Tag Archives: railway tracks

Bibek Debroy: Breaking down the silos in Railways

There will be a probe and eventually there will be some answers. At the moment, thanks to the double derailment between stations of Khirkiya and Harda, everyone knows about Machak river. But I wish reportage had been better. It’s a distance of only 32 km. Surely, we can make up our minds about the river’s name. Is it Machak or Kalimachak? These two rivers are different.

Harda district is part of the Narmada basin, so we are talking about the Narmada and its tributaries (Ajnal, Sukni, Midkul, Dedra, Syani, Machak and Kalimachak). As a river, Machak is larger than Kalimachak. Machak and Kalimachak are in the general area, but there was no derailment on a bridge over either of the rivers. Along that 32-km stretch, there is an embankment and a culvert below it. That’s where the double derailment took place. In railway jargon, tracks are called permanent ways. Though technology keeps changing, a track has rails, supported on sleepers, which have a foundation of ballast. And all of that is on top of earth. A railway track is hardly a flimsy tuft of cotton. Whether meteorological departments issue weather warnings or not is beside the point. If there is bad weather and if it rains, a railway track isn’t meant to be washed away.

Whether there is an influx of water from a dam and whether a river gets swollen is also beside the point, not unless a river in spate sweeps away a track completely. There can certainly be exceptional situations and there are also innovative experiments to handle these. I am not sure if you have heard of “raksha dhaga”. These are sensors used by Konkan Railway, connected to wires that trip when there is a landslide. When tripped, lights, hooters and other emergency signals come into play and warn approaching trains. However, those are extreme situations. Even otherwise, rails, sleepers, ballast and the base of earth can get disturbed, incrementally and gradually. Ballast gets crushed and dispersed because of vibration from trains. It needs to be re-levelled – this is known as tamping. If not done, rails can become uneven, eventually leading to derailments. (Even there, technology has led to evolution of self-stabilising tracks that prevent ballast from becoming de-compacted. These exist on Konkan.) Indian Railways (IR) has detailed manuals on what can broadly be called maintenance – permanent way (published in 1986), bridges (published in 1998) and works (published in 2000).

There are gang-men, patrolmen, patrol charts, divisional engineers, permanent way inspectors, with special monsoon patrolling thrown in. These should have detected deviations in rails, movement of ballast, problems with sleepers and dislodging in embankment. People who know about IR have said safety has suffered because of emphasis on new lines, gauge conversion, doubling and electrification. I understand the argument, but I don’t understand its relevance to these two derailments. For capital expenditure, a general argument about depreciation and the Safety Fund suffering because of these is fine. But in this case, no one has complained about the lack of tamping machines, ballast cleaning machines or human resources.

Ask yourself this. What happens to the Delhi metro tracks between 11.30 pm and 5.30 am? That’s the window used for inspection and maintenance. Along most routes, it is impossible to find a four-hour window when the block (section) is free of traffic. When there aren’t passenger trains, there are goods trains. Until longer-term capacity constraints are eased, if we don’t rationalise and reduce the number of trains, compromises on safety and such derailments are inevitable. Note that maintenance of track is increasingly becoming mechanised and capital-intensive. Compared to labour-intensive situations, this also means that the window required is longer.

While this is the bane of IR, it is an incomplete explanation for the Khirkiya-Harda stretch. That’s not a busy route. Only seven passenger trains pass through during the day and carving out a four-hour window is relatively easy. Let me therefore highlight something equally important, and this concerns the powers of divisional railway managers (DRM). Who does a divisional engineer (or an assistant divisional engineer below and senior divisional engineer above) report to? Through chief engineers and principal chief engineers in zones, it goes up to member (engineering) at the Railway Board-level. In multiple ways, compared to 20 years ago, the authority of DRMs has been diluted and the allegiance and accountability of divisional engineers is to the chief engineer and member (engineering) and to the Indian Railways Service of Engineers. Divisions are supposed to have vulnerable location mappings and disaster management strategies. If a divisional engineer doesn’t comply, there is precious little a DRM can do. DRMs have responsibilities and in several cases, have been penalised for accidents and disasters. But progressively, they have lost their rights, such as deciding where (within the division) an engineer will be posted. The Railway Board has often said it is in favour of decentralisation. That’s welcome, but decentralisation is interpreted as decentralisation down to the level of general managers in charge of zones, not further down. In addition, that silo system across different railway services must be broken down. You have seen storage silos rise vertically above the ground. Original silos were always pits, holes in the ground.
The writer is a member of the National Institution for Transforming India Aayog.

