A joint venture of rail experts is planning to deliver a new two-tier wagon for car transport in India that could see carmakers dramatically cut their logistics costs.
Advanced engineering and rail logistics provider Focal Earth has been working with French double-deck wagon maker AFR and India’s Texmaco, the heavy engineering unit of KK Birla, to deliver the wagon to Indian Railways on a turnkey basis.
As discussed during January’s Automotive Logistics conference in Mumbai, cost, dimension and network constraints have traditionally challenged the wide-scale introduction of rail as a solution to vehicle movements in India, but the joint venture offers a solution.
As Rod Hilditch, Managing Director and founder of Focal Earth told Automotive Logistics, the combination of a European-gauge bogie, which the Indian network uses, with the original (and smaller) UK wagon on top avoids height restrictions. “In exporting double-deck wagon IPs, you export the UK envelope on the top and you use their axles,” Hilditch explained.
Rather than the current containerised transport of finished vehicles the new solution employs a patented wagon from AFR and a backhaul trolley patented by Focal.
From an average of 125 cars being moved in single shipment (assuming 11 wagons per train), the new solution promises to move more than 400 small cars at a time.
“Depending on the size, you can get up to 220 vehicles on a 400-metre train. In India the vehicles moved are a similar size to the Mini, for instance, and, if you take the 750-metre length, which you can have in India, you can increase the number to 440.”
The two-tier wagon will be similar to those used for carmakers in Europe and other mature markets.
The initial target is to deliver around 5,000 wagons for the railways with a realistic rollout in the first quarter of 2010. The implementation is subject to approval by India’s Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO), based in Lucknow, which could take anything between 9 and 18 months but, according to Hilditch, “there is a big push by Maruti Suzuki and others to get this facility operating”.
In terms of time the advantages are obvious. As Hilditch went on to explain, “It takes six days to drive a truck from New Delhi to Mumbai [1,407km], it only takes 42 hours to go by train.”
In terms of cost, moving more than three times the amount of vehicles that are currently moved also offers considerable efficiency gains. In addition, making the wagons is expected to be much cheaper in India at £180,000 (Rs 1.28 crore) each, against £250,000 if made in Europe.

Given India’s extensive rail network the demand could be as much as 50,000 wagons in the long run, which roughly translates to £1 billion worth of business.