Railways get long-delayed fog shields, but partially

By Mahendra Ved, IANS
Sunday, January 16, 2011

NEW DELHI - Five years after the plan was first mooted, Indian Railways is finally set to instal fog shields on some lines in north India, but only at the end of January.

The move follows Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee’s directive late last year. Though fog continues to disrupt train movement across northern and eastern India, only about a thousand of the fog shields will be in place this year, according to Pawandeep Singh Bahl, director, A. Paul Instruments, inventor of the system.

The instrument is a GPS-based device that lets the train driver know about his exact location.

The new equipments are expected to be in place before the end of January in Ambala, Moradabad, Bikaner and the Jabalpur-Kota section that connects to Delhi.

Nearly a half of them are being rushed to the Allahabad-Mughalsarai section where the fog had hit rail traffic movement badly this year.

Even though the fog generally abates by the end of January, officials say the deployment was necessary so that the full benefits of the system are evident by the next winter season.

With more trains being commissioned every year, Indian Railways’ track capacity is increasingly getting choked. Safety during dense fog becomes an overriding concern, forcing them to go slow and thus causing delays.

However, the railways’ only defence during fog is an obsolete method the British had invented. Tiny detonators are placed on the tracks and when the train goes over it, the bursting cracker alerts the driver of his arrival at a signal. The system has not changed in 60 years.

Imported solutions that can help speed up safely cost billions of rupees - a price the cash-strapped railways cannot afford to pay.

The railways have placed initial order of the device called Fogsafe, an indigenously developed technology that costs a fraction of the cost of imported solutions. The GPS-based portable device is battery-operated and allows the driver to know when the train would be approaching the next signal or level crossing gate.

With its help, the engine driver is continuously informed of his location. He is able to negotiate the journey with greater confidence and speed without the fear of overshooting a red signal and causing an accident.

Though the system was first developed in 2005, it languished without deployment. As it pertained to safety rules, the decision for change was a slow moving one.

Three fog-related accidents last year in North Central Railway triggered its adoption. The railways have ordered about 1,000 devices from two Indian manufacturers for deployment this year.

Pawandeep Singh Bahl told IANS: “Though the system will be deployed within January, the real benefits of this technology will be apparent only next year when the system is fully tuned and drivers have been trained thoroughly to utilise it effectively.”

It is essential to keep the momentum for deployment of the system even after fog abates to be fully prepared by next year, he said.

“For a country used to suffering the vagaries of nature, it is necessary to sustain the effort, with import substitution, to avoid mishaps on the tracks,” Bahl said.

(Mahendra Ved can be contacted at mahendraved07@gmail.com)

Filed under: Economy

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