Bangkok India’s railway network is a dangerous place: in 2021 alone, the emerging country’s authorities counted almost 18,000 train accidents – many of them fatal. For passengers, falling from the often overcrowded carriages is one of the main risks.
But technical defects also cause risky incidents again and again. The state railway operator claims to have found the reason for some of the problems: technology from Germany.
The collision of two freight trains in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh a few weeks ago has reignited the debate about a braking system that has been controversial for some time. The collision occurred on a Thursday morning after one of the two trains was unable to stop in time in front of a signal system. Eleven carriages derailed, more than a dozen passenger trains had to be diverted because of the accident or stop their journey altogether.
According to Indian media reports, preliminary investigation results see problems with the braking technology of a German supplier as the probable cause of the crash: This did not work at the accident site, which has both a curve and a steep incline, quoted the Indian news agency PTI from the investigation report.
According to media reports, the supplier is the Munich-based brake manufacturer Knorr-Bremse, which equips freight trains in India with components from the BMBS bogie braking system. 39 wagons of one of the accident trains in Uttar Pradesh had this braking system installed.
Knorr- Bremse rejects allegations
The company denies the allegations. “From our point of view and according to current knowledge, our products are not the cause of incidents that are said to be due to our products,” said a spokesman on request.
From our point of view and according to current knowledge, our products are not the cause of incidents that are said to be attributable to our products. Spokesman for Knorr- Bremse
The products for Indian freight train brakes have been used successfully since their introduction more than a decade ago. “During operation, our components are subject to the complex interaction with extensive other technology that does not come from Knorr- Bremse but from other sources.” The company did not supply complete braking systems.
With regard to the freight train collision in Uttar Pradesh, Knorr- Bremse emphasizes that the components supplied “from our point of view and according to current knowledge are not the cause of the incident”. Nevertheless, they want to “do everything in our power to jointly contribute to the investigation of the cause of the accident” and are “in close contact with the operator to help with this matter”.
Both sides are currently conducting extensive joint field tests on test trains to clarify the situation. The company declined to comment on media reports that the Indian Ministry of Railways has stopped payments to Knorr- Bremse, at least temporarily.
At the end of last year it became known that the country’s railway officials apparently had massive doubts about the BMBS technology. An investigation of several incidents has shown that the system supplied by Knorr- Bremse “has a known defect,” according to a letter from the research institute RDSO, which belongs to the Ministry of Railways. This is about “a lower braking force and inconsistent braking distances,” says the summary of the investigation report, which is available to the Handelsblatt.
According to a report in the Indian Express newspaper, train drivers have reported more than 80 cases in one year in which freight trains with BMBS equipment on signal systems did not stop in time.
Freight trains will be slowed down
RDSO sent the warning of the problems to the chief executives of India’s 19 railway zones last year. Accordingly, around 69,000 wagons were equipped with the objected BMBS technology from Knorr- Bremse.
Pulling them all out of circulation is not possible, the letter said. Instead, it is recommended to throttle the speed to limit the risks. India’s railways then imposed maximum speeds on the trains, most of whose carriages are equipped with the controversial braking system. On certain routes, they are only allowed to travel at a maximum of 30 kilometers per hour.
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In addition to Knorr- Bremse, the Indian manufacturer Escorts is also a supplier of the BMBS components. With regard to the problems complained about, the RDSO warning expressly refers to the technology provided by Knorr- Bremse.
In any case, it is very important for Knorr- Bremse to dispel any doubts about their own technology. The company sees the country as an important growth market. “Asia is a driver, we can bring our technology to market faster there than here,” said CEO Marc Llistosella in an interview with the Handelsblatt a few weeks ago. He explicitly named India as a country that his company is looking at.
A loss of reputation as a result of the railroad allegations could set back growth plans. Officially, however, the group is unimpressed: According to the company, they see great business potential in India in the coming years to contribute to safer mobility.
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