Arun Kumar Das
They are billed as smart coaches, and Indian Railways will soon roll out these modern train compartments equipped with black boxes and coach information and diagnostics systems.
The black boxes, a first for the Railways, will have a powerful multi-dimensional communication interface to provide all kinds of information on coach condition and also passenger-related information on a real -time basis, a senior Railway Ministry official involved with the project told IANS.
The first smart coach will be unveiled at the Rae Bareli Coach Factory on May 11, National Technology Day, as a pilot project.
The most effective enabler for the system would be monitoring of critical components that have been identified as major causes for derailments and delays, and for causing deterioration in rail infrastructure.
The official said the Railways "will introduce the long-awaited sensor-based on-board condition monitoring system (OBCMS) for timely detection of defects related to passenger coaches and also tracks on a running train".
The OBCMS aims to strengthen the security and safety in train operation as it will have integrated CCTV and information system which will constantly update the health of the coach -- from oscillatory behavior, coach diagnostics and heating, ventilation and air conditioning and water management, among others.
According to the system, the on-board sensors constantly record vibrations and temperatures. Anomalies in vibration are the earliest indicator that something may be wrong with the bearings in the wheels of a coach. This allows for operators to mark those bearings out for careful observation, thus preventing any further damage.
Detection of bearing fault at this early stage will help prevent incidents and maintenance schedules can be planned accordingly.
To this end, the mainstay of the smart coach would be the wireless sensor modes that, once fitted on every wheel, help monitor the health of the wheel and its bearings.
"Once deployed in volume, these sensors would also be able to monitor track health on a real-time basis, resulting in improved safety, higher utilisation and reduced operation costs by enabling predictive maintenance and reduction in sudden catastrophic failures of the Railway's assets," the official told IANS.
The technology has found great acceptance and traction in other parts of the world.
It would cost an additional Rs 15 to Rs 20 lakh per coach as most of the systems like the CCTV, passenger information system, fire extinguishers and the like are already a part of the system.
The Railways will replicate the system in many more coaches after the trial run.
Besides condition monitoring, the system will have Internet of Things (IoT) to provide entertainment-related offerings to passengers while train-related information will be constantly announced.
The pilot project is being executed in consultation with the experts to provide next-generation coaches equipped with maximum safety features, the official added.
On March 19, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had pushed the Rae Bareli coach factory to go ahead with the pilot project as a game-changing initiative. The OBCMS was also displayed at Rail Shivir on November 2016 in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
(Arun Kumar Das is a senior Delhi-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)