The recent devastating train collision in Odisha, which occurred on Friday, June 2nd, has brought attention to one of the deadliest accidents in the history of the country. Reports indicate that the tragic incident resulted in the loss of at least 288 lives, with over 900 individuals sustaining injuries. This unfortunate event once again highlights the critical importance of implementing robust safety measures and continually improving infrastructure and operational protocols.
Addressing the need to prevent train accidents on India’s busiest and heavily utilized rail routes, the Indian Railways has been actively working on developing its own Automatic Train Protection (ATP) System, known as ‘Kavach’.
What is Kavach?
Kavach is the National Automatic Train Protection (ATP) System developed by the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) in collaboration with three Indian vendors: Medha Servo Drives Pvt Ltd, HBL Power Systems Ltd, and Kernex Microsystems. The system has been adopted by the Indian Railways and has undergone field tests on passenger trains since 2016.
The Kavach system involves installing radio frequency devices on railway tracks, signaling systems, and train engines. These devices continuously transmit signals in real-time, indicating the absence of any obstacles on the track where the train is operating. It has received certification for Safety Integrity Level-4 from reputable international safety assessors.
While Kavach currently utilizes ultra-high frequency radio waves, the Indian Railways is actively working to make it compatible with 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. This initiative aims to develop the product for global markets and enhance operational efficiency. The system is also undergoing improvements, including a transition from Ultra High Frequency (UHF) to LTE-4G communication.
How does the system work?
Kavach serves as a valuable aid to Loco Pilots by assisting in avoiding Signal Passing At Danger (SPAD) incidents and overspeeding, particularly during challenging weather conditions like dense fog. The system effectively controls the train’s speed and automatically applies brakes when necessary, especially in situations where the Loco Pilot may be unable to do so.
Devices installed on railway tracks can detect obstacles up to 10 km ahead. These tracks are equipped with pressure sensors capable of identifying weights exceeding 500 kg. When an obstacle is detected, the sensors transmit signals to the train’s engine, triggering the automatic application of brakes. Subsequently, the devices installed in the trains receive these signals and reduce the train’s speed to a maximum of 30 km per hour, allowing the train driver to bring it to a halt.
Kavach’s features include transmitting line-side signals to the train cab, particularly beneficial in high-speed and foggy conditions. The system also updates the train’s movement authority and can automatically sound the whistle at level crossings. Notably, the communication between track devices and trains occurs through unique radio frequencies, enabling direct transmission without relying on a central server.
Roll Out Progress
The Indian Railways plans to install Kavach across 2,000 rail route networks in the year 2022-23, and subsequently expand it to 4,000-5,000 rail route networks each year. The Railway Board has approved the installation of Kavach technology along a 34,000-kilometer rail route. For the year 2022-2023, a budget of Rs 272.30 crore has been allocated for the installation of the Kavach system. In the previous fiscal year, 2021-2022, Kavach received a release of Rs 133 crore.
Trials of the Kavach system were conducted by the Indian Railways on the Absolute Block section of Lingamapalli-Vikarabad-Wadi and the Vikarabad-Bidar — a 250 km section of the South-Central Railway. Following the successful completion of these trials, three vendors were approved to receive developmental orders from the Indian Railways.
Currently, Kavach has been deployed on more than 1,098 route kilometers and is operational on 65 trains under the South-Central Railway, after undergoing successful trial runs.
However, regarding the recent train collision in Odisha, it remains unclear whether the deployment of Kavach could have helped avert such a mishap. As a high-level probe is currently underway to determine the root cause of the incident, the effectiveness of Kavach in preventing similar accidents will undoubtedly be closely examined.