Increasing Automation: Move towards modernisation of signalling and train operations

Move towards modernisation of signalling and train operations

Signalling and telecommunications (S&T) systems are crucial for safe and speedy train operations. These systems ensure the effective operations of the large fleet of locomotives and rolling stock plying on the metro rail network. At present, most of the operational metro projects have deployed advanced S&T systems such as automatic train control (ATC), which automatically controls train movement, enforcing train safety and directing train operations. The ATC system has three subsystems, namely, automatic train operation, automatic train protection, and automatic train supervision. Besides, there is the communication based train control (CBTC) system, which is a driverless technology that is equipped with latest tools and solutions to provide immediate status updates to avoid accidents in the event of special circumstances such as sudden breakdowns and power losses. In the past few years, the advanced CBTC system has gained significant traction with most of the upcoming and under-construction projects deploying this system for train operations.

Some of the recently operationalised metro systems have deployed advanced S&T technologies for train operations. The Hyderabad metro rail system, which was inaugurated in December 2017, has deployed the CBTC system along with integrated communications and supervision technology for completely automating train operations. The technology, provided by Thales India, has been deployed on the 13 km Miyapur-Ameerpet stretch on Corridor I and the 17 km Ameerpet-Nagole stretch on Corridor III. The Pink Line corridor of the Delhi Metro has also deployed the advanced unattended train operations (UTO) and CBTC signalling systems. The first stretch on the line commenced commercial operations in May 2018, while the second and the third phases of the line were inaugurated in August 2018 and October 2018 respectively.

Market size

Between 2006 and 2017, the S&T market increased at a compound annual growth rate of 27.31 per cent, from Rs 5.1 billion in 2006 to Rs 72.6 billion in 2017. Based on the upcoming projects tracked by India Infrastructure Research, there exists an opportunity of over Rs 278 billion in the S&T segment.

Key initiatives

Over the past few years, various measures have been introduced to improve the reliability and efficiency of S&T systems. These include progressive upgradation of signalling systems through the introduction of new technologies such as electronic interlocking with centralised operation of points and signals, multicoloured LED signals, complete track-circuiting of stations, digital-axle counters and automatic signalling, etc. Further, new technologies such as train management systems, train protection warning systems and train collision avoidance systems have been introduced to provide automatic train protection.

For effective telecommunications, GPS-based mobile train radio communication systems have been introduced. In another development, a modern optic fibre communication system, which helps in better exchange of information and monitoring of trains, has been deployed on the entire metro rail network. Apart from these, passenger information systems like LED display screens are also present in metro trains.

The S&T market in India is largely served by foreign players. Under the Make in India initiative, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has taken certain initiatives to increase domestic participation. The tender document for the procurement of metro cars and related critical equipment (including S&T equipment) has stipulated the mandatory procurement of nine types of signalling equipment from domestic players. Besides, the ministry has also finalised the long-pending norms for signalling equipment. These norms are applicable to over 90 per cent of the equipment imported at present. They mandate the installation of signalling systems based on CBTC technology with auto reversal function at terminal stations and the deployment of the UTO feature.

Conclusion

At present, the adoption of advanced S&T systems has gained prominence in the urban rail sector. This in turn has created new demand for skilled manpower capable of operating and maintaining these advanced S&T systems. The key to avoiding system failures, fused light signals and delays lies in improving the maintenance and diagnostic capabilities of S&T suppliers. Going forward, the upgradation of existing S&T systems along with the introduction of modern technologies will be crucial to improving safety levels in the sector as well as ensuring higher ridership.