By NIRMALYA DEB & MADHUMITA MOOKERJI
If all goes well, Indian Railways (IR) could be having an INR 1,400-crore, 2 lakh tonnes per annum order for galvanised rails to offer one-and-half years down the line. And two leading producers of rail tracks in India, the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) and Jindal Steel & Power (JSPL), could be in the fray to bag the orders, it is learnt.
Benefits Of Galvanisation
But, why the need for galvanised rails in the first place? Zinc has anti-corrosive properties which increase the longevity of the tracks. The life of a track is generally 12 years. But, under the most corrosive of circumstances, the tracks last for at best two-and-a half to four years, which is a big recurrent expense for the nation.
There are two aspects to a rail track – the rail top and the rail flange or bottom. The top portion generally has a long life, ranging from 12-14 years. On the other hand, if the bottom flange remains submerged for long, especially in corrosive water, or water with a high alkaline content, the damage happens faster and the rails will have to be replaced, in fact, the entire portion has to be changed. Apart from alkaline water, there are salt marsh areas in India along the coastline, where galvanised rails would be an ideal option.
These are a special product where the steel/rail material is the same, the properties are same but the only difference is that the galvanised version needs a protective film of zinc which will prevent the corrosion with its anti-corrosive properties. Thus, laying of zinc-coated rail tracks, especially in areas that are near the coast and buffeted by salt-laden sea breeze or in regions which are subjected to heavy rains, would make more sense.
Scope Of Business
Since India has a vast coastline of around 7,800 km and an arterial rail network as well, there is scope of a huge business for galvanised rails. Though an exact figure cannot be arrived as yet, sources informed Steel360 that there is an opportunity for supplying 2 lakh tonnes per annum of galvanised rails to IR, which translate into INR 1,400 crore of revenues.
JSPL, which already has rail orders to its credit, sensing big opportunities in the galvanised rails space, is in discussion with the International Zinc Association (IZA) which is helping it to move ahead on this project with the right technology. “Galvanised rails are a new concept in India although this has been implemented in many advanced countries. The technology will be basically about how to galvanise the rails,” explained V.R. Sharma, Managing Director, JSPL, in an exclusive chat with Steel360 recently in New Delhi, adding that there is a process involved on which IZA is actually advising JSPL. “IZA will be our advisors. We will develop the technology and transfer it on to Indian Railways,” he added.
It is expected that Indian Railways will float separate orders for these galvanised rails once the technology is ready and JSPL is keen to be the early bird that catches the worm. Sharma emphasised that orders are not an issue here. But, first, JSPL needs to put in place the right technology.
“The order is a ‘need’. The Indian government needs such rails. And IR will place the orders,” said Dr Rahul Sharma, Director, IZA, adding that, “Today there are only two suppliers of rails in the country. One is SAIL and the other is JSPL.”
First Mover Advantage
So, only these two players (SAIL and JSPL) will be able to bag the orders,
or whosoever comes first. SAIL might even get a bigger chunk of the order.
At present, however, sources said, none of the two players has a galvanised rail technology or facility in place. As per a source, there is already an order of 2,000 tonnes of galvanised rails placed with SAIL from IR but the PSU steel behemoth does not yet have the technology or facility to produce these specialised tracks. A source in SAIL, confirming that a galvanised rail making unit is not in place, said, “No. Not as yet.”
However, if JSPL is able to put the technology and facility in place faster then it obviously has a better chance of getting the early benefit. Sharma said: “JSPL is thus developing the technology and for which we are in discussions with various consultancies. One is IZA and others are equipment suppliers in Europe.”
And by the time, the orders are floated JSPL would likely have its technology in place, it is learnt. Sharma informed that there will be a separate galvanising unit set up but within the same campus. “The investment for the same has not been frozen yet since JSPL is still exploring the technology and it will take time,” he said. In fact, it is learnt that first the technology has to be in place, and the orders will start flowing in subsequently. JSPL will first need to put up the unit. Then railway authorities will inspect it. If there are shortcomings in the facility the steel major will have to correct those. If the product does not qualify then it will have to improve the technology, again get it okayed before starting commercial production, with the entire process rolling out over one year or a little more.
Norms Under Way
However, sources clarified that special tracks such as galvanised rails always have to be approved by the Research Design & Standards Organisation (RDSO), an ISO 9001 research and development organisation under the Ministry of Railways. RDSO functions as a technical advisor and consultant to the Railway Board, the Zonal Railways, the Railway Production Units, RITES and IRCON International in respect of design and standardisation of railway equipment. It sets the benchmarks and it is learnt that galvanised rail tracks norms are in the process of being finalised and that, in all probability, orders could be placed for such rails one-and-a-half years down the line.