An Exclusive Interview with Mr. Sudhanshu Mani


Mr. Sudhanshu Mani

Retd. General Manager,
Integral Coach Factory, Chennai


Thirty seven years in Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers (IRSME), intensive experience in Projects, Railway operations, R&D & Technology and Rolling stock designs – including hands on, Administrative & Managerial experience, capped by the assignment as the senior-most representative of Indian Railways outside India and later as the General Manager of the biggest railway coach-building factory in the world

Recent Experience-

  • General Manager, Integral Coach Factory, Chennai from Aug 2016 to Dec 2018 as head of the Organization, which is a pioneer coach building unit, manufacturing 2500 coaches per year in a single factory with multivarious designs. The product range includes self-propelled coaches like 3 phase EMU, DEMUs, Metro coaches, SPART, etc., in addition to conventional passenger coaches.
  • Chief Mechanical Engineer, Rail Wheel Factory from Nov 2015 to Jul 2016, head of Mechanical Wing of the Factory, which manufacture wheel sets for trains/wagons.

INTERVIEW with Mr. Sudhanshu Mani

Rail Analysis India : Firstly, congratulations to you for successful journey with the railways. How did you get started in the railways?

Mr. Sudhanshu Mani : Thank you. I first joined IIT/Kanpur in 1975 but since I did not like the branch I got (Metallurgical Engg.), within days I went to Roorkee University for Electrical Engg. Later, I was selected as an SCRA and joined Jamalpur institute of Indian Railways in 1976. Since then I have always been in railways and loved every minute of it.

Rail Analysis India : Brief us on the major projects for which you have worked till now and which among these you feel is the most challenging one?

Mr. Sudhanshu Mani : I have always believed that in every job, one must listen to all concerned, think and then go beyond the regular and routine work to take up some projects which are not expected as a part of your job; this adds great value to what you do. The number is too large to go into all that. But only as an example, let me list out some works which, at that time, were the first on IR.

“I have been instrumental in design of a large number of locomotives for India as well as export, ranging from 1400 hp export locomotives to 5500 hp heavy freight locomotive.”

I had always felt that the way we handle parcels in the platform inconveniencing the passengers is a very unfriendly system. Once I got an opportunity at Secunderabad as ADRM, I started a contract to lease battery trucks with uniformed handlers for movement of parcels, replacing the unwieldy hand carts, a path breaking project at that time. Similarly, in Bangalore, I successfully introduced airport like hand trolleys for all porters at Bangalore City, Yashvantpur and Bangalore Cantt. stations banning any head loading; the service was not free but chargeable at existing porterage rates and this was done to lift the porters out of the indignity of carrying multiple tiers of luggage on their heads. I was told it would not work but by the time I left Bangalore, head load was totally eliminated. It’s another matter that subsequently, the practice gradually went in disuse.

There have been so many challenging projects in my career, mostly successful, some not so successful and a few stillborn but the train set project. Let me just indicate the transformational works done at ICF

  • ICF became the biggest coach factory in the world circa 2017. This year with a nearly 33% jump in production of coaches, we would be the biggest by a wide margin, with reduction in the number of staff per coach from around 10 some ten years back to around 3 by the end of this year; achieved through improved productivity and judicious outsourcing retaining core activities for ICF man power.

  • Transcended many boundaries to have an impressive product line covering all types of regular, special purpose and self-propelled coaches, unmatched in India
  • The only unit of IR to have a wide expanse of export umbrella; this year we delivered a world class DEMU for Sri Lanka.
  • The only Carbon-negative unit on Indian Railways, thanks to great stress on renewable energy sources like wind mills, solar installations and significant energy-saving measures
  • Integrated waste management in the entire premises, including factories and colonies with source segregation, collection and disposal with very little being sent to landfill, although built ages ago old and somewhat dilapidated, our campus is perhaps the cleanest in Chennai
  • Revival of a dying lake and revitalization of our environment through extensive and participative drive towards greener ICF
  • Zero tolerance towards gender-based harassment and unprecedented measures to empower women employees; we have a number of dedicated gangs of women, even in heavy fabrication, giving us better output than their male counterparts

