B. RAJARAM M.TECH., FIE, FNAE, IRSE(rtd)
[ currently at Herndon/ VA /USA Mobile: +1 571 345 5048]
Anti-collision devices ( DEFINITION) are microprocessor based, communication capable, GPS enabled compact devices with special world-recognised intelligent self-deducing capability, requiring no human inputs, but draw strength from networking with each other mounted on Locomotive,stations,the last vehicle, the level crossing gates and any other vulnerable location, detect any condition of two trains likely to get endangered seriously by colliding with each other either frontal or rear end or sideways on double tracks, in all station sections, block sections; automatically initiate braking action to control the speed profiles of both the trains to avoid any serious consequences. ( ref material at ww.atrilab.com) ( Videos at www.youtube.com/atrilab)
In railways, while station masters are provided enough electronic protections against doing wrong and unsafe things, for drivers and guards except for a badly working voice communication and visible signals, there is no automatically acting protecting system against human errors.
ACD s provide this protective layer, and that is why I named it as Raksha Kavach. ACD net work only ensures that trains are automatically brought to a safe halt if any serious consequences are visualised by the trains running following existing signals as perceived by the drivers, Without driver’s cooperation, the halt is forced.That is protection for drivers, guard and passengers.
ACDs are like having an additional look out electronic drivers traveling with existing drivers and guards and also posted with the station masters, who have electronic eyes to “see” more than 4 to 5 km and built in intelligence to to do the limited job of assuring within three kilometers of range, no event of serious consequence will occur, whatever be the signals’ indication or drivers’ perception. There is no scope for human error in this system. It is unique in the world.
Out of sheer anguish at the loss of lives in train collisions during 1999 the idea took shape and I produced the first prototype in collaboration with private industry. No international technology is even now available for the kind of spectrum of possible train collisions that ACDs can effectively protect.
International patents were obtained specifically because of the deviation count theory incorporated as invented by me in those stressful days, which makes ACDs detect own position on the railway network with the least inputs from ground based equipment. That led to cost savings.
And it is a non-signal equipment making it economical to produce.
But as it evolves further, it can run trains too, eliminating the need for current expensive fixed signal systems. That has created the enemies for ACD.
It is sophisticated intelligent device and involves complex reliable communications and short term bridging algorithms to take care of GPS black outs.Knowledge levels available in government railway personnel is woefully inadequate to create the technology and suitable private enterprise with will to innovate and invest own intellectual capital becomes necessary.Risk of dealing with rigid government departments usually tied in too much red tape is real.It needed some enthusiastic NRIs with pride in own motherland to venture in to this effort. Actually being a government man I had to put in place a process for selecting such technology delivery company that too at economic fair price. An invention has to be nurtured and scaled up to work to get benefits. Out of three competitors one succeeded in producing the prototype within low costs and time frame in 1999. That happened to be a NRI group supported company M/S Kernex Microsystems. Hyderabad. May be they had a dream to see one Indian company competing in the technology space rivalling Europeans in stead of remaining cyber coolies.
On the basis of bartering mutual IP rights, with Konkan Railway( to whom I donated my rights of personal research work in public interest) having royalty and marketing rights for Indian Railways, and M/S Kernex to have exclusive development and manufacturing rights , the total costs of development were kept low with long term interests factored in. The sophisticate knowledge base needed for continuing such development of technology can be better managed in private sector if only long term stakes are created. Else they would have demanded higher costs to cover the risk of short term engagements and refused to invest their own intellectual property rights necessarily involved in manufacturing and development of firm ware. This is not like construction of an airport. We are talking of innovation.
The costs also are kept fair for which mechanisms were incorporated, and the relationship constructed so that together Konkan Railway and Kernex will benefit but if any one falls out wrongly, penal financial costs will be heavy.
The entire relationship was designed keeping in view the public interest.
But strong forces are working over time to kill the ACD project from the inception, foreseeing a danger to their fiefdom.
A non-signal system is the ACD but performed better than signal in the area of preventing collisions.
After failing to stop the successful performance review of the working of ACDs in the toughest railway NF Railway, the department took it upon itself to keep playing the game of misplacing the files in the Board, revising the norms again and again and also suddenly introduce a multi-vendor concept which is not tenable in such development effort. For patent products proprietary article certificate can be issued which is a standard process. In fact railways procure even non-patented items using the proprietary article certificate, saying others are nor producing the said items. But when it comes to ACD, this is conveniently forgotten.
