While Indian Railways (IR) battles issues like capacity, safety, convenience, comfort, and punctuality, it also has to fight to keep up with other countries who are integrating IoT devices and other technological trends into their railway system to improve the way citizens travel seamlessly.
Indian railways rank at number 4 in case of the size of the rail transport network, but in 2018, India was ranked number one for unpunctuality. The astounding size of Indian Railways is spectacular to see with 1.3 million employees working at the Indian Railways, travelling 1.15 trillion km with passengers. India is currently ranked as number two among all countries in transporting citizens with 22 million passengers travelling per day on trains.
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Although the 29 billion USD industry has jaw-dropping facts and numbers, it continuously battles through many problems, particularly with technological integration.
For instance, the Dutch railway company, NS uses data and analytics, IoT along with collaborations between many departments, which makes it one of the best railway departments in the world.
Indian Railways has one of the biggest railways systems, does require more attention and technological help, especially when it comes to punctuality, ticket bookings and proper apps among many other things.
The railway departments across the world are using IoT for commuter comfort. Top railway systems in the world like Switzerland, Dutch Railways, Japan etc., also use IoT to improve their railway system. India, on the other hand, can use opportunities for improvement provided by IoT in order to try and climb up in pegging order of the railway department.
Problems Indian Railways Facing
Indian trains are metaphorically synonymous to delays, ask any train commuter, the answer will be yes. So, what causes these delays? There could be many reasons like a train break down, maintenance of rail tracks, time taken in the maintenance, unfortunate events across the route etc. Any of these problems can cause chaos in the rail network, and once it does, it results in delays across all the rail network, causing many passengers to stress and frustrated waiting at the stations.
Track fault includes problems related to fractures, wear and tear, friction issues, loose keys and missing keys that the tracks go through. Detecting these ends up becoming a huge problem, and identifying these can then cause significant mishaps. The additional problem with track maintenance is that they should be classified as soon as possible. The problem with tracks, especially the fractures is that they have to be identified and fixed as quickly as possible, which takes time because of human intervention ultimately resulting in delays and danger to the human examiner.
Single Track Route Governing
Most of the rail tracks in India are single routed, with trains travelling in both directions on the same path (definitely not at the same time) using track junctions. Therefore, when one train gets delayed, the other one gets delayed as a result.
Railway signalling, safety and user experience
When it comes to railways, there is a need for up-gradation of signalling regarding safety. Communication holds a pivotal role in this area, and the connection has to be fast and precise. The railway department also has to keep a track of the train safety which comes under maintenance involving parameters like conditions of brakes, wheelsets, engines, etc.
User experience involves everything from searching for trains until the passenger’s experience inside the trains, which definitely needs improvement.
Another common problem faced by the Indian Railways is the problem of citizens trespassing across the tracks creating safety issues, hygiene issues, and unfortunate accidents.
Possible IoT Solutions and Initiatives
After discussing some problems faced by IR, let’s take a look at possible solutions using IoT and other technology in some of those areas:
Installing the sensors
- IoT devices like sensors find great applications when it comes to the railways. Indian Railways can make use of these sensors by mounting them on tracks to monitor the conditions.
- These sensors can also sense trains movements and transmit information when a train crosses a location, which will possibly reduce the delay of time.
- The sensors on the track can collect data on the track stress, track conditions, temperatures and other variables which will significantly reduce the time wasted by human intervention when it comes to examining these conditions.
- If there is a problem with wagons and tracks, the operators can take pre-emptive measures for safer operations.
Using IoT to Check the Passenger Flow
Using analytics, the operators can already track trains across networks and process data. Some companies use IoT to check the flow of passengers like the ones waiting at stations, travelling in coaches and the time when the flow of the passengers is at the peak. All of this data can help in efficiently scheduling the trains as per commuters’ behaviours. The IoT operators can also make use of weather prediction modelling to check if the routes have suitable for weather conditions.
Using IoT for better user experience
Apart from making things easy for booking tickets, giving scheduling information via smartphones, IoT can also help in taking the user experience a step further. It can help in making travel personalised for specific passengers. The IoT systems can be used to understand the history of customer experience and make significant changes to improve and personalise their experience.
Indian Railways has already adopted a piece of modern technology called LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), which detects track faults, fractures, and missing keys issues in minutes.
Smart Gates and Smart Alarms
Smart gates are something which could impact the flow of trains. These gates can receive alerts from a selected platform and then raise alarms or signalling red when a train is within a certain distance. When the train crosses a junction, the status resets and opens the gates. Apart from these smart gates, the Indian government also plans to use technological solutions like centralised traffic control, automatic train protection, and automatic signalling.
Smart alarms are a step toward curbing the trespassing problem. These alarms can receive information from the sensors on tracks and make a sound when a human is on the tracks, making it easier for train drivers to make a fix.
With the bullet trains feeling like a pipe dream, India still has to battle many problems when it comes to its IR services. The technological hole is a heavy burden to lift when you look at the size of the Indian railway network. If IR wants to stack up to the giants like Japan, Switzerland or even the Dutch, it surely has some heavy lifting to do.