Improving Safety and Efficiency: IR investing in modernising its signalling and telecommunications systems

IR investing in modernising its signalling and telecommunications systems

Over the past few years, Indian Railways (IR) has leveraged new technology to help improve systems efficiency. An allocation of Rs 25 billion has been made for various railway signalling and telecommunications (S&T) works under Union Budget 2022-23. Acc­or­ding to reports, the sector is planning an in­vest­ment of Rs 569.55 billion over the next five years for modernising S&T systems with the aim of augmenting the safety and capacity of the national transporter. The modernisation will be in the areas of long term evolution (LTE), optical fibre system, train collision avoidance system (TCAS), automatic block signalling, electronic in­ter­locking and centralised traffic control.

As of October 31, 2021, electronic inter­lo­ck­ing signalling systems were installed at 6,242 stations and block proving axle counters were commissioned in 5,867 block sections. Further, automatic block signalling has been deployed on 3,505 km of the railway network. In addition, a total of 649 intermediate block signals were commissioned as of October 31, 2021.

Integrated cable route plan

Various types of cables are being laid underground along railway tracks to support signal and telecom equipment at stations, automatic sections and other railway installations. The integrated cable route plan combi­n­es cab­les of various installations passing un­derground through a geographical area, sh­own in different colours and marked throu­gh­out, following railway track kilometrage. The plan is accessible by anyone be­fore excavation is started near railway tracks. On April 5, 2022, Central Rail­way inaugurated the integrated cable route plan at the Chhat­rapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus. It is being deve­loped in-house by the S&T departme­nt of Cen­tral Railway. This will eliminate ch­an­ces of cable damage due to excavation, thus minimising train detentions and revenue loss, and en­hancing line capacity and train movement. It is also a positive step to­war­ds better signalling, co­m­munications and safe running of trains.

Electronic interlocking signalling system

RailTel is set to implement electronic interlocking signalling projects worth Rs 2.24 billion in the Northern Railway zone, by replacing existing age-old mechanical signalling systems. The project will cover 26 stations – three in Delhi division, nine in Ambala division and 14 in Firozpur division.

The work has already been commissioned at six stations – three stations of Delhi division (Pehowa Road, Kaithal and Kalayat) and three stations of Ambala division (Bulluana, Malout and Pakki) – and is at an advanced stage of co­mpletion at the remaining six stations of the Ambala division. Implementation of the first-stage has also commenced in 14 stations of Firozpur division with the initiation of planning, design and procurement processes for the equipment.

The electronic interlocking signalling system will enable all operations by the station master for the movement of trains such as signal clearance and setting routes to be done with the click of a mouse on a computer, and provide live views of the trains running in the station yard. In addition, it enables automatic verification of last vehicle clearance and facilitates monitoring and fault diagnostics on a computer. This system will enhance safety and operational efficiency. In addition, the new system will also enable trains to run at a higher speed of 110 kmph from the current lower speed of 50 kmph.

Automatic train protection systems – Kavach and TCAS

IR has developed its own automatic train protection (ATP) system, known as Kavach, for enhancing the safety and efficiency of train operations. The system will not only aid loco pilots in avoiding signal passing at danger and overspeeding but also help in train running during inclement weather such as dense fog. As a part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme, 2,000 km of network will be brought under Kavach, the indigenous world-class technology for safety and capacity augmentation, in 2022-23.

IR has conducted trials of Kavach on the absolute block section of the Lingampalli­-Vika­ra­bad-Wadi, the Vikarabad-Bidar (250 km) sections of the South Central Railway. Af­ter successful completion of trials, three vendors were approved for developmental orders by IR. On successful trial, work on implementing Ka­va­ch is in progress across 1,199 route km, covering the Manmad-Mudkhed Dhone­-Gunta­kal and Bidar-Parbhani sections of South Central Railway.

As of March 23, 2022, 1,098 route km of network in South Central Railway has been bro­ught under Kavach. So far, the total expenditure incurred on the development work of Kava­ch is Rs 168.8 million. Currently, Kava­ch roll-out is pla­n­ned for the New Delhi-Howrah and New Delhi-Mumbai sections, targeted for completion by March 2024. Further roll-out will be planned ba­sed on the experience gained.

While indigenously designed ATP and TCAS perform similarly, the Indian design is less ex­pen­sive for IR. This will help in avoiding train co­lli­sions, thereby reducing accidents and ensuring passenger safety. Vande Bharat Ex­press, India’s first semi-high speed train is eq­uipped with locally designed, digital ATP and TCAS. A TCAS system has been installed on the Lingampalli-Vikarabad-Wadi and Vikarabad- Bidar (250 km) sections of the South-Central Rail­way. By 2025, 50 per cent of Indian rail tracks will be equipped with an LTE-based high speed communications network capable of providing TCAS, ATP, voice and internet of things-based telemetry services. This will en­able Indian trains to reach speeds of up to 200 km per hour, with the addition of appropriate high speed rail alignments.

Allotment of 5 MHz spectrum in the 700 MHz band to IR

In June 2021, the Union Cabinet approved allocation of 5 MHz spectrum in the 700 MHz band to IR. The move has been undertaken to improve public safety and security services at stations and in trains. With this spectrum, IR envisages providing LTE-based mobile train radio communication on its routes. The estimated in­vestment in the project is over Rs 250 billion and it will be completed in the next five years.

Further, LTE will provide secure and reliable voice, video and data communication for safety and security services. In addition, it will be leveraged for modern signalling and train protection systems and to ensure seamless communication between loco pilots and guards. Spectrum charges may be levied based on a formula as prescribed by the Department of Tele­commu­nications for royalty charges and licence fees for captive use, as recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Autho­rity of India.

Internet facility and surveillance system

IR has decided to install CCTV cameras for locomotives and suburban trains in Mumbai. A centralised control room will monitor the activities of the motorman captured on the CCTV cameras, which will help determine the cause in case of an accident during the course of the journey. Taking after the black box concept in the aviation industry, IR has also decided to install an audio-visual recording system for su­burban trains, which will help to assess crew performance.

Free high speed Wi-Fi internet is now available at 6,100 railway stations across the country. Of these, more than 5,000 stations are in rural areas, making Wi-Fi facilities available at many far-flung stations across the country such as several stations in the north-eastern region and all 15 stations in the Kashmir Valley.

To improve the safety and security of passengers, especially women and children, IR and RailTel have already installed IP-based video surveillance systems at 813 major railway stations across the country. These CCTVs are being networked on optical fibre cable and the video feed of the cameras is being dis­pla­y­ed at not only local Railway Protection Force posts but also at centralised CCTV control rooms at the divisional and zonal levels. The CCTV cameras at stations and the video feeds are being monitored at three levels to ensure enhanced safety and security in railway premises. A Network Management System has also been provided for monitoring of cameras, server, UPS and switches, which can be viewed from any web browser by authorised personnel.

In sum

Signalling systems are critical for safe and speedy movement of trains and telecommunication systems are essential for effective utilisation of the large railway fleet and administration of the vast railway network. Going forward, the increasing focus on safety will open up opportunities in the S&T segment.