Winter's here, but the Railways are yet to install fog-fighting devices
It is winter already and the Indian Railways has failed once again to equip the locomotives with fog-fighting devices. These devices are essential for the state-run transporter to make sure that all services run on time and prevent chaos in train operation.
The much-trumpeted LED fog lights and the radar-based imaging system, that were meant to be put in place to facilitate drivers to run the trains at normal speed, are yet to be installed. And in all this delay, the schedules of all north-bound trains have been severely affected by fog.
Currently, about 50 trains are running behind the schedule by several hours on a daily basis and many trains are being cancelled. More and more services are likely to be affected in the days to come due to the fog.
Faced with this severe disruption in operations, Railways had initiated the move to install LED lights and TRI-NETRA systems on locomotives for enhancing the vision of locomotive pilots in inclement weather.
The terrain imaging for diesel drivers infra-red enhanced optical and radar-assisted (TRI-NETRA) system, is made up of a high-resolution optical video camera, high sensitivity infra-red video camera and additionally a radar-based terrain mapping system. These three components of the system shall act as three eyes (Tri-Netra) of the driver.
While the LED fog lights will enhance the visibility, TRI-NETRA is designed to “see” the terrain ahead of the running locomotive during inclement weather by combining the images captured by the three sub-systems to create a composite video image which shall be displayed in front of the loco pilot on a computer monitor in the cabin.
Currently, without any visual aid, the driver, in such poor visibility conditions like fog, runs the train at nearly crawling speed until he is able to see the track ahead safely.
This is causing severe slowdowns in the system and also results in cancellation of many trains. TRI-NETRA has been envisaged to ameliorate this problem.
However, though the Railways had sanctioned the TRI-NETRA project in 2016-17 budget, it is still not operational and stuck in the files and the concerned directorate is still struggling to kick off the project.
Similarly, the specifications of the LED fog lights have not been finalised yet by the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), railways' research wing. This finalisation is a mandatory provision for the induction of any new product in the national transporter.
“We will install LED fog lights in 30 locomotives on a trial basis this season,” said a senior Railway Ministry official and added that – “Depending upon the results more locos will be equipped with such lights.”
Besides the LED fog light and TRI-NETRA, railways is also trying the train protection warning system (TPWS), based on the European system, and the indigenously-developed train collision avoidance system (TCAS) to enable the driver to see the signal in his cabin through a cab signalling system.
Even in dense fog or heavy rain, the driver easily sees the signals in his cabin and accordingly maintains speed. The system incorporates an automatic braking system in case the driver fails to do so manually in the event of an emergency.
However, till date, only 35 locomotives are equipped with the TPWS system for trials.
Railways maintain that passengers safety is of utmost importance and even if a train is delayed, the passengers should travel safe. Since visibility drops, drivers cannot see the signals and do not take the risk of maintaining the normal speed. There are always chances of accidents during the fog because drivers fail to see signals.
The state-run transporter expects that once the modern technology-based systems are operational, it will help in enhancing the vision of locomotive drivers in difficult weather conditions, such as fog, heavy rains and during the night time, so that they have enough time to react to an emergency.
The author is a senior journalist