It’s high time the rail­ways put tech on the fast track

In the bud­get, there has been a sub­stan­tial in­crease in cap­i­tal in­vest­ment and the fo­cus must be to en­sure safety

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - COMMENT - Arunendra Ku­mar is for­mer chair­man, Rail­way Board The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

Piyush Goyal, the rail­ways min­is­ter, de­serves praise for al­lo­cat­ing over ₹1.48 lakh-crore for cap­i­tal in­vest­ment in the Union bud­get. This is a sub­stan­tial in­crease from last year’s al­lo­ca­tion. Track safety is of prime im­por­tance, and con­trol­ling track, rail and weld fail­ures pose a se­ri­ous chal­lenge. In the first nine months of the fis­cal year 2017, there were 3,006 fail­ures — an in­crease from 2,404 in same pe­riod last year. At close to 10 fail­ures per day, it’s an alarm­ing rate; be­cause each is a po­ten­tial ac­ci­dent. The bud­get makes ef­forts to ad­dress th­ese fail­ures by hik­ing the al­lo­ca­tion of track re­newals from ₹9,305 crore in Re­vised Es­ti­mates (RE) 2017 to ₹11,450 crore in Bud­get Es­ti­mates (BE) 2018.

It needs to be an­a­lysed why rails in In­dia crack so much in com­par­i­son to other coun­tries. First, the use of tech­nol­ogy for crack de­tec­tion with­out en­gag­ing track­men needs to be used much more. This is be­cause man­ual de­tec­tion is not en­tirely fool­proof, es­pe­cially at night. A re­cent pilot project in the North Cen­tral Rail­way is a wel­come move.

Sec­ond, it is all about im­prov­ing the rail­ways’ fi­nan­cials. The ca­pac­ity util­i­sa­tion in sec­tions that re­ally mat­ter is al­ready above 100%, lead­ing to de­lays in run­ning trains, de­nial of main­te­nance blocks and dif­fi­culty in in­tro­duc­ing new trains.

The rail­ways pro­poses to in­duct high-speed rolling stock, but this may not be a so­lu­tion. It would be like driv­ing a new BMW through the packed streets of Chandni Chowk in old Delhi. The an­swer lies in in­creas­ing the av­er­age speed of freight trains which is hov­er­ing around 23.1 km/hr.

The sim­plest way to make freight trains faster is by fo­cus­ing on the horse­power to trail­ing load ra­tio. Us­ing re­mote ra­dio con­trols for mul­ti­ple lo­co­mo­tives will also help. The time for a tech­nol­ogy push is over­due.

Third, fog-safe de­vices now be­ing used have their lim­i­ta­tions as they in­di­cate the sig­nal lo­ca­tion and not the sig­nal as­pect — yel­low, red or green. Loco pi­lots need to slow down for check­ing this. Cab sig­nalling can solve this prob­lem. This tech­nol­ogy can be adopted in at least one zone, the North Cen­tral Rail­way, where fog de­lays are ram­pant dur­ing win­ter.

Fourth, any­one who has trav­elled in a train abroad will lament the poor con­di­tion in In­dian trains. Ef­forts made so far by the rail­ways have got mired in spec­i­fi­ca­tions and ven­dor se­lec­tion, miss­ing the larger pic­ture. The eas­ier way is to have a gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment part­ner­ships. The fund­ing re­quire­ment is also not much and a small be­gin­ning can be made ini­tially. This strat­egy will de­liver coach in­te­ri­ors with in­ter­na­tional bench­mark­ing with a strong po­ten­tial for Make in In­dia even­tu­ally. The im­por­tance of good karma (ac­tions) is some­thing I learned from an or­di­nary peas­ant, who, by chance, had dropped by my of­fice one day look­ing for the of­fice of a courier com­pany that he had been search­ing for days. He had to col­lect a docket (from there) that his son had sent for him.

Since the courier com­pany doesn’t ex­tend its ser­vices to the vil­lage the peas­ant lives in, he had been asked to visit their of­fice if he wanted to col­lect his docket. Now, he had lit-


The use of tech­nol­ogy for crack de­tec­tion with­out en­gag­ing track­men needs to be used much more. Man­ual de­tec­tion is not en­tirely fool­proof, es­pe­cially at night

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