WAG-12B enters service as Indian Railways' most-powerful locomotive

Indian Railways has been the lifeline of the nation for over 150 years, ferrying passengers and goods come rain, shine, war or famine. Needless to say, the Government-run behemoth has had quite a momentous journey all through - as one would expect in an organization that survived two World Wars and India's struggle for independence. 

Last week, Indian Railways added yet another feather to it's cap by putting the 'Made-in-India' high-power WAG-12 electric locomotive into commercial operation.

Back in 2015, the French transport solutions provider Alstom won a whopping Euro 3.5 billion order from the Ministry of Railways for delivering 800 high-power electric locomotives as part of a public-private partnership programme to modernize India's rail infrastructure. Subsequently, Madhepura Electric Locomotive Private Limited - a joint-venture between Alstom (74%) and Indian Railways (26%) - was set up in Bihar with a capacity to roll out 120 locomotives annually.

Though the facility delivered the first unit way back in 2018, the WAG-12 couldn't be put into commercial service as the locomotive was reported to have design issues and couldn't meet oscillation trials. Alstom had to redesign the bogies and a host of other components to eventually clear the trials and meet the specifications laid out by the Research Design and Standards Organization (RDSO), the technical wing of the Ministry of Railways in India.

WAG-12B, as the locomotive is now designated, made its maiden commercial run between Pt. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction (formerly Mughalsarai Junction) and Shivpur of East Central Railway on 18-May-2020.

Rated at 9,000 KW (12,000 horsepower), the WAG-12B is twice as powerful as India's erstwhile powerhouse, the WAG-9. Intended to be put to use in Dedicated Freight Corridors being set up, the WAG-12B is touted to be a game-changer capable of hauling 30% more loads (6,000 tonnes) at twice the current average speed (120 km/h). This 8-axle locomotive uses state-of-the-art Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor (IGBT)-based propulsion system for improved efficiency and equipped with a host of energy-saving tech including regenerative braking, low voltage wires and cables and LED lights.

With a permanent twin-cab design painted in dual shades of blue, the WAG-12B looks humongous and intimidating. Though a sleeker cab would have looked nicer, the boxy design fits well with the rest of the locomotives that ply on Indian rails. Modern amenities inside include air-conditioned driver cabs on either side, a pantry and a toilet - features that are sure to be appreciated in the hot and humid long-haul corridors these locomotives are expected to run on. 

Though only 10 of these locomotives have reportedly joined the Indian Railways fleet for commercial operations, the plant in Bihar would ramp up production to deliver 90 more in the current financial year and 100 every year thereafter until the order is completed. Once done, the Dedicated Freight Corridors are going to change the way we look at freight trains forever!


Suzuki Swift Sport continues to evade India

Ever since its launch in 2005, the Swift has been a phenomenal success for Maruti-Suzuki in India. With over 2 million sold in the country across three generations and fifteen years of the car’s existence, India is the Swift’s single largest market globally. Not even the Japanese buy as many Swifts as we do! And sales figures of the Swift-based Dzire and Ertiga aren’t even brought into the equation. 

It’s quite an irony then we Indians don’t get to lay our hands on the sweetest-looking and fastest-going variant of the car there is – the Swift Sport! 

The first Swift Sport made its debut in 2006, about a year after the regular variants of the car were launched. Offering an affordable combination of power, speed and handling to go with it’s chic 'Mini-inspired' styling and Japanese reliability, the Swift Sport instantly gained a fan following. Suzuki followed it up with the second-generation model in 2011, building on the success of its predecessor. Maruti-Suzuki – being the prudent, profit-driven car-maker that it is – didn’t bother with bringing these models to India. Even as outsiders, the reasons were clear to see. Both the 2006 and 2011 iterations were 3-door hatchbacks with limited practicality and therefore limited appeal in a country like ours. Moreover, the Indian market wasn't mature enough to accept expensive and fast hatchbacks.

When the third-generation Swift Sport took over the reigns in 2017, things weren't the same. The car itself grew to become a 5-door model, just like the run-of-the-mill Swifts out there. Exposure to performance-oriented cars like the Abarth Punto, Octavia vRS, Polo GTI, Tiago JTP and Tigor JTP meant the automotive landscape was a lot different and accommodating than it was a decade back. This time, Maruti-Suzuki had no excuses to not bring the Swift Sport here. 

Yet, here we are, still sulking and waiting for the car!

The rest of the world, though, is getting ready to welcome the 2020 Swift Sport that gets a subtle face-lift and standard mild-hybrid tech. Built on the 'Heartect' platform, the Swift Sport tips the scale at just 1,025 kg. This, together with the 127 horsepower and 235 Nm of torque from the 1.4-liter 'BoosterJet' engine, the sporty 6-speed manual gearbox with shorter throws and suspension hardware tuned for greater stability and reduced roll, makes the Swift Sport a thoroughly-enjoyable hatchback. Apart from reducing emissions and fuel consumption, the 48-volt 'Hybrid' system on-board assists the internal combustion engine with additional torque from the electric motor when needed.

Contrary to popular perception, the Swift Sport is no slouch when it comes to occupant's safety with Suzuki equipping the car with an array of active and passive safety features. 

Overall, here's a car that looks good, can seat five, goes reasonably fast, makes you smile behind the wheel, is safe enough, scores high on reliability, gets a ton of features and, above all, can be had with the back-up of India's largest and most-trusted car-maker. That's almost every single box ticked! Yes, there are flip sides too. The Swift Sport isn't going to top the fuel-efficiency stakes and the price tag will sure raise many eyebrows. 

But, are you telling me the folks at Maruti-Suzuki - with all their might - can't work around those and succeed? They obviously can, if they want to! 

Question is, do they want to? 

If 1,023,443 Heartect-based cars Indians bought just in 2019 aren't able to convince those at the helm, nothing else can. That's over a million off the same platform the Swift Sport is built on!

Are you reading this, Maruti-Suzuki?