If you have ever used Indian Railways’ National Train Enquiry System (NTES) web portal or mobile app to check your train’s location, then chances are that you might have received inaccurate information. The absence of location tracking device in the locomotives fail to give exact location coordinates to the railway control room, resulting in inaccurate information.
For the past two years the railways has been working to improve NTES and implement Real Time Train Information System (RTIS) project, which involves installation of satellite-based tracking device on the locomotives to get highly accurate train movement information. RTIS would also improve communication with the loco pilots.
In January the Indian Railways will roll out first 10 locomotives equipped with RTIS device to improve communication with loco pilots. The devices were received by the department of the railways in December, confirmed a senior official.
By March, 2,700 locos will be fitted with RTIS device under the first phase. Tenders have been floated for the same.
NTES has been developed by the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), a railway PSU dealing with information technology issues. NTES serves information to public about expected arrival/departure of trains at each stopping station, train schedule information
and information of cancelled/diverted trains.
Advantage of RTIS
- Automatic capture of train running information
- Reducing burden of train controllers or stress-free work conditions for train controllers
- Optimum utilisation of resources
- Accurate train running information to passengers
- Improved customer services
- Richer Management Information System for management
RTIS is the modern version of the railways’ earlier project known as Satellite Imaging for Rail Navigation (SIMRAN), which was implemented after several delays. RTIS relies on satellite technology for communication, while SIMRAN was dependent on the GPRS and did not yield anticipated results.
The RTIS device is manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and certified by Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), Indian Railways’ sole research institute based in Lucknow.
As per the mechanism, the software in the loco device would assess a train’s arrival, departure, run-through at stations based on spatial coordinates and speed received continuously from GAGAN (GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation) receiver. The data would be communicated to a central location server (CLS), which will process it and forward it to the control office application (COA). Since, COA is already integrated with NTES, accurate real-time information would be served to passengers. The software would be utilised to monitor the health of loco device, manage its configuration and update the software in the loco device. Emergency messaging can also be done between the loco drivers and control office through RTIS.
A senior official of the railway board’s information technology directorate said that RTIS is much more reliable and it reduces communication failures far better than SIMRAN.
SIMRAN was launched in 2011-12, but two years ago it was handed over to the IT directorate from the railway’s signaling department. It was rechristened as RTIS, which is now with CRIS.
CRIS is executing RTIS project in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). A pact was signed between CRIS and Space Applications Centre (SAC), ISRO for this project in December 2016. The railways and ISRO have jointly conducted trials for RTIS using GSAT series satellite on New Delhi-Guwahati and New Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani routes. The trials were aimed at examining the workability of the system and for finalisation of system design and specifications for the rollout.
The official confirmed that a select few locos/ engines of the Rajdhani trains will get these sophisticated devices and the installation will be done at the Ghaziabad-based electric locomotive shed.
Indian Railways has 5,500 electric locomotives, 6,500 diesel locomotives and 3,000 Electric Multiple Unit/ Mainline Electric Multiple Unit (MEMU) /Diesel Multiple Units. About 600 new locomotives are being manufactured and added every year into the railway’s fleet. Passenger electric locomotive sheds serving the golden quadrilateral and diagonals and freight electric engine sheds serving the Delhi–Mumbai and Howrah–Chennai corridors shall be covered in phase one.
“It will have a big impact over a period of time. The railways will be able to send files to the loco pilots, speed restrictions and written instructions on the device. The aim is to remove paper work in a phase-wise manner,” the official said.
The official said a CPU and screen are installed in the locomotive which is connected with the satellite to give real-time information. The device is an example of Internet of Things (IoT), he said. Sometimes, trains get stuck in some location and it takes a lot of time to locate them but through this device locating trains will not be a tough task.
Interestingly, loco pilots are not allowed to use mobile phones for establishing contact with nearest station officials unless there is an emergency. Otherwise, at some places fixed landline phones are installed alongside the tracks to communicate to the station control room. As per rules, loco pilots communicate to the station control room through walkie-talkie devices. With RTIS, railway control rooms will come to know about train’s exact location and would immediately contact loco pilots in case of inadvertent delay or stopping of the train, the official said.
The biggest strength of the device is its connectivity with the satellite which provides exact coordinates of the train and it can receive important documents related to train operations to help the drivers.
Though on one hand the railways efforts are laudable as it is trying hard to catch the Digital India train, but on the other hand its attempt also highlights a sorry state of affairs where the national transporter is still struggling to install location tracking devices even after 70 years of independence.
As of now only a handful of locos are fitted with such sophisticated devices in the entire Indian Railways network of 67,000 route kilometres.
It is also astonishing that only 2,700 out of 11,000 engines will be fitted with such devices before the current fiscal ends. The railways says more engines would be sporting such devices but considering the shoddy progress of many similar projects it seems difficult that the transporter would be able to achieve the target within stipulated timeline.
(The article appears in January 15, 2019 edition)