Indian Railways (IR) operates on a massive scale and is among the world’s largest rail networks. It is spread over more than 68,000 route km. In the past few years, IR has increased its focus on the digitalisation of operations to improve efficiency and enhance passenger convenience. It has adopted digital solutions in all spheres of its operations, be it passenger information systems, coach factory automation, land management system, procurement or unreserved ticketing.
Indian Infrastructure takes a look at some of the recent digitalisation initiatives undertaken by IR…
IR is committed to providing safe, accident-free and high speed train journeys across the country. Thus, a state-of-the-art electronic system called Kavach has been designed to help the IR network achieve zero accidents. Kavach is an indigenous anti-collision device network. It has been developed by the Research Design and Standards Organisation in collaboration with Indian industry. Trials are facilitated by the South Central Railway zone. With the implementation of Kavach, a train will automatically cease movement when it notices another train on the same line within a prescribed distance. Trains will also stop on their own when the digital system notices any manual error. Kavach is a Safety Integrity Level 4-certified technology with an error probability of one in 10,000 years. The Kavach system’s features include signal passing at danger, automatic braking for prevention of overspeeding, auto whistling while approaching level crossing gates, prevention of collision between two locomotives equipped with functional Kavach systems, SOS messaging during emergencies and centralised live monitoring of the movement of trains through a network monitoring system. According to IR, 96 per cent of rail traffic is carried on high-density networks and heavily used network routes. As part of safety and capacity augmentation of the railways under the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, Kavach is planned to be implemented for around 2,000 km of the rail network in financial year 2022-23.
Further, aiming to enhance safety and efficiency in train operations, RailTel, the telecom and signalling arm of IR, is implementing modern signalling projects worth Rs 2.24 billion in the northern zone. The project aims to replace the obsolete mechanical signalling system with a state-of-the-art electronic interlocking system (EIS). The EIS will enable trains to run at a higher speed of 110 kmph as against the present speed of 50 kmph. The system will facilitate all stationmaster operations for the movement of trains, such as signal clearance and digital setting of routes, and provide a live view of trains running in the station yard. It will enable automatic verification of last vehicle clearance, and facilitate monitoring and fault diagnostics on a computer. The system covers a total of 26 stations. These include three stations in the Delhi division, nine in the Ambala division and 14 in the Firozpur division. The EIS will help make train operations easier, faster and safer through automation.
In its forward journey of modernisation and digitisation, IR has awarded a crucial contract to a leading rail technology company to identify and solve defects in coaches, wagons and locomotives in a faster and more effective way. Wabtec Corporation has secured the predictive maintenance contract from the Central Organisation for Modernisation of Workshops for the Online Monitoring of Rolling Stock (OMRS) project. It is a new automated system under IR’s Smart Yard initiative. The predictive maintenance contract has been awarded to increase the availability of the railway’s fleet of rolling stock seamlessly, as well as prevent in-service failures. The OMRS system is a high-tech solution that enables operators to optimally plan an inspection. It also helps in the removal of defective bearings and wheels based on the condition of the bearings, instead of a fixed time-based inspection schedule. This results in a healthier and more reliable fleet. The OMRS system will streamline IR’s operations by automating inspection of bearings and wheels and pinpointing customised maintenance to maximise the utilisation of rolling stock.
In another Digital India initiative by IR, the Western Railway zone has commissioned an artificial intelligence-based locomotive inspection system at Trip Shed, Bandra Terminus, which falls under the Mumbai division. The system will help increase efficiency as well as enhance repairs and maintenance works, thereby improving locomotive outages. It is capable of carrying out inspection of the sides, underframe and roof of carriages. It will be able to measure axle box temperatures; detect loose parts, hanging parts, foreign particles, wheel profile, carbon strip defects, brake block thickness, broken roof insulators, cattle guard defects, primary spring cracks, etc; and raise alarms for proper intervention. The technology utilises hardware such as 2D camera, 3D camera, thermal camera, edge processors, sliding arms and access points. The speed of this system is 1 m per minute, and the time taken to inspect one locomotive based on these parameters is around 20 minutes, as against three hours in manual mode. These features will result in increased manpower savings.
Another initiative undertaken for passengers’ convenience is digital ticketing services through automatic ticket vending machines (ATVMs) installed at all railway stations. Paytm has expanded a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation to provide digital ticketing services via UPI to passengers through ATVMs, to promote cashless commuting among railway passengers. This service has been started across all ATVMs at railway stations in India. The ATVMs are touch-screen-based ticketing kiosks that allow passengers to pay digitally, without smart cards. Passengers are able to purchase unreserved train tickets and platform tickets, renew their seasonal tickets, and recharge smart cards by scanning the QR codes generated on the screens. Apart from UPI, Paytm offers passengers the flexibility of paying through a variety of other payment options such as Paytm Wallet, Paytm Postpaid, net banking, credit card and debit card.
IR is also developing a land management module under the track management system (TMS) portal. The digitisation of land records in the land management module is a continuous process, as IR continues to acquire land for its various projects. The TMS portal has a centralised database for the land records of IR. It includes area details, usage details and authenticated land plans. About 95 per cent of total land plans have been uploaded to the portal. IR is also planning to make the details of its entire asset base, including land and buildings, along with encroachment details available on the IR-Geo portal.
The Indian rail network is continuously enhancing passenger experience through digital technologies. Modern features such as facial recognition, emergency talk-back systems, Wi-Fi infotainment systems, automatic plug doors and step control have completely changed the passenger travel experience. As of March 2022, high speed free Wi-Fi has been made available at 6,100 railway stations across the country, of which over 5,000 are in rural areas. IR is planning to expand Wi-Fi coverage to all stations across India except halt stations.
Technology and innovation have been changing the face of IR, as it has embraced digitalisation in its operations. With the digital
transformation, the industry will accelerate the gathering of new railway intelligence, thus enhancing industry-wide knowledge and enabling business model innovation.