Tech to prevent train wrecks

Written by BV Mahalakshmi | Updated: Jan 7 2013, 06:00am hrs
Indian Railways runs successful trials for a new homegrown technology near Hyderabad to avoid train collisions

India has one of the largest railway systems in the world, serving 20 million passengers a day. However, the present signaling system in Indian Railways seems to have outlived its utility. To say the least, the system is antiquated and under severe pressure due to introduction of new trains and increasing traffic. The spate of accidents is a pointer towards an urgent need for implementation of safety devices that can increase train and passenger safety. No wonder, the Indian Railways is embarking upon indigenous new generation safety devices for fewer accidents and better safety measures.

As a pilot project for the Indian Railways, the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) Lucknow, in collaboration with Hyderabad-based HBL Power Systems, has carried out field trials successfully using a new homegrown train protection system. The Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) is designed to automatically trigger a brake application when a signal is passed at danger.

Trials were conducted recently at Tandur station, in Andhra Pradesh. The TCAS, tested in real-time on a track near Tandur in the South Central Railway zone, demonstrated the effectiveness of the system. The device is based on a combination of railway signalling data with radio communications, global positioning system (GPS), radio frequency identification devices, software and logic. Two trains equipped with the system ran a series of trials.

Following the success of the tests through different terrains, quality analysis and few more extensive trials, RDSO is expected to send its report to the Railway Board for implementation across other zones. Around 500 people are believed to have lost their lives due to various kinds of train accidents in the last five years, which could have been preventable.

AVR Murthy, vice-president, HBL Power Systems, says, The system is designed to automatically bring trains to a halt when collision-like situations arise or when the red signal is violated. During the trials, the effectiveness was demonstrated for prevention of head-on collisions, rear-end collisions, over-speeding of trains and disregard for red signal. It has essential features of both automatic train protection and collision prevention in one solution.

The HBL official explains that TCAS has more features than anti collision devices (ACD) that was earlier tested by the Indian Railways and European Trail Control System, thus making it the first system in India and probably in the world to provide essential features of both automatic train protection and collision prevention in one solution. Apart from collision prevention, TCAS facilitates display of next signal inside the locomotive cabin, thus overcoming the problem of signal visibility in foggy conditionsa serious problem during this time of the year in parts of North India. This feature thus helps in ensuring trains running on time too, he adds.

Incidentally, the Sam Pitroda committee report on rail modernisation also calls for complete upgradation of railways communication system apart from a centralised train monitoring system. The report suggest a dual-track system technology to figure out the track occupancy and mobile train radio communication (MTRC) for seamless communication between locomotive pilot and control room in major trunk routes. Focusing on the need for modern signalling technologies for maximising track utilisation and high speed operation with safety, the Pitroda committee highlighted the need to upgrade the prevailing system.

Earlier, anti collision devices were developed which are fully integrated electronic control system. The first ACD is the on-board train protection device indigenously developed by Konkan Railway with their technical partner Kernex Microsystems. ACDs are non-signaling system providing additional cover of safety in train operations to prevent dangerous train collisions caused due to human errors or limitations and equipment failure.

The Indian Railways have explored for well over a decade, various solutions to prevent accidents and in the process evaluated ACDs and automatic warning system in various parts of the country. However, after prolonged trials, RDSO observed that some solutions are partly successful and some not successful but none of them meeting all the requirements of the state-owned body.

As a result, RDSO drafted its own specification of the TCAS, which it was able to realise successfully. TCAS is being developed by RDSO approved companies such as Medha Servo Drives, Hyderabad, Kernex Microsystems, Invensys, Bangalore, Siemens, HBL Power Systems, Apna Technologies, Bangalore and others, who are selected through an expression of interest.

HBL officials inform that the new train protection system would not only help avoid collisions due to human errors in signalling and low visibility of signals due to rain or fog, it would alert about fire on trains and warn about damage to the tracks during natural calamities or sabotage.