Accident-free Routes: Modernising S&T systems on railway networks to improve safety

Modernising S&T systems on railway networks to improve safety

Indian Railways (IR) has seen significant growth in demand for signalling and telecommunication (S&T) technologies in recent years. Rising expenditure on safety and enhancing line capacity, and the mounting need for improving efficiencies of train operations across the rail network are the key factors responsible for this. A new safety fund – the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) – worth Rs 1 trillion has been created. Works at level crossings and track renewals will get the bulk of the RRSK’s corpus investment. The S&T works planned under the RRSK include deployment of automatic train protection warning systems on trunk routes, upgradation of interlocking, interlocking of level crossing gates, centralised online monitoring, predictive maintenance, and event analysis.

Investment requirements

During the period 2014-15 to 2016-17, the budgetary allocation for S&T works witnessed a declining trend. The dip was in fact the maximum in 2015-16, when the allocation was revised downwards by almost 24 per cent to just Rs 8.52 billion.

According to IR estimates, about Rs 30 billion will be required every year during the 10-year period from 2015 to 2025, to replace obsolete mechanical S&T systems and install automatic train protection systems across IR’s network to enhance safety. In keeping with this, budget allocations for S&T systems increased to Rs 12.57 billion in 2017-18 and further to Rs 20.25 billion in 2018-19. For 2019-20, the Ministry of Railways (MoR) has allocated funds amounting to Rs 17.5 billion for S&T works, which is 39.25 per cent higher than the revised allocation of Rs 12.57 for 2018-19.

Recent developments

In the past few years, IR has taken a number of initiatives to modernise and upgrade S&T systems across the railway network.  The RRSK, with a corpus of Rs 1 trillion to be spent over a period of five years, was created for clearing the backlog of critical safety-related works. It is expected to fund track renewals, strengthen bridges, eliminate unmanned level crossings, upgrade maintenance facilities, undertake signalling improvements, etc. For 2019-20, the total outlay for capital expenditure from the RRSK is Rs 200 billion, the same as the previous year.

In a bid to improve safety and prevent accidents, IR has cleared the Rs 120 billion proposal to equip 6,000 electric locomotives with the European Train Control System (ETCS), Level II. The Railway Board has further decided to install ETCS, Level II, on the entire 9,054 km Golden Quadrilateral route connecting the four metros, to make it an accident-free corridor. Currently, IR has a basic automatic train protection system based on the ETCS, Level I, specification to provide a backup to locomotive drivers on limited stretches. Further, IR has decided to undertake complete track circuiting of stations to enhance safety for verification of track occupancy by electrical means. Interlocking of level crossing gates has also been installed for protection at level crossings.

The way forward

The MoR has placed an ever-increasing emphasis on railway safety and the elimination of all unmanned level crossings. In the coming years, IR plans to take a number of initiatives to move towards modernised S&T infrastructure. To eliminate signalling failures, it plans to deploy remote monitoring of signalling systems using artificial intelligence to predict failures.

However, India is presently at a nascent state with regard to the adoption of advanced S&T systems being used by developed railway systems globally. While the recent developments have provided the much-needed push  to the S&T segment, augmentation of these systems with modern technologies will be crucial for improving safety levels.