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Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Isro’s ‘Gagan’ to provide navigational support to railways

Isro has said it will provide navigational support to the country’s railways through ‘Gagan’ (GPS-aided geo-augmented navigation) system.

“Isro will provide satellite-generated information to the railways through space technology-based tools that will provide safety at unmanned level crossings,” Isro chairman A S Kiran Kumar told reporters here yesterday in reply to a question on how will Isro help the railways in using the navigational support system.

“There are host of requirements for using Gagan in railways. We are providing some solutions,” Kumar said.

Gagan is an indigenous navigational guide system developed by Isro on the lines of GPS system of the US.

Elaborating on it, Kumar said that at some places the railway tracks are under stress. If water accumulation happens, then based on digital elevation model data, other host of information which they generate, can be given.

“There is specific information provided for aligning the railway tracks, particularly in mountainous regions, and also identifying tracks which are most stable when you are going through tunnels. In all these things, space technology is useful,” he said.

“We are trying to provide space technology-based tools for enabling them to deal with unmanned level crossings,” he said.

Gagan was jointly developed by the Isro and Airports Authority of India (AAI) with a view to assist aircraft in accurate landing.

The Gagan signal is being broadcast through two Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites – GSAT8 and GSAT10.

With the use of Gagan software system, a train would know the location of any unmanned level crossing and soon a a warning signal can be given.

As soon as the warning signal will be given, the train’s hooter will automatically start when it comes near an unmanned crossing.


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Posted by on June 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Prabhu bringing Railways back on track quietly

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu is silently working to bring Indian Railways back on track, while giving special attention to improving passenger amenities, including the e-ticketing system, which now books 7,200 tickets per minute, against 2,000 in the old system. Two months into the new financial year, Prabhu is already implementing many proposals that he made in the Railway Budget in February.

To start with, Indian Railways is augmenting the capacity of all mail/express/Shatabdi and Rajdhani trains to 26 coaches. This will help reduce congestion in a big way and provide relief to the passengers as waiting lists for confirmed tickets will come down substantially.

“Initially, five trains have been identified to run with 26 coaches. But later on, other trains will also be covered,” said a Ministry of Railway officer. Two general bogies are being added to mail/express/Duronto trains.

The officer said that the passenger helpline 138 has become functional. “It is working as an interface for queries/complaints related to medical emergency, cleanliness, food and catering, coach maintenance, linen, etc. A security helpline 182 is also working and can be used to report emergencies such as crime against women, onboard unlawful activities, train accidents, fire or medical attention required,” he said.

Prabhu was picked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to run the ministry in November last year. He presented his maiden budget in February in which he did not announce any new trains, as was the practice of his predecessors. According to Ministry sources, Prabhu is sincere about overhauling Indian Railways by making qualitative changes, as he does not believe in populism.

In order to improve the ticketing system, a next generation e-ticketing system has been introduced, which has increased the booking speed of tickets by four times. The IRCTC now books 7,200 tickets per minute, against 2,000 tickets in the earlier system. Developed by the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), with an estimated cost of Rs 180 crore, the new system enables 1.20 lakh users to book e-tickets simultaneously.

In order to reduce transaction time, at the booking counters, a “Go-India” smart card scheme has been launched on a pilot basis on two sectors — New Delhi-Mumbai and New Delhi-Howrah. The smart card can be used at dedicated counters for issuing tickets. Efforts are being made to provide Wi-Fi connectivity in major trains. As a pilot project, Wi-Fi is being provided in the Howrah Rajdhani Express, while work is in progress to start it in the Ahmedabad Rajdhani, and the Kalka/Chandigarh Shatabdi.

As promised in the Rail Budget, the ministry has engaged the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) for designing the bedrolls and also the National Institute of Design (NID) for improving the interior designs of the coaches.

In order to improve finances, Indian Railways recently signed an MoU with state run Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) to raise Rs 1.5 lakh crore over the next five years. The investment by LIC, to be made through Rs 30,000 crore of bonds issued annually by rail entities, would be channelised by Railways for capacity augmentation projects. Besides, Railways is also exploring funding from multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The funds will be used for doubling/tripling of railway tracks.

As a long-term measure, a Kayakalp Council has been formed, which is headed by industrialist Ratan Tata. The Council is expected to recommend innovative methods and processes for improvement, betterment and transformation of Indian Railways. Prabhu has also constituted an advisory council headed by former NASSCOM president Som Mittal to draft an Information Technology (IT) Vision for Railways.

