With most accidents in the last five years caused by derailment, the transporter plans to change the configuration of tracks for safer operations.
Passenger safety is at the forefront of the Indian Railways’ (IR’s) agenda. To upgrade safety standards for the more than 13,000 passenger trains which ply daily on its 67,000-km-long network, the transporter is going for changes in the configuration of railway tracks. This is over and above the plan to fully mechanise the process of inspection and maintenance of tracks on the trunk route by 2020 and the entire network by 2024.
Even as railway accidents have been an issue of grave concern in recent years, the fact that 56% of the 659 train accidents of the last five years have occurred due to derailment has heightened focus on systemic defects relating to railway tracks. This was borne out in 2017-18 when 4,405 km of track renewal and better maintenance saw the number of accidents fall to 73, the lowest in IR’s history.
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Integral to a change in the configuration of tracks beginning next year is use of rails with higher ultimate tensile strength (UTS) —a measure of stress that a material can withstand without losing its original shape—, wider and heavier concrete sleepers – rectangular supports beneath the rails –, and a thicker rubber pad between rails and sleepers. As against the present 90 UTS, IR would be opting for rails of 110 UTS, allowing it to operate 25-tonne axle load wagons—the permissible axle load at present is 22.8 tonne. The change in rail UTS would also allow seamless movement of wagons between the network and the upcoming freight corridors that would be operating only 25-tonne axle load wagons.
“The Steel Authority of India (SAIL) and Jindal Steel and Power (JSPL) have been told that the next rail tender would have this requirement and that is why they should be ready to produce such rails. Barring the suburban sections, we will be replacing the rails with those of higher UTS,” says a railway official. While SAIL and IR have an agreement for supply of rails, shortage from SAIL’s side saw JSPL recently bag an order for 1 lakh tonne rails.
Also being changed is the size of the rubber pad between rails and sleepers that absorbs vibrations caused by train movement. As against the earlier thickness of 6 mm, the new cushions would be 10 mm thick. To strengthen the base of railway tracks, the transporter is going for wider sleepers weighing 350 kg apiece compared to the present 280 kg.
“The railways has been using the same concrete sleepers for the last 40-50 years. We have now changed the design and are opting for wider sleepers which are also heavier,” says the official. The new sleepers would make the track structure heavier, allowing movement of heavier and more number of trains. The new sleepers and rails would together make for a more robust and stable frame and check breakages and other problems which often lead to derailments. “From next year onwards, all replacement and fresh sleepers would be of the new design,” he adds.