Sunday, January 3, 2010

Despite Mamata promise, Rlys yet to put anti-collision system on track

Sun, Jan 3
Despite tall claims of modernising its systems to make rail travel safer, the Indian Railways has been dragging its feet on introducing the Anti Collision Device (ACD) — a system that has been designed to prevent the kind of twin collisions that killed 10 persons and injured 45 near Kanpur and Etawah on Saturday — on its network across the country.
Indigenously developed by the Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd (KRCL), the ACD has been specifically designed to prevent high-speed collision in mid-section, station areas and at level crossing gates (see box). The most significant feature of this device is that it activates automatic braking if two trains come dangerously close on the same track, like the way it happened on Saturday.
Having got the ACD installed on 1,736 route km of the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) under a pilot project that was commissioned in 2007, the Railway Ministry has at different times made the right noises about installing the system across the country. In fact, minister Mamata Banerjee in her last Rail Budget speech said this system would be extended on 1,700 route km on Southern, South Central and South Western Railway in two years time.
"I will review the implementation of the project before further extension to other Railway," Banerjee had said. But despite this, has been apathetic to the introduction of this system.
Consider these:
n Sources told The Sunday Express that Konkan Railway has not been paid any money for the maintenance of the system installed in NFR since April 2007. "In fact, in April 2009, the Konkan Railway was told not to provide any maintenance to the system in NFR," a source said. Having awaited the payment of dues amounting to about Rs 40 crore, the Konkan Railway, it is learnt, told the ministry that it will not be able to install the system in any more places till the dues are cleared.
n Konkan Railway has been asking the ministry to fix the "parameters of commissioning the project". "Simply put, Konkan Railway asked the ministry to fix what it wanted as the delivered product," a source said. The ministry, on the other hand, has chosen to revise the specifications or ask for newer features every now and then, over the past few years.
n The Railway Ministry is yet to clearly spell out the financial model on which the project will be undertaken with the Konkan Railway.
n The ministry has shown resistance in allowing a "profit margin" to the Konkan Railway for executing this project.
Explaining the delay in taking a final call on the technology, ministry officials point out that the ACD system still has "unresolved issues" and the go-ahead to implement it across the country can only be given once it meets all the criteria. However, one of the conspiracy theories doing the rounds suggests that a powerful lobby of multinational companies, which is trying to sell railway signaling equipment to the Indian Railways, has been thwarting all attempts to introduce the ACD.
Significantly, the ACD, which is a patented technology of the Konkan Railway, has attracted attention from countries like Egypt, Australia and South Africa. But the fact that the Indian Railways has not implemented this system across its network has often put the technology under a cloud.

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