The ministry has also decided to set up a “Technology Mission for Indian Railways” as a consortium of Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Human resources Development, Ministry of Science & Technology and Ministry of Industries, on an investment sharing model for taking up identified railway projects for applied research and use on the Indian Railways. Prof N.S. Vyas, former head of department of Mechanical Engineering at IIT-Kanpur has been made the “mission chairman”.

Sunday Guardian

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Posted by on June 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


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VNIT students find way to detect rail fractures in real time

Electrical engineering students of Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT) have developed a ‘fault detection system for railway tracks using optical fibre technology’. In case terrorists blast away railway tracks, or the tracks split due to any other cause, this system can detect the fault in real time and send suitable alerts to train drivers using GSM control system at each station. The researchers are further working on an intelligent software for re-routing trains without causing much chaos and delays after detecting a fault.

The students have made a prototype of the monitoring system, which detects any damage caused to the railway tracks and warns the train driver immediately, preventing any mishap between two stations. They plan to extend it to a bigger system, which would have monitoring systems at all stations and a central control station.

Prof B S Umre, the students’ guide, told TOI that the students presented their technology at the Texas Instrument’s Innovation Challenge held at Mumbai and won the semifinalists award with a cash prize of $200 (about Rs 12,500). Umre said that though there is an advanced anti-collision device (ACD) network in place with the Indian Railways, it still depends on the pilot van, which is a slow and risky process as the protection comes at the cost of the persons manning the van.

Team leader Rahul Chaudhary explained that the existing technology used by railways relies on electrical conductivity and ultrasonic imaging techniques to detect rail breaks. But these techniques also have their limitations. The imaging technique can give a false alarm as the system is not very accurate. Also, it may sometimes fail to detect the fault.

“Hence, the innovation by us holds more promise. The only hitch in our technology is the huge cost associated with optic fibre, which will run along the entire track. But considering the life of over 50 years of the cable, the cost works out to be very less. Additionally, the cost of the cable is very meagre compared to the compensation paid by the railways for deaths in each accident. The technology definitely deserves a try, at least in sensitive areas, as it will save thousands of lives every year and the loss of train bogies,” said Chaudhary.

The team which worked on the project includes Ashish Ghatge, Rohit Salem, Shubham Wagh and Aditya Vidolkar.

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Posted by on May 9, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Public representatives should travel by train for real Rail reform

The Railway budget will put speed, scale, service and safety on track to fetch additional revenue of Rs 4000 crore in the next fiscal. Railway Minister, Mr Prabhu has projected a freight revenue growth of 13.55 percent and fare growth of 16.7 percent in 2016-17. The Railways Annual Plan needs a total budget of Rs 40000 crore. And it is estimated that the Railways will need an investment of Rs 8.5 lakh crore in the next five years. The massive fund will be arranged through public private partnership, from state governments, from NBFC and from Infrastructure fund. Mr Prabhu has not increased the fare and banks upon freight and fare growth to sustain his Railway reform exercise. The point is how Prabhu will meet the investment need without increasing the fare.

Nearly 13 million Indians travel by trains daily and the Railways carries 1.3 million tons of freight every day. The rail tracks have already reached optimum capacity and a fare growth of 16.7% would be a difficult target. If the massive investment does not generate income it may put stress on economy. Railway incurs heavy loss due to excess per kilometer running cost, frequent accidents, massive theft, mismanagement, poor governance, corruption and investment in needless infrastructure etc are the main reasons for Indian Railway incurring Rs 24600 crore loss in this fiscal.

Investing in rail reform without reforming the human resources will be like putting the cart before the horses. Railways has 1.3 billion employees. Offering one time VRS schemes to ageing non computer savvy staff could halve administrative cost in the long run. In the past many accidents occurred due to human errors. Before remodeling stations it should be examined whether it is actually required. More than a dazzling modern station people won’t mind to have an old but clean platform with clean water and hygienic food. Instead of replacing items many things can be repaired and the quality of maintenance should improve. Use of solar energy, GPS aided geo-augmented navigation (GAGAN), raising passengers’ capacity from 21 million to 30 million per day, increasing track length by 20% and freight capacity by 50% are welcome steps. But taking railway to north east, Jammu Kashmir and Naxalite areas is not free from financial risk if we take in to account the number of sabotage in the last five years.