After agreeing to freeze specifications and performance norms, with a promise that once these are satisfied, full commercial scale implementation would start, it is unethical to again insist to prove against freshly revised norms. Not that enough revisions and testings and proving did not take place. Actually over a decade innumerable changes were made and development done to satisfy the same before freezing finally the product. No one can keep on investing their intellectual capital without return eternally. As part of commercial project implementation improvements can continue and should continue but not as mere research project with heavy investments not earning the return.
So knowing the same, this strategy is now adopted to kill any spirit left in the private company which stood by and worked over a decade on this project with 500 Indian software and hardware specialists investing in the hope of future returns. The NRI group is a disillusioned lot now.
All the accidents in which lives are getting lost now can be easily prevented by the level of ACD technology developed and proven in 2002 itself. But since then more features are incorporated to prevent even remote imagined situations with least probability. Fundamentally ACDs do not replace existing signals, but adds additional safety layer. Trying to make it an alternative to signals is truly ridiculous and also mischievous.
Meantime as they get ACD implementation delayed, all out efforts to some how get very expensive foreign technology based signal projects continue quoting the accidents. But they willfully hide the fact that the non-signal device ACD, does more than what the expensive foreign technology can do. The rub is non-signal device ACDs cost one-fifth compared to inferior performing foreign signal equipment. That seems to justify the angst.
The system of administration is clever and spin yarn well. So long I was part of the group, I could fight within but it was not a joke. Actually intellectual work took hardly 2% of time in ACD development, but the rest 98% is only to fight the self-interest groups driven by interests in foreign companies’ technologies. Once I left Konkan Railway in 2005, there appears to be no one with enough grit to keep the fight on within the system.
So step by step thousands of ACDs installed are being disabled denying maintenance. Refusing to own up the equipment is one simple way of allowing it to rot. Then fear of vigilance process instilled in officers to fall in line and help kill the ACD using the Konkan Railway organisation itself.
Slowly the situation is developing for forced legal recourse to be taken by the private company partner who is getting ditched in the process. Loss to Konkan Railway will not be a problem for officers, because the rules of the game of survival dictate to protect own skin and bury things in thick files of inaction.
Soon after an accident Railway Board has a wonderful fail safe method of putting off pressure from public talking technical gibberish The innocent non-technical Ministers faithfully repeat the same. For example with the public outrage now, suddenly another trial to prove ACD on multiple line sections( that is more than two lines) is talked about This is a matter of getting the correct track ID, using the patented deviation count algorithms, which has been tested and proven a number of times.Local customisation is a built in process for the ACDs, where in checks and balances are built in to allocate the correct track ID. The second point is if too many ACDs are present in the small region like 10 or 20 will it cause communication black-out? This has been suspected by RDSO and they already quietly tried out with 20 ACDs within one kilometer, which never happens trying to get a reason to condemn the system, in NF railway trials. But they found to their surprise ACDs communications remained sound. So they keep the results to themselves.
So now when I hear Minister speaking of doing multi track trials and Konkan Railway officials too singing the song, I only tell myself, here they go again to take the heat off and avoid allowing the implementation in other zonal railways. When there is will to sabotage the project at any cost at the railway board level, Ministers will become helpless. The technical mumbo jumbo will keep them off tracks. Accountability is blurred in our systems.
Innocents pay the price.
Typical Draupadi syndrome is enacted from Hastinapur. Every one follows rules. Railway Board says Konkan Railway has to come forward to continue to test further and prove further. The goal post we keep shifting. Also we are serious and announce in parliament that ACD is successful and will soon implement. This we have been doing since 2003 in every budget speech, of course. So Ministry is not at fault. Then Konkan Railway refuses to release dues and starves the partner company of funds saying orders are not forthcoming. Meantime papers fly around and meetings continue. A spoke is driven by Railway Board to force Konkan Railway to find another vendor quoting that single bids cannot be accepted as the rule of Vigilance. It is not applicable in this case of course. But rule is a rule and it helps to keep the Draupadi syndrome alive and kicking.
Bhishmas and Dronas like good people also are there in the Board, who sit mutely, as innocent commuters are crushed by their colliding trains, because every thing is as per proper procedures. We order inquiries after rushing to the site and offering tearful condolences.
Five thousand years ago one Krishna stepped in to save Draupadi, but now it looks like we are not that blessed but have to witness or die in one more collision waiting to happen, given that the weak link of driver’s human failure is a constant ingredient of our train control system.
( B.Rajaram FNAE at Herndon /USA 20170 Dated 19th July 2010)