In a bid to make rail travel safer, the railway ministry earlier this month introduced an indigenously developed train collision avoidance system called Kavach, which automatically brings a train to a halt when it detects an obstacle on the track.
Indian Railways plans to install Kavach across 2,000 rail route networks in 2022-23 and over 4,000-5,000 rail route networks every subsequent year. At the moment Kavach has been deployed on over 1,098 route km and 65 trains running under the South Central Railway after successful trial runs.
What is Kavach?
The railways has been developing its own automatic protection system since 2012, under the name Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), which got rechristened Kavach or “armour”.
Kavach was developed by the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) under Indian Railways (IR) in collaboration with Medha Servo Drives Pvt Ltd, HBL Power Systems Ltd and Kernex Microsystems.
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Since 2016 the railways has been carrying out field tests for Kavach on passenger trains.
As part of the new system, railway tracks, signalling systems on railway tracks and the engines of trains are installed with radio frequency devices that continuously send signals back and forth on a real-time basis to indicate that the track on which the train is operating has no obstacles.
The devices also continuously relay the signals ahead to the locomotive, making it useful for loco pilots in low visibility, especially during dense fog.
At the moment Kavach uses ultra-high frequency radio waves but Indian Railways is working to make it compatible with 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology and develop the product for global markets.
How is the new system different from the older system used by IR?
Indian Railways has since 2002 been using an anti-collision device (ACD) developed by Konkan Railways, which was dubbed ‘Raksha Kavach’.
The ACD system was invented by the former head of Konkan Railways Rajaram Bojji.
While the older system is still in use in most trains operated by Indian Railways at the moment, the new system will be introduced across all trains in the next five years.
The new Kavach system covers everything from railway stations, signalling systems and even types of trains, while the older ACD or the auxiliary warning system only works on individual trains and locomotives, senior officials from the RDSO said.
The new system is also a lot more accurate in sending signals to trains and is faster as it works on a real-time basis while implementing safety measures as well, officials added.
"The indigenously-developed anti-collision technology is SIL4 (Safety Integrity Level 4)-certified which means there is the probability of a single error in 10,000 years," railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had said at the launch of the Kavach.
But how does the new automatic train control work?
As part of the system, obstacles that are up to 10 km ahead will be detected by devices installed on railway tracks.
These devices then send signals to the device installed in trains to reduce speed to up to 30 km/hr, after which the driver of the train can bring the train to a halt.
Railway tracks will also be fitted with pressure sensors that can detect weights of above 500 kg and send signals to a train’s engine to automatically apply brakes.
Trains will also start reducing speed on their own when the digital system notices any manual error.
The signals sent between the devices on a train track and train work on unique radio frequencies and are transmitted directly between the two devices rather than through a central server.
How much will deploying Kavach across Indian Railways cost?
In the first phase Indian Railways will install the new anti-collision system across 2000 rail route networks in 2022-23.
It will later be implemented on 3,000 km of the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah corridors where the tracks and systems are being upgraded to host a top speed of 160 kmph.
Indian Railways plans to subsequently come out with tenders to deploy Kavach across the entire 68,446 km it operates.
The cost of Project Kavach is around Rs 30-50 lakh per kilometre and private player will be given a timeframe of two-three years to implement the system across different pockets that will be tendered out.Indian Railways expect to completely shift to the new anti-collision system across all train tracks in India by 2028.