  • The only factory perhaps in India which has visual art, both murals and sculptures, melding with the industrial installations in the factory and other parts of premises in a very striking and palpable manner
  • World class sporting facilities today unmatched by any other IR unit or any organization in the city of Chennai

And many more such initiatives like transforming the Chennai Rail Museum as one of the best in the city, the only industrial unit  of IR to have implemented Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in a purposeful way leading improved efficiencies, powerful apps and online applications for vendors, customers and staff (HRD), five model colonies with common facilities like playgrounds, sporting courts, gardens etc. not equaled by any other unit of IR, best self-sustaining community and marriage halls, institutes and clubs on IR, a modernized hospital and so on.

Now to answer your question, most of these projects needed a straight-thinking goal-oriented mindset. But Train 18 was out of the box; a project being debated for two decades and we took the bull by the horn and did it. Clearly the most challenging, not only for me but for ICF as a whole. And remember what Maxwell said, “Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.”

“Train 18 was indeed the most challenging dream project at Integral Coach Factory (ICF).”

Rail Analysis India : Please inform us more about the story behind the making the India’s first train set, Train 18?

Mr. Sudhanshu Mani : The Train 18 project is not about me. It’s about all of us and particularly the great work force of ICF. They had the capability, they had the passion and the intensity to tread new grounds and my job was to channelize their energy towards something much more meaningful than what had been accomplished by them earlier. And more than their capability, I sensed a certain chutzpah in them. It was now left to me to remove any doubts that they had about their potential and channelize this energy to do something positively audacious.  As Lucio in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure says, Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt” or as Iqbal said, “Girte hain shahsawar hi maidaan-e-jung mein, wo tifl kya gire jo ghutnon ke bal chale”, I told them that the days of their doubts were over. We were going to design and manufacture the best train ever made in India, matching world standard.

The response I got from them once we made up our mind to build a modern train set entirely on our own was astounding to say the least. They worked hard, day and night, and more importantly they worked with a sense of purpose, be it our designers or our manufacturing team. I must hasten to add the contribution made by our procurement, supply chain and finance team as well as they also broke out of their regular way of working to expedite the project a great deal. At the end of the day, we turned out a world class product, with the entire IPR belonging to ICF; it’s the first time in the history of Indian Railways (IR) that a rolling stock project of this magnitude has been realized without any transfer of technology.

I have been involved in many projects of rolling stock, e.g., EMD locos, ABB locos, LHB coaches, Gottwald cranes and so on. All foreign suppliers who win a supply+ToT contract from IR approach the technical interactions with a certain degree of arrogance. I don’t blame them. If we do not exude confidence ourselves, why would a firangi? It was high time that the engineers of IR came of age and did things themselves and generate their own IPR which would be then protected fiercely with pride.

Another touch decision we took was to make sure that the project did not hit any roadblock with change of leadership. Although the norm world over is a time frame of 30 to 36 mothns from LoA to delivery of prototype for a new design of rolling stock, we were going to do it well before I retire, that is, before Dec 2018.

“The prototype train had to be turned out of ICF in 2018 itself and so we called it Train 18”

Press and media have somehow been very upbeat in respect of Train 18 and I must thank them. Expansive and positive coverage of the project is the reason that I personally got so much attention. I have to thank the ICF team for they are the real heroes; I was merely their leader at an opportune time. They stand with pride today and I take a bow to the spirit of Team ICF.

At the same time, let me add, as Cressida says in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.” ICF should not rest on its laurels but continue to be an engine of innovations and growth for IR. Besides, to quote the bard again, as Lewis says in King John, “Strong reasons make strong actions”, ICF should never deviate from its bequest of strong actions

Rail Analysis India : How is the ‘Train 18’ different from such Trains available in the other countries? What are the qualities that make the Indian made ‘Train 18’ world class?

