Railways plans 1 tn signal system recast

The railway ministry is currently drawing up a list of vendors to supply the necessary equipment for the new system. (AP)
The railway ministry is currently drawing up a list of vendors to supply the necessary equipment for the new system. (AP)


Fully electronic system to slash maintenance, avert tampering

NEW DELHI : Signalling systems along India’s sprawling rail network will turn fully electronic over the next six years as part of a 1 trillion plan to avert the kind of errors that led to the Balasore rail tragedy in June, two people aware of the plans said.

The mission mode programme will replace the existing electro-mechanical system with solid-state electronic route relay devices and signals to reduce chances of human error and signalling failures, the people said on condition of anonymity. The decision was prompted by the railway safety commissioner’s report blaming such signalling errors for the three-train crash in Odisha’s Balasore on 2 June that killed 294 people.


The railway ministry is currently drawing up a list of vendors to supply the necessary equipment for the new system, which will reduce the need for frequent maintenance and prevent tampering. Japan’s signal system manufacturer Kyosan has already been approved as a vendor, and the first set of orders may go to this company; however, given the scale of work, more vendors are being identified. Tenders for the signalling overhaul would be floated after more vendors are approved, and the actual work may kick off over the next few months, the people said.

“We are working on completely changing our signalling system from the present electro-mechanical route relay system to a purely electronic system. We are going to replace this entire system on a mission mode over the next five to six years. This would involve changing the electro-mechanical route relay devices controlling signalling with solid state devices having computer chip-based controls where tampering with wires or other preparations involving human intervention would be eliminated," said a railway ministry official, one of the two people cited above.

India’s 70,000-kilometre rail network has close to 8,000 stations and 700,000-800,000 signalling points, and the actual work may take longer than the planned six years since Indian Railways is also expanding its network, and additional work may be required on new lines. The new system will also need multiple checks before introduction and the creation of fresh standard operating procedures (SoP) to maintain smooth and safe train movement.

“Though the system being used by Railways now is a fool-proof and fail-proof system that is being used by railway networks across the globe, the proposed changes would further eliminate the need for frequent wiring changes in the switches present on route relay panels that operate the electronic interlocking and track points forming part of the signalling network," the official added.

Questions sent to a railway ministry spokesperson remained unanswered till press time.

“Electronic solid state relay panels are being actively used by railway networks in Japan and a few other countries, and India would soon enter the league of select countries that have this system to operate railway signalling," the official added.

Railways, which received a record budgetary capital outlay of 2.40 trillion for FY24, expects more funds to carry out various safety and security measures, including modernization of the signalling system.

It has already initiated a comprehensive programme to ensure the safety of railway operations. In addition, advanced signalling systems involving panel interlocking, route relay interlocking, electronic interlocking, and multiple aspect colour light signals have been provided at 6,396 stations. Besides, block proving by axle counter (BPAC) to ensure the complete arrival of a train without manual intervention before granting line clear to the next train has also been provided. Also, the Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO), along with Indian original equipment manufacturers, has developed India’s own Automatic Train Protection (ATP) System named Kavach (Train Collision Avoidance System), which activates the train braking system automatically if the locomotive pilot fails to control the train as per the signal aspect and permanent speed restrictions. It also prevents collision between two locomotives equipped with a functional Kavach system.

Over the last nine years, investments in rail safety have touched 1.78 trillion—almost two-and-half times the investments that went into safety during the 10-year period between 2004 and 2014—bringing down the average number of rail accidents a year from 180 before 2014 to about 70 now.

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