Home >opinion >online-views >Indian Railways bets big on technology revamp

Mumbai: From bullet trains to bio-toilets and automatic doors to ultrasonic fixes, the first railway Budget presented by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on Tuesday had digital fingerprints all over it.

Railway minister Sadananda Gowda also spoke of GIS (geographic information system) mapping, digitization of railway land, wi-fi connectivity at select stations and in trains, logistics support for e-commerce companies and going paperless in five years.

The exercise began a day earlier on 7 July, when the Indian Railways debuted on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. While its Twitter account now has over 31,000 followers, the Facebook page has about 1,22,250 likes.

Gowda’s first budget set apart an initial 100 crore for a “Diamond Quadrilateral" network of high-speed trains, connecting the country’s major metros and growth centres. Routes identified for the project include Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Chandigarh, Delhi-Kanpur, Nagpur-Bilaspur, Mumbai-Goa and Mumbai-Ahmedabad.

The minister acknowledged that while bullet trains would require completely new infrastructure, higher speeds for existing trains can be achieved by upgrading the existing network. Gowda added that efforts would be made to increase the speed of trains to 160-200 kmph in select sectors.

Many countries have developed high-speed rail to connect major cities, including China, France, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, Turkey, South Korea and Spain. Japan pioneered high-speed rail systems in 1964. Its network of bullet trains called Shinkansen is operated by four Japan Railways Group companies. The trains run at a maximum of 320km per hour.

The idea is not new to India, though.

The previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government too had toyed with idea of high-speed rains. Its interim budget in February had referred to a joint feasibility study for a Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed corridor, co-financed by the Indian Railways and the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The study, which started in December 2013, is expected to be completed in 18 months. The interim budget had also mentioned low-cost options for raising speeds to 160-200 kmph on existing select routes like Delhi-Agra and Delhi-Chandigarh.

According to Gowda, the Indian Railways which holds vast land assets will also move towards digitising and GIS-mapping them for better management and usage. Technology for better safety too found mention. The railways will use a vehicle-borne ultrasonic flaw detection system to detect rail and weld fractures. An ultrasonic broken rail detection system will also be pilot-tested at two locations. Such technology is the need of the hour.

For instance, South Africa’s Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) uses an ultrasonic transducer technology developed by South Africa’s Armscor Institute for Maritime Technology and India’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. It is used on TFR’s coal line to Richards Bay and the Orex line (Saldanha-Sishen). The system uses sound waves to detect faults which can cause derailments. The transducer emits a pulse, which resonates and creates a vibration on the rail, a bit like taking a hammer and whacking the rail. The sound wave dissipates as the sound spreads to the right and left. The receivers, kept on either side of the transmitter, receive signals. Should a signal not arrive, receivers send an alert, which is an indication of a potential discontinuity in the rail. This is then physically inspected. Gowda further proposed to introduce technology for automatic closing of doors before trains start, both in main line trains and in suburban coaches. India already uses such technology in its metro trains.

The minister also promised next generation e-ticketing, where ticket booking is done through mobile phones and through post offices. He said the Indian Railways will improve the system capabilities in e-ticketing to support 7,200 tickets per minute as against 2,000 tickets per minute and allow 1,20,000 simultaneous users at any point in time. He added that efforts will also be made to provide facility of buying platform tickets and unreserved tickets over the Internet.

Moreover, online booking facility of railway retiring rooms will be extended to all stations during the course of the year, besides expanding the scope of online booking for people to book a train, coach, berth or seat in a chair car.

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