a consortium, participated in the tender as the lowest (LI) bidder. They will set up a manufacturing facility in India for forged wheel production and will supply approximately 1.6-million wheel discs of different rolling stocks of the Indian Railways over a period of 20 years with guaranteed offtake of 80,000 wheels per year.

Surplus production will be used for captive consumption, third party sales and export. The 50:50 consortium between TWL and Ramkrishna will also be required to set up a wheel test centre at a railway site for the prototype testing of newly designed wheels.

  • Agarwal: bullish on growth

    Agarwal: bullish on growth

“It is a path breaking development and TWL, as a leading supplier of rolling stock to the railways, is ready for this opportunity to supply forged wheels and expand its footprint by further strengthening its capabilities,” says Chowdhary.

Ramkrishna Forgings managing director Naresh Jalan says: “We are delighted to have been declared L1 in the bid for the manufacturing and supply of forged wheels for Indian Railways. This is a testament to our strong technical capabilities and our commitment to delivering high-quality products to our customers.

Also, the partnership with Titagarh is a strategic move towards expanding our presence in the railway segment.” Ramkrishna is one of the largest forging companies that supplies to various sectors like automotive, railways, farm equipment, oil & gas, earth moving & mining, both in India and the overseas markets.

The consortium needs to set up the unit for wheel production. “We will put up a greenfield project with a capacity of 2,00,000 wheels per annum with a capex of Rs1,000 crore in the next 2 years. Funding will be done through internal accruals and debt with the equal participation of both the companies,” says Anil Kumar Agarwal, director finance. The location of the plant has still not been decided.

The company has a centre of excellence for passenger trains in Hyderabad. It works in tandem with its Italian centre, which has developed designs for Pune Metro. TWL is doubling the manpower in its design centre to 100 people, which will help the Vande Bharat train design. 

Commenting on TWL, Saroj Kumar Poddar, chairman of Texmaco Rail & Engineering, a competitor, says: “My compliments to Umesh and the entire team of Titagarh Wagons for the order they have won from the railways.” 

TWL not only occupies the top spot in private sector wagon manufacturing but has also become a leading supplier of passenger rolling stock and is also growing in the transit and propulsion systems space. Taking note of the need to reflect its expanded business portfolio in the rail systems space, the board of Titagarh has approved a new name for the company – Titagarh Rail Systems Limited – subject to the necessary approvals. “The proposed name reflects our presence across the entire gamut of operations across the rail ecosystem with a healthy order book,” Chowdhary explains.

  • Singhania, Jadeja, and Ali: TWL’s core team driving the business

The wagon plant of the company at Titagarh in North Kolkata is spread over 50 acres and situated on the banks of the Hooghly River. It is one of the largest wagon manufacturing facilities in the country and produces different types of wagons like flat wagons, box wagons covered wagons, and special purpose wagons, among others which are used by all sectors of the industry.

After the corona virus slowdown, freight traffic across the country has increased. As per the National Rail Plan, the government is to create a future-ready railway system by 2030. The core of the strategy is to bring down the logistic cost for the industry to enable the country to integrate its rail network with other modes of transport and develop a multi-modal transportation network.

Getting lion’s share

In May 2022 the Indian Railways released the largest ever wagon order – a total of 72,000 of which TWL was awarded 24,177 wagons. “We got the largest share of the order in the industry. Production is in full swing to execute the order,” says Saket Kandoi, director, freight rolling stock. The government in now coming up with a tender for 50,000 new generation wagons where the manufacturers have to propose the design to the government. “This will be the first time that a new edge design will be proposed other than from RDSO – the engineering arm of the Railways,” Kandoi explains.

The company manufactures components like bogies, couplers and draft gears for rolling stock using TWL’s two large steel casting foundries. Almost 70-80 per cent of bogies come from it. The company is now investing in new furnaces one each at 2 foundries.

The company follows good HR practices. “We focus on creating a solid talent pool through a training, motivation and performance management system,” says Imdad Ali, chief human resources officer. The company has over 1,000 employees on the payroll other than contractual manpower in the plants.

According to the latest research report of Arihant Capital: “Titagarh Wagons has a strong order book and is well positioned to benefit from the Railways. Capacity expansion, backward integration, new orders for Vande Bharat trains and wheelsets will drive business growth, going forward. We have a positive outlook on the stock.”

Also, a report by Edelweiss suggested that Indian Railways’ ambitious growth plans, its push towards modernisation and the government’s focus on indigenous manufacturing are likely to result in significant growth opportunities in the railway space. This will cover the entire gamut of rolling stock manufacturers in the country – wagons, coaches and locomotives.

  • None

Indian Railways plans to increase the share of the freight business from 27 per cent to 45 per cent by 2030 as per the National Rail Plan agenda. So, it needs 30,000 wagons per annum. Similarly for passengers, it is planning to procure almost 1,000 Vande Bharat train in the next 3-4 years. “This will ensure enough demand. Both our verticals of rolling stocks are shaping up strongly with the plans of the Railways,” says Sourav Singhania, CFO and group finance controller.

TWL has reported revenue of Rs1,479.79 crore in March 2022 as against Rs1,025.79 crore in March 2021. The net profit increased to Rs79.41 crore in 2022 from Rs50.27 crore in March 2021. “Proactive management, the right business strategy, diverse portfolios, operational efficiency, and expansion has defined our growth,” says Agarwal.

For the nine months ended December 2022, the company achieved a revenue of Rs1,806 crore as against Rs1,059 crore during the corresponding previous period. The net profit till December 2022 is Rs50.36 crore as against Rs27 crore in December 2021. The current stock price is Rs261.60 on the NSE and the market cap is Rs3,130 crore. The promoter currently holds 47.82 per cent of the company shares. The company has a current order book of Rs10,000 crore. The new orders for Vande Bharat trains and wheelset will be reflected in the financial year.

The management of TWL is bullish about the future. Going forward, it expects that both freight and passenger rolling stock segments will contribute almost equally to its revenues in the next 4-5 years. 

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