India’s rail travel market is projected to top US$9 billion by 2027, a 28 percent rise in just a decade. Every day, the country’s 13,400 passenger trains carry 22 million people and nearly four billion tons of freight, numbers set to increase as the population grows and electrification is rolled out ever further.
It’s no wonder, then, that the subcontinent’s largest private manufacturer of rolling stock, Titagarh Rail Systems, is pumping out almost one wagon every hour, night and day, to keep up with demand. What’s even more remarkable is that the company’s CEO, Umesh Chowdhary, is driving record growth figures that will soon see those numbers dwarfed.
“We’re in the process of ramping up our capacity to double the current levels,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “We’re very much at the top of the food chain.”
Titagarh Rail Systems’ factories in India and Europe produce an ever greater range of freight wagons, metro coaches, semi-high-speed trains and propulsion systems each year. Its income of US$340 million for the financial year that ended in March this year, was nearly double that of the previous 12 months.
The company was founded in 1997 by Chowdhary’s father, initially manufacturing 180 wagons annually. Chowdhary’s father, Jagdish Prasad Chowdhary, is currently Executive Chair and has overseen the rapid expansion from the get-go through diversification, high product quality and a number of acquisitions.
Umesh Chowdhary has been with the company from the start, and was central to the firm’s inroads into the Italian market. His impact there has been so immense that Italy bestowed one of its highest civilian awards on him, the Cavaliere Ordine della Stella d’Italia (Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to bilateral ties with India.
In recent years, he has overseen Titagarh Rail Systems’ biggest ever transformation as it made a strategic and lucrative move beyond its dominance in the freight sector.
Titagarh Rail Systems is also involved in shipbuilding, though its business strategy remains focused on the railway. It’s currently executing orders for several vessels, including diving support crafts, bollard pull tugs and many more for the Ministry of Defence, and has delivered various specialized vessels and warships to the Indian Navy, the Ministry of Earth Sciences and the National Institute of Ocean Technology.
“We started our journey into passenger rolling stock in 2007,” he says. “Since then, we’ve built more than 400 EMU and MEMU [Electrical Multiple Units and Mainline Electrical Multiple Units]. The early ones were very rudimentary, made with basic technology, so we bought an Italian company that made state-of-the-art coaches.
“Then we began transferring the know-how to the Indian market, which was very important to us as we could open our own design center in Hyderabad. The engineers in each country were working in parallel, in the same platform. We also set up a high-tech facility in Uttarpara for passenger rolling stock and propulsion systems.”
In 2019 Chowdhary’s team won an order to design and manufacture trains for the Pune Metro in Maharashtra. They became the first coaches in the country with aluminum bodies, an achievement regarded as so significant that the route’s opening last year was inaugurated by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
This year, Titagarh Rail Systems signed another landmark contract with Indian Railways for the design and manufacture of sleeper trains known as the Vande Bharat Express, a semi-fast train designed to connect cities less than 10 hours apart.
“We’ve just solidified our position as the leading manufacturer in passenger rolling stock as part of the Titagarh Rail Systems and Bharat Heavy Electricals consortium that won the contract to design and build 80 trains for the Vande Bharat project.
“Going forward, one of our new key areas of focus will be backward integration of components across every category so we’re a one-stop shop.”
Achieving such impressive dominance and versatility is only possible through the deep relationships it has nurtured with key suppliers such as Timken India, which produces the precision-engineered bearings so crucial in building high-quality passenger and freight rolling stock.
“We see all our suppliers as partners because their products fit into our final, finished product. So we work with them in a very open, transparent manner to help them develop and meet global standards,” Chowdhary explains.
“I strongly believe in the power of good partnerships, and our growth in the last few years is evidence of that.”
That growth was also due to embracing passenger rolling stock so successfully, a development that inspired a change in the company’s name from Titagarh Wagons to Titagarh Rail Systems.
“It’s a change in mindset and vision to associate ourselves with the entire spectrum of railway rolling stock and deliver world-class mobility solutions across the board.”