The previous interior of the driver's cab.
The previous interior of the driver's cab.
The improved interior design was developed using composites.
The improved interior design was developed using composites.

To promote the usage of composites as an advanced performance material, a programme on composites tech-nology development was launched by the Technology Information, Forecasting & Assessment Council (TIFAC), New Delhi, India. The programme has been an attempt to enhance the utilisation and application of composites as an important performance material in various sectors. The Advanced Composites Programme of TIFAC has focused on indigenous development of composites for a few critical and novel applications for Indian Railways. Certain composite components have been introduced by Indian Railways in its rolling stock to improve performance, maintainability, reliability, safety and cost effectiveness on a life cycle basis.

Indian Railways had been seriously contemplating ways and means for an ergonomic improvement of the driver's cabin interiors for its diesel locomotives. The driver's cabin has the provision for two driver seats, space for a tool kit, almirah, instrumentation/control panels etc. and it is too cramped. The work space has a lot of scope for improvement with respect to the ergonomics.

With the aim of modernising the interiors of the driver's cabin, a project was launched under the Advanced Composites Programme of TIFAC in partnership with M/s. Black Burn Co Pvt Ltd, Kolkata, and with technology support from the Industrial Design Centre/IIT-Bombay. The project aimed at developing cabin interiors suitable for retrofitting of the largest fleet of locomotive type available with Indian Railways. IIT-Bombay worked out the conceptual approaches, computer models, modular components and scaled down mock-ups for the interiors.

On approval by Indian Railways, IIT then proceeded with the final design of composite components, prototype development, and extended its assistance to Black Burn for the fabrication of full-scale prototypes.

Improved design

The new design of the cabin involved appropriate panelling, comfortable seats, clear visibility for the operators, proper arrangement of gauges, provision of space for tools etc., for improved comfort of the operator. The problems of heat and sound insulation were also addressed while developing the cabin interiors. In addition, safety features such as an increase in roof height inside the cabin, illumination of the cabin, and the ergonomically correct placement of various instruments, were also addressed.

The side panels and console were given an off-white granular granite finish. The roof panels were painted white to improve the interior lighting.

The cabin interiors were designed to provide good elegance without any sharp edges and to provide maximum comfort to the users. As vibration dampening is an inherent property of composites, sidewall cladding and air space at the outer steel shell contributed effectively for achieving noise attenuation as well as heat insulation.

The space between driving consoles was increased considerably to facilitate free movement of personnel and the height adjusted to ensure eye contact between driver and assistant. Hatches were provided below the console table for accessing the cables, gauges and other mountings. The roof comprised of two arched panels on either side and a central panel to accommodate lighting fixtures.

The wires/cables feeding two console panels were laid below the floor. Indian Railways had been using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) covered compressed resin impregnated wood (Compreg) overlaid on the steel structure for flooring. They has used a heavy-duty, anti-skid, abrasion resistant synthetic material for flooring. While the flooring material suited the purpose, it was quite expensive. The floor suffered from the problem of dust accumulation. Under the TIFAC project, the cabin floor was made in three-piece modular sandwich panels with rigid polyurethane (PU) foam core supported on an existing metallic structure and covered with anti-skid liner. The modular floor is designed to enable access for maintenance operations.

The life expectancy of composite interiors for the driver's cabin would be around 15 years under normal usage conditions with minimum maintenance.

Two sets of composite interiors were fabricated and the drivers’ cabins of two diesel locomotives were furnished at the loco-shed of Western Railway. The feedback from the field trials for these locomotives has been quite encouraging. The maintenance unit from the diesel loco-shed has inferred that the newly furnished driver's cabin has created quite a conducive workspace. It is expected that the composite interiors for diesel locomotives will soon be introduced widely by Indian Railways.

While a few initiatives were taken in ushering composites in to the transportation sector under the Advanced Composites Programme of TIFAC, many potential applications exist for composites in their development for Indian Railways.