Wheels of Change: IR deploys new technologies, equipment and materials

IR deploys new technologies, equipment and materials

Over the past few years, Indian Railways (IR) has witnessed a massive increase in the traffic handled. However, there has not been a commensurate increase in system capacity. As a result, it is struggling with ov­er­stretched infrastructure, insufficient capa­city, diminishing freight market share and massive unmet passenger demand. In order to add­ress these issues, IR has decided to leverage new technology to help improve system efficiency and run more trains.

Indian Infrastructure takes a look at the te­chnological initiatives taken by IR, and the eq­uipment and material being used in the sector…

Technology impetus

IR has been continually making innovations in technology, service, operations and the overall railway system. Technological advancements are being made in signalling and telecommunication systems. Some of IR’s innovative im­pro­vements include state-of-the-art smart coaches with special diagnostic systems, sensors connected to integrated computer systems for increased passenger comfort, and smart locomotives with features such as asset performance monitors and rail integrity monitors. Fur­ther, IR is working to equip all locomotives with real time train information system (RTIS) devices and use artificial intelligence (AI)-powered real-time data to improve train operations, enhance accuracy in estimating train timings, monitor the entry/exit of locomotives in depots as well as placement/removal of goods trains in goods sidings and facilitate the rescheduling of trains. With these possible use cases, RTIS has the potential to become the internet of trains.

Further, North East Frontier Railway has announced the introduction of train safety technology and installed block-providing axle counters in 260 block sections out of the 368 in its jurisdiction. With the introduction of head on generation (HOG) technology, IR will be able to save on the consumption of diesel, which is used to power the generators. HOG technology is used to draw power directly from the electric traction to meet the requirements of devices running on electricity such as air conditioners, electric bulbs and fans. It does not require any diesel oil and will also help in reducing air and noise pollution. In addition, it pro­vides uninterrupted illumination in the coaches. The six trains that will be run on HOG technology from South Eastern Railway (SER) are the Durg-Nizamuddin-Durg express special, the Durg-Nau­tanwa-Durg express special, and the Durg-Kanpur-Durg express special. Going forward, SER plans to operate more trains with HOG technology.

IR also plans to deploy a driver vigilance control device, use remote monitoring and data recording analysis for maintenance or replacement decisions, and deploy anti-collision de­vices in upcoming rail models.  The system for in­spection and assessment will also be modernised. To absorb greater shocks, all new coa­ches are being built with 10 kilojoule (kj) capa­city buffer packs instead of the previous de­sign’s 5 kj capacity. The improved design is being used to acquire all new buffers.

IR has completed the electrification of more than 40,000 rkm (63 per cent of broad-gauge routes), of which 18,605 km of electrification work has been done during the period 2014-20. The national transporter is also focusing on the electrification of last-mile connectivity and missing links. With this in mind, 365 km of major connectivity works were commissioned during the Covid-19 period.

A number of initiatives have also been taken to promote solar energy. IR is working to harness its potential of 500 MW of energy by deploying rooftop solar panels (developer model). Till date, 100 MW of solar plants have been commissioned on the rooftops of various buildings, including 900 stations. Solar plants with a combined capacity of 400 MW are at different stages of execution. Meanwhile, contracts for 245 MW of solar plants have been awarded and the target for the completion of these plants is December 2022. Besides this, IR is trying to produce power from land-based solar installations for running trains. It has 51,000 hectares of land potential for installing 20 GW of land-based solar plants.

IR came up with a number of ideas to keep its wheels running and its manpower and customers protected from Covid-19. The use of drones for monitoring projects is one such initiative. Furthermore, Covid care coa­ches were created to facilitate quarantining of Covid-positive patients, and digital initiatives were introduced in the passenger segment, such as mobile ticketing, QR codes on tickets for contactless ticketing and rail travel, the Chalak Dal mobile app for contactless crew and sign-on/sign-off and online rechar­ges of suburban cards. The Kolkata Metro facilitated payments through the use of a robust digital IT system, which, in turn, resulted in mi­nimal staff presence.

Equipment and material market

IR has successfully launched the indigenously designed and manufactured “full span launching equipment-straddle carrier and girder transporter” to expedite the construction of via­duct superstructures for the Mumbai-Ah­medabad high speed rail project (MAHSR). The full span launching methodology is employed world over because it is faster than the segment-by-segment launching method, which is commonly used to build viaducts for metro systems. With this, India has joined a small group of countries that have been creating and manufacturing such equipment, including Italy, Norway, Korea and China. A total of 20 launching equipment will be required for the construction of 325 km of viaduct superstructures between Vapi and Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

The MAHSR corridors will boost the overall economy of the area by deploying thousands of trucks, dumpers, excavators, batching plants, tunnelling equipment, etc. It is estimated that 7.5 million tonnes (mt) of cement, 2.1 mt of steel and 70,000 tonnes of structural steel will be used in the construction process. Improved materials for electrical fittings and fixtures such as miniature circuit breakers, light fittings, terminal boards and connectors are progressively being used in the railways.

The dedicated freight corridors (DFCs) are using new track construction (NTC) machines for laying the entire length of track across both the eastern and western DFCs for the first time in India. Currently, there are seven NTC machi­nes being deployed along the DFC alignment, with four in the eastern DFC and three in the western DFC. In the eastern DFC, four NTC ma­chines are deployed in the Allahabad-New Bhaupur, Allahabad-Pandit Deen Dayal Upad­hyaya Junction, Bhaupur-Bhadan and Khurja-Dadri sections, while in the western DFC, three NTC machines are deployed in the Palanpur-Makarpura, Gothangam-Baroda and Anchali-Sachin sections. Also, IR is planning to invest in adopting European train control systems, which will help in the development of infrastr­uc­tural facilities.

Due focus is also being given to the adoption of green building strategies. The Habibganj railway station has been designed and constructed using strategies such as maximising natural light, improving ventilation, utilising recyclable material, recycling water, harnessing solar power and adopting rainwater harvesting to create an environment-friendly structure. A sustainable building design with a climate-sensitive strategy has been utilised to ensure minimal environmental impacts. Compared to traditional structures, sustainable building design enables the most efficient use of energy, water and natural resources, as well as reduced waste creation.

For rail berths, polyurethane foam and rexine cloth are used. In particular, rexine is used for railway seat covers, which is made from single or multiple polyvinyl film layers with a choice of backing cloth. Besides, steel and aluminium are the dominant materials used in the construction of train bodies, including the train sideboards, roof, floor panels and cant rails, which connect the floor of the train to the sidewall.

In sum

IR has been leveraging technology to reduce the reliance on human interface and ensure efficient allocation of resources to improve safety. With a new approach, enabling policies and system enablement, IR is emerging as an innovator in rail technology creation and dissemination.

The long-term success of the railways will be determined by its choice of technology. Overcoming opposition to change, implementing the most appropriate technological so­lu­­tions and increasing stakeholder involvement are critical to meeting IR’s goals. Its vision is to be a global leader in this space by becoming a creator and innovator of technologies and systems. With network expansion and decongestion plans on the anvil, there will be significant business opportunities for private contractors, consultants, equipment and technology suppliers, material suppliers and other ancillary market segments.