The turnaround of the Indian railways depends on the performance of economic sectors. People need employment and surplus income to spend on rail travel. In the last ten years job growth is only 1.2 %. So making Railways a business proposition depends on inclusive employment opportunities in both rural and urban centers. There are 47.6 lakh artisans living all over India. They can go to any corner of India to market their products. Indian Railways can serve the purpose of linking agriculture products market the way it links the banana production in Bhusawal of Maharashtra. There are hundreds of farm products which donot reach the domestic market. Meghalaya is known for its horticulture potential as it grows high quality pineapple, orange, Litchi, jack fruit, pear, peach, lemon, arecanut, black paper and rapeseed etc in huge quantity. Orissa also produces good quality coconut, cashewnut, arecanut and basubati rice etc. Orissa in spite of having agriculture potential continues to depend on food supply from neighboring states. A quick rail link from farm to market could increase farmers’ interest. For better railway governance the elected representatives should commute in trains for minimum five times in a year and cover minimum 3000 kilometer distance. This will link them with the ground reality. Grass root level information always scores over econometrics. There is need for a dedicated monitoring mechanism which can directly report to Prime Minister’s office about the quality of rail services, infrastructure and safety. Media has a big role to play. Indian

Railway has reached a sorry stage because media has ignored the Rail Sector for decades. Top media personnel must travel in Railways at least thrive in a year to know what the millions of commuters experience every day.

By Sudhansu R Das

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Posted by on March 31, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Railways aims to eliminate direct discharge toilets by 2020-21

Aiming to eliminate direct discharge toilets from its entire fleet of passenger coaches by 2020-21, Railways has drawn up an action plan to replace them with environment-friendly bio-toilets.

“While 17,338 existing toilets in trains have been replaced with bio-toilets till date, our aim is to equip the entire coaching fleet with bio-toilets,” said a senior Railway Ministry official involved with the project.

According to the action plan, all new coaches would be fitted with bio-toilets by 2016-17, while the retrofitting of existing coaches with bio-toilets will continue. For the 2015-16 fiscal, Railways has set the target to fit 17,000 bio-toilets in long-distance trains as part of its ‘Swachh Rail – Swachh Bharat’ programme.

Direct discharge of human waste from the existing toilet system in trains causes corrosion of the tracks, costing the public transporter in crores to replace the rail tracks.

The new-age green toilets have been designed by Railways along with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) keeping in mind the requirements of Indian trains.

The bio-toilets are fitted underneath the lavatories and the human waste discharged into them is acted upon by a particular kind of bacteria that converts it into non-corrosive neutral water. While the process of fitting 10,500 bio-toilets in new coaches is in progress, the target for the 2015-16 fiscal is17,000 bio-toilets. The Railways is also working towards improving the condition of toilet facilities at stations and in trains as it has been receiving several complaints from passengers regarding lack of cleanliness at these  facilities.

The official said the aim is to make Swachh Rail the driving force behind the governments flagship programme -Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.Railways, which have launched a cleanliness drive across the country, has collected a fine of Rs 4 crore in the last six months against spoiling and littering railways stations across the country.

– See more at:

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Posted by on March 29, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Indian Railways and Punjab govt eye JV to fast track rail infra projects

In a first of its kind project, the and the Punjab government have decided to form a joint venture company to fasttrack planned rail projects in the state as well as take up new projects, including creation of ultra modern railway stations and laying new railway tracks.

Announcing a first of its own kind joint development venture for the railways here along with Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal after attending a public rally Union Railways Minister said the new venture would transform the Indian Railways and make it a truly modern entity.

Addressing the media after paying homage to the great martyrs Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev at the ancestral village of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, the Railways minister said the initiative would result in connecting missing rail links in the state besides modernising important stations with modernising of the Amritsar station being the first initiative under this partnership.

Sukhbir Badal disclosed that the new Amritsar railway station would have a shopping mall besides modern office spaces. He said with a decision on this already being taken in principle Punjab would be the first station to be taken up for modernisation under this scheme in the country.

Meanwhile speaking at the public rally, Prabhu announced that the railway station here would be upgraded and the train service would be started between Jaijon Doaba and Amritsar via Nawan Shahr and Khatkar Kalan.

On the demand put forth by local MP, Prem Singh Chandumajra, Prabhu assured survey of new railway track between Rahon and Samrala to connect Khatkar Kalan with rest of country. He said Union Government has also decided to connect all commercial towns near to the borders with railway tracks. He said necessary discussions in this regard have been held between Railway and Defence Ministries.

While thanking the Railways Minister for introducing unique center-states joint company, Badal demanded that to link Malwa with state capital, a missing rail link between Rajpura and Mohali, should be undertaken on priority basis besides linking Punjab and Himachal Pradesh by laying track between Anandpur Sahib and Garhshankar.

Business standard

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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


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