But the railways must shed its archaic mindset to make this possible, B. Rajaram, a former managing director of Konkan Railway, said.
“Our young engineers are quite capable of operating faster trains safely and efficiently, given the political will and a free hand,” Rajaram said in an interview from Herndon in the US.
“Trust them to work out the nitty-gritty of doubling average speeds, or making 300 kmph trains a reality on separate corridors, without copying European or Chinese models,” added Rajaram, who divides his time between India and the US.
Rajaram had created history of sorts by delivering higher speeds at lower costs with indigenous know-how and existing infrastructure rather than wait for prohibitively-priced imported technology to do the job.
“A trial run which I conducted successfully between Madgaon (Goa) and Roha (near Mumbai) in 2003 averaged 150 kmph continuously over a 400 km stretch, the longest in rail history then,” Rajaram recalled.
“The train slashed travel time to a mere three-and-a-half hours, from the nearly nine hours that superfast trains normally take to complete the 442-km journey.
“On a particular stretch, the General Electric-designed diesel loco effortlessly touched 179 kmph until I asked the driver to slow down,” said Rajaram, who rode with the driver.
“During the trial run on Konkan route, built for a peak speed of 160 km, I also successfully tested cab signalling for the first time in India.”
Cab signalling is what makes the ultra high-speed rail systems in Japan, France and Germany operate so successfully and safely.
“I obtained the cab signal as an additional layer to test whether it correctly replicated the fixed signal functions so that the ACD (Anti-Collision Device) could automatically control speed,” said Rajaram.
The entire exercise, involving what the media described as “India’s first bullet train”, overcame insurmountable barriers that bedevil railway operations, thanks to an out-of-the-box approach and the ACD.
Had the railway ministry permitted the train to operate, it would have paved the way for cab signalling and what is known as moving block, Rajaram told IANS.
Cab signals eliminate the necessity of fixed signals, keeping the driver directly updated about the condition of the track ahead, thus minimizing human error and accidents.
A moving block facilitates the simultaneous movement of two or more trains between two stations even on a single track, substantially cutting down on delays.
It does so by maintaining a safe braking distance (one to two kilometers) between each of the trains.
“It is like driving a car. You control the speed based on the car ahead and distance available to stop if needed,” said Rajaram, who helped build the Konkan Railway from scratch as its chief project engineer.
A fixed block, on the other hand, permits only one train on a single track route between two stations, often holding up the movement of traffic for hours. It is an archaic system.
Cab signalling and moving blocks, hitched to an advanced version of ACD, could have been instrumental in facilitating speeds between 160 and 180 kmph for passenger trains, besides raising the average speeds of freight trains.
“Then, no waiting is required for (fixed) signals, occasions for sudden deceleration and acceleration fall tremendously, improving average speeds, while reducing operating costs,” said Rajaram.
“These measures, collectively, would cost less than a third of the imported alternatives. We already have the requisite rolling stock technology for 160 kmph speeds, validated by trials on the Konkan route.”
The ACD, certified by Britain’s Lloyd’s Register Rail and the railway ministry’s Research Design Standards Organisation (RDSO), is a low cost, indigenous artificial intelligence system Rajaram designed and developed.
It is credited with a 99.9 percent success rate in preventing collisions after commissioning by the Northeast Frontier Railway and Konkan Railway.
Rajaram pointed out that archaic rules and delivery of services were big hurdles in modernising the railways. They need to be reformed using railway WiFi intranet and affordable tablets.