Digital Transition: IR introduces cutting-edge technologies for signalling and telecommunications

IR introduces cutting-edge technologies for signalling and telecommunications

In the recent past, alarming capacity utilisation levels and the increasing number of accidents on the railway network have triggered growing concerns over the safety of Indian Railways (IR). The carrier has therefore accorded priority status to safety and has deployed various signalling equipment and systems such as train detection systems, point machines, on-board train protection, LED signals, etc.

IR’s train control, and signalling and tele-communications (S&T) systems have been advancing slowly. Signalling infrastructure is being automated from semaphore mechanical to route relay interlocking and electronic interlocking (EI) systems. Further, critical modern signalling equipment such as EI and digital axle counters of foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) has been indigenised.

Rising budgetary allocation for 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 IR’s move towards modernising and automating S&T processes. A new safety fund – the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) – was created in 2017-18 with a corpus of Rs 1 trillion to be spent over a period of five years. 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.

New technologies deployed and experience so far 

In the past, IR has deployed new technologies such as EI, digital axle counters, data loggers and remote terminal units (RTUs), train protection warning systems (TPWSs) and train collision avoidance systems (TCASs), and undertaken predictive maintenance through online remote condition monitoring and track management systems (TMSs) with the aim of preventing accidents caused due to overspeeding and negligence by providing automatic train protection.

  • EI: Of late, the intricate wiring in relay-based interlocking systems is being replaced by electronic logic circuit cards. In this regard, there has been a fair degree of dependence on OEMs for logic design, both for new installations and modifications to existing ones. However, OEM support in the form of new installations and annual maintenance contracts for fault diagnostics and repairs has proved to be costly. It was claimed that the use of such technology would reduce the time and cost associated with the installation and commissioning of EI systems; however, this has not been the case.
  • Digital axle counters: These are being introduced to eliminate the effect of electromagnetic interference on the performance of universal axle counter (UAC) after electrification. Block proving is now extensively being done using digital axle counters but it has faced similar problems as in the case of UAC, though on a smaller scale. “Cause unknown” failures are currently being restored by either resetting or restarting the system. At present, block proving axle counter failures constitute about 20 per cent of the total S&T failures on IR’s network.
  • Data loggers and RTUs: Data loggers are being extensively used in relay interlocking and EI installations for centralised monitoring. RTUs are being used in automatic signalling, mid-section interlocked gates and intermediate block signalling for remote monitoring. The performance of the equipment has proved to be up to the mark and networked effectively up to the railway board. The equipment is also very useful in accident investigation and fault diagnosis. Gradually, equipment is also being developed for predictive maintenance.
  • TPWS: The system is under implementation on a 3,330 route km (rkm) section along suburban/high density routes. Full benefits of this technology will be realised on its complete deployment. Currently, TPWSs are being commissioned on a few high density routes such as the Ghaziabad-Kanpur, Kanpur-Mughalsarai and Agra-Gwalior sections at an estimated cost of Rs 4.47 billion. Earlier, this had been implemented successfully on the Nizamuddin-Agra section.
  • TCAS: The system is an indigenous automatic train protection system currently being developed by the Research Design and Standards Organisation along with three Indian companies – Medha Servo Drives Private Limited, HBL Power Systems Limited and Kernex Microsystems Private Limited. It is more advanced than the automatic warning system and the anti-collision device used in some of the country’s railway lines. Trials are under way in developmental sections spanning 250 km with 40 locomotives. Besides, the Safety Integrity Levels-4 (SIL-4) evaluation of the TCAS by independent safety assessors is currently in progress.
  • Predictive maintenance through online RCM: Traditional signalling maintenance management procedures are either fix-on-fail or planned time-based maintenance, which make maintenance costs high and unreliable. This maintenance regime is slowly evolving to predict-and-prevent, using historic data to predict signal failures before they occur, thereby enabling condition-based maintenance that can considerably reduce operating costs and improve productivity through uninterrupted operations.
  • TMS: A web-enabled TMS has been launched across all railway divisions to manage all track maintenance-related activities, enab-

ling planning of maintenance activities on a real-time basis.

Recent initiatives

In the past one-two years, a number of new initiatives have been taken to further modernise and upgrade S&T systems across the railway network. IR has cleared the Rs 120 billion proposal to equip 6,000 electric locomotives with the European Train Control System (ETCS), Level II, in a bid to improve safety and prevent accidents. 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 already operationalised the ETCS Level I technology on 342 km to mitigate risks due to loco pilot error or overspeeding. It is implemented on a 200 km stretch between Delhi and Agra, 117 km on the Chennai suburban section and on 25 km of the Kolkata metro. Ansaldo STS received the contract for deploying the ETCS Level I technology. Other global players that provide this technology include Siemens, Bombardier, Alstom, the Memec Group and Thales.

The automatic train protection system (ETCS Level II) has been included in the works programme 2018-19 for implementation on a 60,000 rkm broad gauge network. EI systems with centralised operation of points and signals are being provided to eliminate human failure and to replace old mechanical systems. These systems have been provided at 5,781 stations till May 31, 2018. Besides, 15 wheel impact load detectors to automatically identify the defective wheels in rolling stock have been operationalised.

Further, an automatic train protection system called an auxiliary warning system (AWS) is presently  functional on 364 rkm on the Mumbai Suburban section of Central Railway (240 rkm) and Western Railway (124 rkm). Complete track circuiting of stations has been undertaken to enhance safety for verification of track occupancy by electrical means.

Recently, in June 2019, IR signed an MoU with RailTel Enterprises Limited to undertake one of the most ambitious projects deploying world-class signalling systems and technologies across the four busiest routes on the rail network. The modernisation of signalling systems will include automatic train protection systems along with long term evolution (LTE)-based mobile train radio communication system and the provision of EI (indoor) wherever required. These sections are the 165 rkm on South Central Railway’s Renigunta-Yerraguntla section, 145 rkm on East Coast Railway’s Vizianagaram-Palasa section, 155 rkm on North Central Railway’s Jhansi-Bina section and 175 rkm on Central Railway’s Nagpur-Badnera section.

The pilot project, which is expected to cost around Rs 16 billion, is likely to be completed in the next two years. The system will initially be deployed on as many as 500 locomotives and will be interoperable with multivendor support. It will be deployed using the LTE backbone for communication between drivers, train running staff, the control office and guards. Moreover, the system will be used for working the automatic train protection system as well. With regard to its key benefits, the system will improve safety standards, reduce congestion, increase line capacity as well as improve punctuality. In addition, it will help increase the average speed of trains. After the successful implementation of this project, IR plans to implement it on other crucial high density routes as well.


At present, India is at a nascent state with regard to the adoption of advanced S&T systems used by developed railway systems globally. However, in the next two to three years, IR plans to take several initiatives to move towards modernised S&T infrastructure. Over the 2017-22 period, a total investment of Rs 152.3 billion has been envisaged for S&T systems, of which

Rs 101.4 billion (66.57 per cent) will be allocated under the RRSK and Rs 50.9 billion from the Depreciation Reserve Fund/Special Railway Safety Fund. IR is also planning to eliminate signalling failures by deploying remote monitoring of signalling systems using artificial intelligence to predict failures and deploy captive mobile train radio communication systems on all routes. The recent focus on this technology will offer greater opportunities to technology providers in the signalling domain.

Going forward, the S&T segment offers vast opportunities for Indian OEMs to collaborate with IR for developing and indigenising modern signalling equipment that have low failure rates, and that are more suited to India’s tropical climate.

Nikita Chhabra