Talgo S.A. has been wooing India for years as the South Asian nation has one of the largest railway networks in the world and big plans to upgrade its rail infrastructure.
The Madrid-based company got its breakthrough this year when it got the go-ahead to test its coaches on few routes in India to prove its trains can slash travel times for the 13 million people who use the state-owned Indian Railways every day. Talgo claims its coaches can cut travel time by up to 30%.
The existing average maximum speed of Indian passenger trains is 110 kilometers per hour, according to Vijay Kumar, executive director for infrastructure and mechanical engineering at Indian Railways.
One of Indian Railways’ current fastest trains–the Rajdhani Express–travels between Delhi and Mumbai in around 16 hours. Talgo says the same journey with its coaches will take less than 11 hours.
India has traditionally built its own trains and Talgo is the first foreign train-manufacturer to be given permission to conduct trials, said Mr. Kumar.
The tests of the trains began last weekend between Bareilly and Moradabad in northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and will be expanded to two other routes.
The main selling point of the Talgo coaches is that India won’t need to change the tracks for them.
“For any conventional train you need a lot of investment in the existing infrastructure but with Talgo train you don’t need any investment in the infrastructure and it can start going at higher speed,” said Subrat Nath, director for India and Asia-Pacific region at Talgo.
Despite India’s dependence on its railways, the system has become outdated and overburdened.
“India is unique and alone among the major countries of the world in not having a single high-speed rail corridor,” said a document presented to the Indian Parliament in 2009 titled “Indian Railways Vision 2020.”
The Congress party-led government back then said it would upgrade the current tracks and build “state-of-the-art high-speed corridors” for the trains to run up to 350 kilometers, or 217 miles, per hour.
In the latest step in that direction, India launched its first “semi-high speed” train in April–the Gatimaan Express– between Delhi and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. The train has a maximum speed of 160 kilometers, or 99 miles, per hour, cutting the fastest travel time between the capital and Agra by more than 15 minutes.
One of the biggest factors slowing down Indian Railways’ 7,000 passenger trains is the country’s long and winding railroads. There are 495 speed-killing curves in the tracks between Delhi and Mumbai alone, said Mr. Kumar at Indian Railways.
Straightening out existing tracks or building straight ones from scratch is too expensive, said Mr. Kumar, so the trains from Talgo and others which offer more speed on curvy lines could be the best option.
Talgo coaches use a “natural tilting mechanism” which allows them to go up to 20% faster on curves than conventional coaches, Mr. Kumar said.
He said the trials will test whether the trains perform as promised. India has not committed to ordering from Talgo yet.
Talgo’s Mr. Nath says the company is ready to build the coaches in India if it can get the orders.“India can be a key market for us,” he said.