Better Systems: Augmenting signalling and telecom to improve operations

Augmenting signalling and telecom to improve operations

The demand for signalling and telecommunication (S&T) technologies in Indian Railways (IR) has grown significantly in recent years. This is on account of the major concerns relating to enhancing safety and line capacity, along with the mounting need for improving efficiencies of train operations across IR’s network. While the policy framework for Make in India and indigenisation has been put in place, the pace of technology adoption has been somewhat sluggish.

Investment requirements

During the period 2014-15 to 2016-17, the revised budget allocation towards S&T works has been trending downwards from the budget estimates. The dip was in fact the most in 2015-16, when the allocation was revised downwards by almost 24 per cent to just Rs 8.52 billion.

Given the poor safety scenario and low budgetary allocations towards S&T, IR has envisaged an investment requirement of Rs 125 billion to meet the S&T targets for the period 2015-16 to 2019-20. It is estimated that funding of Rs 30 billion per year will be required during the next 10 years (2015-25) to replace obsolete mechanical S&T systems and install automatic train protection systems across the IR network to enhance safety. Taking cognisance of this requirement, an amount of Rs 23.31 billion has been allocated for S&T in Union Budget 2017-18, which is almost 145 per cent higher than the revised estimate of 2016-17.

Recent initiatives

The Ministry of Railways has accorded the highest priority to passenger safety and has undertaken a number of initiatives to augment S&T systems across the railway network.

In line with the Make in India mandate to produce S&T equipment domestically, the Cross Approval Policy has been put in place to simplify the process of granting approvals for software-embedded electronic railway signalling systems and other proven technology products in India. Under this policy, the safety certification is given by an independent safety assessor as per safety integrity level 4 (SIL 4). The policy also delineates the process and time frame for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to manufacture signalling devices domestically. Moreover, the policy also offers the flexibility to choose an indigenisation plan based on the duration for supplies by the OEM.

Currently, all imported products approved by the Research Design and Standards Organisation under the Cross Approval Policy are planned for indigenisation as mandated in the policy. Some modern signalling equipment like electronic interlocking and digital axle counters of foreign OEMs have already been indigenised.

Besides, IR has also introduced new technologies such as train protection warning systems (TPWSs), train collision avoidance systems (TCASs) and anti-collision devices aimed at providing automatic train protection to prevent accidents caused due to overspeeding and negligence. At present, TPWSs are under implementation across 3,330 route km sections on suburban and high-density routes. During 2017-18, the deployment of TCASs on 1,427 route km has also been sanctioned. To streamline traffic flow, a centralised traffic control centre at Tundla junction is being planned to be commissioned on the Ghaziabad-Kanpur section (47 stations) under the modernisation project funded by German development bank KfW.

Regarding telecommunication initiatives, RailTel (in partnership with Google) is undertaking the station Wi-Fi project aimed at providing Wi-Fi at 400 stations under A1 and A categories. RailTel is also working towards providing Wi-Fi services on passenger trains. As of 2016, RailTel commissioned Railwire Fast Wi-Fi services at 115 railway stations. Extending the project, Wi-Fi services are planned to be provided at another 200 stations during the current year 2017.

Further, a pilot project for providing hand-held terminals (HHTs) to ticket examiners has been implemented on some trains. During 2016-17, HHTs for booking of unreserved tickets at the point of sale was launched at Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station.

RailTel also aims to develop a railway display network (RDN) across 2,000 stations, installing over 100,000 screens. Currently, the RDN project has been recommended for proof of concept (PoC), which is under implementation at five stations, in Delhi, Gorakhpur, Gwalior, Jaipur and Varanasi. After implementing the PoC, the final decision to roll out the network will be taken.

The way forward

Currently, India is at a very nascent stage with regard to the adoption of state-of-the-art S&T systems used by advanced railway systems globally. IR still uses outdated and overaged assets, and this has hampered safety levels in the sector. To address this concern, IR has de-veloped an action plan for the next five years (2015-20), which involves the installation of anti-skid braking systems over 1,000 route km; TPWSs over 3,330 route km; a track management system on Eastern Railway (SDAH Division), South Eastern Railway (Kharagpur Division) and Southern Railway (Chennai Division); interlocking of 1,000 level crossing gates with signals; and the elimination of wire-operated semaphore arm signalling and ball/ tablet token instruments, among other initiatives. Going forward, augmenting S&T systems with modern technologies will be key to improving safety levels in the sector.