As Rail Accidents Mount, New High-Tech Accident Prevention System Is Yet to See Light of Day

The ‘On-Board Condition Monitoring System,’ which would detect track and rolling defects, hasn’t taken off from the initial expression of interest stage.

Track problems are one of the key causes of train derailment Source: PTI

New Delhi: Despite repeated rail mishaps, the Indian railways is yet to operationalise the much-awaited ‘on-board condition monitoring system (OBCMS)’, an initiative that is meant to detect defects related to rolling stock and tracks.

OBCMS – consisting of state-of-the-art technology, which comes equipped with sensors on wheel bearings, gear boxes and other parts of the train –  is expected to notify the control room when specific machine parts start developing problems. It will also alert authorities to the condition of the track well in advance before these vital components have a chance to break down, thus preventing derailment.

The national transporter, expected to float a global tender to acquire the sensor-based system, could not move beyond the pre-bid stage and has remain undecided about its final shape for more than three years. It floated its first expression of interest (EoI) in August 2015 but as of April 2017, has said that the project is still in a “nascent stage.”

The system, railway officials say, also has not been taken up as a pilot project.

With track problems emerging as a major cause for derailments, the use of technology  has become an important policy initiative for the railways. Amongst many causes for derailment, the three biggest known causes for any derailment are track wear-and-tear, bearing wear-and-tear and wheel wear-and-tear.

The OBCMS system would essentially monitor the health of the bearing, wheel and track on a real-time basis as the trains ferry cargo and passengers across the vast Indian railways network.

In 2015, the-then railway minister Suresh Prabhu had said in the Lok Sabha that the on-board rolling stock condition monitoring system is being planned to “monitor the health and safety of key components of coaches, freight cars and locomotives,” which would result in increased safety, improved reliability and higher utilisation while reducing operational costs.

Though the railways has earmarked Rs 113 crore in the last budget, the OBCMS, considered to be a paradigm shift in train maintenance, is still caught up in red tape.

The OBCMS system is operational in countries such as the UK, Sweden and Ireland, where it is effectively monitoring maintenance needs of coaches, tracks and locos in advance for ensuring safer travels.

While the railways maintain that specifications are being finalised with due diligence, the fact of the matter is that prolonged delay has raised serious questions about the functioning and pace of implementation by the concerned directorate.

“The sensor-based monitoring system is the most effective enabler for the railways to monitor critical components that have been identified as the major causes for derailment, delay and causes for infrastructure deterioration,” said a senior railway ministry official.

According to the system, the on-board sensors record vibrations and temperatures constantly. Vibration anomalies are the earliest indicator that something maybe wrong with the bearing. This allows for operators to mark those bearings out for careful observation, thus preventing any further damage.

Even after the derailment, the vibration analysis can be used to ascertain the cause of the accident; whether it happened due to bearing failures, or defect in wheel or tracks.

Detection of bearing fault at the early stage will help prevent occurrences of incidents and maintenance schedules can be planned for bearings that show anomaly. Track condition monitoring would also be a part of the system as the sensors pick up unusual impacts over one location where the trains operate.

However, the official maintained, “since it is a new system we have to be very cautious before finalising any thing.”

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