Can tech steer train safety into the future?

Kavach’s goal is to secure India’s over 68,000 km-long railway network.
Kavach’s goal is to secure India’s over 68,000 km-long railway network.

Summary

  • The Kavach system, launched in 2020, works on an elaborate communication protocol that combines radio and GPS signals between trains, tracks and sends alerts to prevent collisions.

As India pushes plans to modernize the railway infrastructure, increase capacity with new trains and tracks, with a faster roll out and constant upgrades of systems, Kavach can ensure safer train journeys. That’s because India is still beset with rail crashes, Mint explains:

What is the tech behind Kavach?

Most safety systems used globally rely on radars or RFID (radio frequency identification) tags. The Kavach system, launched in 2020, works on an elaborate communication protocol that combines radio and GPS signals between trains, tracks and sends alerts to prevent collisions. On rail lines fitted with Kavach, the system can automatically apply the brakes—even if the driver doesn’t—if it detects a threat to the safety of the train. These are 4G/5G compatible systems. In Europe anti-collision systems have been in use since the 1960s. In Japan trains are fitted with seismic sensors to stop them in an earthquake.

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What is the status of the Kavach system?

Automatic train protection system (ATP) Kavach was indigenously-developed by the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RSCO) and three Indian firms. Kavach’s goal is to secure India’s over 68,000 km-long railway network. However, only 1,500 km have been equipped with the Kavach system since it was first rolled out. Indian Railways plan to install Kavach over 6,000 km by 2025, covering key routes including Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah. Kavach deployment is expected to increase to 5,000 km per year in FY26, up from 1,500 km annually right now.

Are anti-collision systems 100% safe?

“There is the probability of a single error in 10,000 years," railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said at Kavach’s launch. Hurdles up to 10 km ahead can be detected by sensors on tracks. These send signals to trains to reduce speed, after which the train driver (or automatic systems) can bring the train to a halt. Like any other tech, it will need constant upgrades.

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Why is it taking so long to deploy Kavach?

So far, less than 5% of the railway network is covered with Kavach. The cost of installing trackside, including station equipment of Kavach, is approximately 50 lakh per km and the cost of installing Kavach on a train is 70 lakh each. The budget allocation for Kavach in FY24 was 710 crore and in the FY25 interim budget, it was 560 crore. Around 6,000 km has been tendered out and railways is likely to fast track tendering. Higher outlays for Kavach and involving more private players will help speed up the roll-out.

Future is faster; will it also be safer?

The National Rail Plan 2030 aims to identify new dedicated freight and high-speed rail corridors and increase the average speed of trains. Recent accidents, such as the 2023 Balasore crash that claimed over 300 lives and the 17 June accident in which 10 died have prompted the government to accelerate deployment of Kavach. In Europe, according to Eurostat, there were 1,615 railway accidents in 2022, killing around 800. In India covering the entire network and all trains with Kavach will ensure far fewer accidents.

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