How can digital change the future of Indian railways?

Indian railways has played a vital role in contributing to our country’s economy by mobilizing people. With over 12,500 trains on track, over 7,200 stations, the railways today is moving over 2.3 crore people daily, over 8 billion people annually and over 1 billion tons of goods annually. Railways is by far the most fuel-efficient means of transport by land. But this industry is facing pressing challenges in terms of:

    • Lack of reliability in terms of schedule, minimizing delays,
    • Lack of ability to respond to unexpected change, having better responses to risks,
    • Lack of realtime information leading to meaningful automation,
    • Lack of ability to predict demand & switch train routes

    It’s time to optimize the performance of assets of the Indian Railway industry and ensure improved nation-level locomotion, with solutions around trains meeting schedule, having continuous sensor fed information, switching routes, having semi automated actions and others, with the digitization capabilities the country has today.

As we spoke to Mr. Balakrishna, a retired booking supervisor, at the KR puram railway station, Bangalore, we learnt more about the Indian Railway system which is on the verge of improvement but needs more attention and development to be one of the best Railway systems in the world. We asked Mr. Balakrishna few questions and his views on current problems, piqued our curiosity to think of innovative solutions.

Humans: There is always a long queue for getting train tickets, can’t it be automated with a Kiosk Ticketing Machine?

Balakrishna: “We do have Kiosk Ticketing facilities but most of the passengers commuting through train are Illiterate and are not aware of operating the machine and we do not have any dedicated person to train people on, “How to use the facilities “, Having a dedicated person would solve the problem.
He also added, “Can the IRCTC Android app be supported to serve in regional languages? So that, local people can book tickets in-prior and save their valuable time instead of standing in the long queue for hours together.”

Humans: How do you think we can make smart systems do what a TTE does today? Today the ticket checking process is manually done by a Ticket examiner.

Balakrishna: “If we can have RFID associated with the tickets or if we can have thumb impression that can be associated with the tickets, we can digitalize and automate the ticket verification process.”

Humans: India is moving from Cash transactions to Digital payments, but we see lots of cash transactions happening for train ticket bookings, how can we solve this?

Balakrishna: “Indian railway system is still not seeing much of digital transactions. If we can insist the passengers to use the Bhima app or if we can have a dedicated app for Railway payments that would be better. Also, the card swipe machine at the ticket issuing center would be of greater advantage.”

Humans: In some of the countries like Japan rails are always on time, what’s your view on taking Indian railway system to the next level where there is no delay?

Balakrishna: “Government could look at investing in the digital infrastructure for railways, to fill the void and take measures to prevent corruption.Today the tracks do not assist the trains and we end up having a delay. Signaling needs to be automated.”

Humans: Do you think super-fast trains are a boon for India?

Balakrishna: “Yes. I think that’s one of the best moves from the Indian government. We can save time. At the same time, to assist super-fast trains, the railway infrastructure needs improvement. Majority of the passengers commuting through railways today are middle class or lower income people. Hence it’s important that the super-fast trains should be economical.”

Humans: How does our railways system assist the physically challenged passengers?

Balakrishna: “Thanks to the wheelchair facilities and dedicated seats for physically challenged and elderly people by Indian railway management. This shows the respect and courtesy we have towards elderly and physically challenged people.”

Humans: We noted that there is a parking problem, where people were fighting for space to park vehicles. Do you think we can smartly, automatically assign parking?

Balakrishna: “Can we have pre-booking of parking facilities at the railway station? Can we have an app which can manage the parking infrastructure were people can reserve the parking, making the payment online? This can even help tracking stolen vehicles.”

Many thanks to Mr. Balakrishna from Codewave, for sharing his valuable views on improvement in our Indian Railway system. Here are some solutions, we could imagine that would help solve some problems.

Digital railway for better employment opportunities, a more thriving economy

We experience hours of delay traveling by train. Can we give the railway system digital super powers to bring higher efficiency, safety and ensure on time arrivals?

India being populated with 70% of rural population, how can we mobilize rural goods faster to urban markets? For a sustained economic growth, we need more rural population to participate in the country’s economy and this can be achieved if trains can better connect goods to markets & talent to opportunity. By effectively mobilizing people and things, to meet market needs, the economy will thrive and will have more people benefiting from the economy. To connect India to the world, for international trading, India needs a reliable rail freight service that’s as agile and dynamic as the modern, digitally empowered supply chain. India needs more and more super-fast trains that can connect the villages, cities and nations better. All these collective measures will not only increase our railway ecosystem, but will also help eradicate unemployment in India by creating new job opportunities.

Modernizing signaling and train control with digital

Can we link the train engines and tracks together, by identifying each engine and each track uniquely? This could enable trains to use sensors to continuously gather information about its own performance, about the track’s visibility and its environment, as a result making the train to be more aware of its performance, inefficiencies and proactively seek information (signals) on time to operate optimally. This would also relieve the railway staff of manual signaling tasks. This would help in achieving higher throughput and better asset utilization with minimum cost.
The primary purpose of a “digital railway” idea is to target digital system upgrades to modernize signaling and train control. Overall digitalization in the railway industry will seamlessly integrate intelligent systems to changing consumer needs. Amsted Rail is one such example which developed the first digital software to increase the rail efficiency.

Internet of things to create a connected railway

IoT in railways systems can make a difference by improving operational efficiency, passenger experience and connecting the different functional bodies of the railway ecosystem together. There are three major systems within railroads that will significantly benefit from automation and the Internet of Things: Signaling, Interlocking and Level crossings control.

Signaling: IoT can bring in a higher level of automation aiding a train’s performance and its integration with the signaling system. Signaling systems control the movement of a train by remotely adjusting train speed and braking.

Interlocking: The interlocking system works in conjunction with the signaling system to prevent a train from getting a signal to proceed if the route is proven to be unsafe. Interlocking avoids conflicting movements on the tracks at junctions and crossings by using red and green light signals.

Level crossings control: This impacts overall safety on railroads. As per the European Railway Agency, 619 accidents occurred at level crossings in 2010, causing 359 fatalities in the European Union that year; 2009 stats show 831 level crossings-related accidents caused 405 fatalities that year. Accidents related to level crossings represent 30% of all railway fatalities in the EU ( European Union). IoT can help decrease those numbers by deploying cameras and sensors for increased safety.

Indian one of the largest democracies in the world, attempting to move from living in a paper age to a digital age. How can you participate in this paper to digital movement, and help our transport systems evolve?

Shweta Pathak, Editor, Humans: “I still remember the stampede at the Allahabad railway station during 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela in which huge number of pilgrims were killed because of lack of proper coordination and disaster management plan, from railways. I even remember the difficult days of travelling in the fast moving world of Mumbai’s railway system. How can we handle overcrowding, risk management better? By gaining better control over train performances in realtime and building ability to make course corrections faster. With better train monitoring and control, railways can deliver more reliable transportation services at lower costs, and all of this in a sustainable way.”

Conclusion: How do we manage our railway system better? What is the interconnection between the technology and railways?

With the help of better train control & management systems we can safely and cost effectively cater to increasing demand for rail travel and freight paths, automate control of trains to smoothen the flow and improve performance. The train management system technology enables trains to serve as “smart and connected carriers”, using real time data to improve their performance on their own. Cloud based technology can connect ‘Machine to Machine’ with operators to track the real-time data sent from the tracks.

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