Mr. Sudhanshu Mani : Well, in an apple to apple comparison with semi high speed train sets the world over, it would be a close match. We need to improve our exterior finish and painting and also the interiors to some extent which is also dependant on the finish of the shell. But as far as equipment for traction, braking, hotel load etc. are concerned, I would think that their quality is world-class.

Rail Analysis India : How will introducing such types of trains in India change the whole scenario of the Railways (e.g. Speed, Comfort & Safety)?

Mr. Sudhanshu Mani : Train sets offer unique advantages like, no detention at terminals, faster acceleration and deceleration, lower travel time, energy efficiency, operating flexibility, more comfortable journey for passengers and so on. Suffice it to say, this is not something which calls for unnecessary debate. It’s a matter of fact that train sets are the norm of the day the world over.

“Now that ICF has demonstrated the capability across the range of trains, and we must look to manufacture only train sets, say, in a matter of 2 to 3 years.”

It would include its elder sister, the Rajdhani type sleeper Train 18s, and its little sister, the MEMU with only under-slung equipment for short distance main line travel and the AC EMU with only under-slung electrics for suburban areas.

The prototype rake(s) have to be nurtured and maintained well by the railways concerned and ICF has to act quickly to address any issues or teething troubles that would arise in the initial days of operation. If we take care of this aspect, I am sure it will get a great thumbs up from the travelling public in respect of travelling time and comfort. The train has improved safety features, as it is. The scenario, in my opinion shall change and many more train sets would be introduced in view of the inherent benefits.

Well, there have been some enquiries from abroad as well and the good part is that these are not from countries dependant on aid or Indian line of credit; these are middle income countries which can afford to purchase. But at this point, ICF is more concerned about delivering ten Train 18 rakes by March 2020 and consolidate the benefits. Once the acceptability in India is fully established, we should think of exports.

Rail Analysis India : What are the targets planned for this year for manufacturing of coaches and Train 18 in ICF? 

Mr. Sudhanshu Mani : ICF is the biggest factory in the world by a large margin and is going to record a 33% jump in production this year from a record high of 2503 coaches to over 3300 coaches. As for Train 18, I believe the second rake should be out in March 19 and another eight in the year 19-20.

Rail Analysis India : Rail Analysis India is a specialized media covering all updates and innovations in Indian market for Domestic and Global Rail Professionals, Any suggestions on how we can further expand our niche to collaborate further with Railways?

Mr. Sudhanshu Mani : I will answer your question by enumerating some issues in which IR must act fast; you can see how you can drive synergize in these areas:

  • Rationalize fare structure and reduce the cross subsidy from earnings of freight traffic to passenger fares. Indians must learn that travelling is not an inexpensive business; although some subsidy is inescapable but even that should be shared among IR, states and cities.
  • The penetration of container traffic on IR is far lower than other major freight railways. The policy framework must be tweaked and familiar turfs given up quickly, it would give a tremendous boost to India’s economy as well IR. At the same time, IR should develop total logistical solutions, including partnering with other modes.
  • As I said above, train sets have to be proliferated at great speed. And simultaneously, a hub and spoke system should be evolved. Long distance trains, served by Train 18 clones, stopping at very few stations and MEMUs/DEMUs, in little sister format, to link nearby cities and towns.
  • Thankfully, there has been lot of stress on spending on infra in recent years to drive growth but also a rat race to spend. Is all the spending leading to guaranteed return? There should be a more critical analysis of infra projects, perhaps by a third party, so that empire building and populist spending are eschewed.
  • One minor point for some but very close to my heart. We must have controlled-access to our platforms, at least in major cities, permitting only passengers with attendants only for differently-abled and senior citizens. A railway platform is for passengers and not for an army of purposeless wanderers and hangers on.

To know more about recent developments of ‘Train 18’ : Click Here

This interview shall be covered in our March 2019 Edition Magazine with more details on Train 18 . Click Here to advertise in the magazine or know more on the same .