India Infrastructure recently organised a roundtable on Transforming Indian Railways – Role of Technology. A detailed panel discussion was held on operations and maintenance (O&M) in rail systems. The panelists were Pradeep Gupta, executive director, IE, Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES); Shailendra Jaiswal, executive director, ME, Railway Board; Tomas Larsson, general manager, Trimble Rail; B.V.L. Narayana, director, Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) and Sandeep Sharma, executive director, track, Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO). The key takeaways from the discussion…
Pradeep Gupta, Executive Director, IE, RITES
The Indian railway system is the fourth largest in the world but almost 80 per cent of the system has been operational since the colonial period. Thus, there is a pressing need for Indian Railways (IR) to rapidly upgrade and modernise its system, operations, maintenance and infrastructure, including fixed and rolling stock.
In the past few years, IR’s rolling stock has been upgraded. For instance, it is now deploying eight-wheeler wagons, air brakes and composite brakes and replacing mild steel wagons with stainless steel wagons. Currently, it is also using bogie-mounted brakes and centre buffer couplings on its network.
However, on the maintenance front, IR is yet to achieve progress. It still carries out manual examination of its system, wherein once a wagon operates for 4,000-5,000 km, it is inspected manually and the defective wagons are marked sick and withdrawn from the operational rolling stock. These are then sent for periodic overhaul/routine overhaul. Even today, every year or biannually, a global census is
carried out to determine the location of such wagons. This is a major challenge because IR currently deploys around 8,000 locomotives globally. To overcome this issue and reduce the time and effort dedicated to carrying out this activity, IR plans to deploy radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on rolling stock to monitor the health of the cars/locomotives and conduct periodic maintenance.
Further, life cycle costing of rolling stock is very difficult to determine. Besides the procurement cost, a lot of investment is being made on overhauling, repairing, operating and maintaining the rolling stock till it is withdrawn from operations. This is 500-600 per cent of the procurement cost. The focus should be on automating the train examination instead of doing it manually. Maintenance will be scheduled based on quantitative data.
Shailendra Jaiswal, Executive Director, ME, Railway Board
The traffic on IR has been rising consistently for the past few years and the trend is expected to continue. However, rail infrastructure is not developing in line with the increasing traffic. Realising this, IR is now progressing with scheduled maintenance and also devising ways to carry out predictive maintenance based on condition monitoring in all areas of railways, including, tracks, signalling and rolling stock.
IR is also exploring ways to optimise its maintenance efforts based on the condition of various assets. For this purpose, it is introducing a number of technologies such as information technology (IT)-based maintenance system of all assets, supervisory control and data acquisition systems for overhead equipment, etc.
IR is using ultrasonic testing and mobile ultrasonic testing and also testing fibre optics to detect rail fractures. To uniquely identify a rolling stock and predict its condition and maintenance needs, RFID tags will be fitted in the rolling stock. IR is also taking steps to upgrade wagons, signalling systems and coaches.
IR is further exploring a technology that can help in estimating residual and real-time stress on rail tracks. This will enable it to detect stress on rail tracks much before the fracture occurs. It is also working on deploying technology which will help in detecting underground faults and improve rail maintenance.
Tomas Larsson, General Manager, Trimble Rail
Our solutions for railways cover the complete rail life cycle including planning, design and construction of railway tracks, bridges and stations, and moving on to operations and maintenance with a key emphasis on ensuring safety. We believe that the Trimble portfolio can help IR achieve its major goals – from launching high speed trains to enhancing passenger safety and operational efficiency. Trimble’s technology has proven itself the world over. Today, we have sensor-based structural monitoring systems available that can be deployed on railway tracks and coaches. The sensors can continually monitor track movement in real time and raise alerts in case they detect any cracks or abnormality, allowing the signalling room to stop the train and prevent a derailment.
Our automatic wayside train inspection systems, on-board rail and track measurement and inspection systems, as well as hand-held products for wheel and track measurement have been installed at all major American Class 1 railroads including BNSF Railway, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation. Several of our systems are successfully deployed in Australia, Europe, China, South America and the Middle East.
B.V.L. Narayana, Director, CRIS
CRIS takes up all IT systems proposed by the Ministry of Railways. It is deploying the RFID technology in rolling stock, which will take a few years to be rolled out completely. It is also conducting track enhancement, GIS mapping, etc. However, CRIS is facing a twofold challenge – translating IR’s requirements into IT systems and convincing IR that the desired benefits can be derived from the systems that CRIS is deploying. Abundant data is available with CRIS and every year data is added to the existing database. But efficient utilisation of this data will be possible only if CRIS gets support from IR. Standard systems don’t apply to IR and this reiterates the need for detailed discussions with IR about its technological needs and specifications.
For analysing the data properly, CRIS is taking assistance from the IT industry and research and educational institutions. For instance, IIT Madras is helping CRIS in ensuring optimum utilisation of passenger rolling stock and berths. It is helping it redesign its analytics system so that it generates more revenue. Earlier, IIT Bombay had also advised CRIS on asset management and train operations.
CRIS is currently seeking help for optimum utilisation of tracks so that multiple trains can operate simultaneously, which will help IR increase revenues tremendously.
Sandeep Sharma, Executive Director, Track, RDSO
Rolling stock and rail tracks are constantly interacting and need to evolve together. Rail tracks have a fatigue limit, which may get exceeded at times due to impact forces resulting from imperfections in the wheel like a flat wheel, material deposits, out of round wheel, broken springs or pads, etc. on railway tracks. IR is currently planning for 25 tonnes of axle load, which is much higher than its design capacity. Due to this, the defect generation rate will go up by almost 15 per cent. Thus, there is a pressing need to develop a technology which can detect the fractures, if they take place, to avoid any mishap on passenger and freight trains.
Disruptions also occur due to various other factors such as trains switching to high speeds or semi-high speeds. In such cases, curvatures are not compatible for trains operating at such high speeds. Upgradation is always an option but this would entail huge investments.
Moreover, the railways is being utilised at 140-160 per cent of its capacity. The rapidly growing economy will put an additional burden on the existing lines. Thus, the RDSO is currently undertaking ultrasonic flaw detection testing of rails and welds by deploying new systems that are in use globally. The RDSO is also planning to undertake condition monitoring of assets using high resolution cameras. These cameras can be installed in the rolling stock plying on the tracks. Recently, single-shot welding has been introduced.
The RDSO is the technology wing of IR and is identifying and coming up with ideas and innovations that will cater to its changing operating regime. For instance, it has invited expressions of interest to deploy under-sleeper pads, which is a very new concept for IR. However, with such high axle loads – freight trains carrying 25 tonnes and passenger trains carrying 18-22 tonnes – readymade solutions for a host of problems encountered by IR may not be available. The technology is yet to evolve.