The buzz on Railways modernisation has tended to focus on the big-ticket plans, including ultra-fast trains, world-class stations, etc. While the gains from these will likely be phenomenal, there is one, less talked about modernisation exercise afoot that could have different yet similarly phenomenal gains. The Railways is going to use an Isro-developed navigation technology to warn road users at unmanned level crossings of approaching trains. While unmanned level crossings are themselves being eliminated—nearly 6,200 have been closed down in the last five years (over 7,500 still remain)—and deaths at such crossings have also fallen, the fact is that each such accident, along with death/injury, also costs the Railways immensely in terms of productivity. The new warning system will use Isro’s Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (NaVIC)—a chip on the train’s engine will relay signals to a satellite that will beam back a signal to a hooter stationed at the crossing when the train is 500 m-4 km away (the range is on account of varying speeds of trains) from it.
The hooter will sound the alarm and alert road users that a train is approaching, and will continue to do so till the train has passed. The Isro-developed chip will be installed on 10,000 trains—pilot hooters are to be mounted at two level crossing gates in the Sonepur division on the Delhi-Guwahati route. Subsequently, some more will be installed on the Delhi-Mumbai route. The satellite-based navigation system is also expected to give real-time data on movement of trains; such data is recorded manually at present and the new system is likely to be more accurate. Accidents while crossing tracks accounted for more than half of the 3,200 deaths due to train accidents in the Mumbai suburban rail network in 2016. If the warning system helps bring such deaths down for the larger network, that would indeed be a stellar Railways modernisation success.