Declining service life of tracks keeps railways on their toes

With the life span of railway tracks coming down sharply over the years due to increasing passenger-freight operations, higher axle loads on dense traffic routes and corrosion, Southern Railway has set a rail renewal target of 72 kilometres this fiscal as a key component of its measures to maintain safety.

Going by standard estimates, a 60-kg rail segment with a traffic density projection of 800 Gross Million Tonnes (GMT) is about 15 years, but this conventional calculus is being constantly revised, as many rail segments are coming up for renewal in less than half that time, Railway officials said.

With a route length of 5,000 kilometres, Southern Railway is the fifth largest rail network among the 17 zonal railways in Indian Railways network. It runs about 434 suburban trains and 742 non-suburban trains and transports around 2.4 million passengers on an average every day. On the freight front, the originating freight loading from April to July this year was 14.81 million tonnes, the 14 per cent increase over last year being the best-ever loading for the first four months of any year in Southern Railway’s recorded history.

“The upkeep of the vast rail network involves a well-drawn out daily, monthly and periodic maintenance schedule involving men and machines,” said S. Anantharaman, Chief Safety Officer, Southern Railway.

For instance, a track recording car to detect defects, twists or faulty alignment is deployed once every four months in Grade A segments (based on a set of wear-and-tear parameters), once in six months for Grade B sections and once a year for other segments. The data is analysed to arrive at a Track Geometry Index (TGI) value that determines the course of action.

Ultrasonic Flaw Detectors (USFD) to spot weld failures, Oscillation Monitoring Systems to measure vertical and lateral displacement from a normal axis of coaches moving across a particular rail section and tight tamping to bind together caked up ballast are also part of standard procedure, officials said.

Apart from machines, the Railways also deploys gangmen and keymen to physically inspect every bit of the 5,000-km route length.

In the four months of this fiscal, yard derailments have halved from 22 in the same period last year, while mainline accidents dropped from eight to just one.

One of the most common causes for derailments is weld failure. In-house studies in the Railways estimate that rail and weld failures currently account for over 60 per cent of engineering-related mishaps – a sharp rise from the 25 per cent about four years ago.

Commissioner of Railway Safety S. K. Mittal’s preliminary report on the derailment of Muzaffarpur-Yesvantpur Express near Arakkonam on April 10 too has upheld rail weld failure as the cause of the accident that killed one person.

The other significant threat to the health of tracks is coming from corrosion due to exposure to coastal atmosphere or contact with toilet waste. It is estimated that corrosion causes fracture of an estimated 20 per cent of rail lines.

“The Chennai-Gudur and Chennai-Villupuram lines are among the worst affected lines due to corrosion,” said a track engineering official.

Though the Railways has started using corrosion-resistant alloy-rails to beat the problem, the proportion of these rail segments is minuscule with regard to the magnitude of the problem.

Sonia, PM to launch rail link to Kashmir on June 26

The much-awaited railway section linking Kashmir valley with rest of the country will be launched on June 26 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi will jointly flag off the first train.

The 18-km-long section between Banihal in Jammu and Qazigund in Kashmir will provide an all-weather surface link to the Valley which often gets cut off from the rest of the country due to snowfall during winters.

Northern Railway is coordinating with the Jammu and Kashmir government to arrange bus service from Uddhampur to Banihal for passengers to avail train service for the Valley.

“The bus service will be available from Udhampur to facilitate passengers availing train from Banihal next month,” a senior Northern Railway official said.

The Banihal-Qazigund section, which includes an 11-km-long tunnel, will reduce the distance from 35 km (by road) to 18 km. It has been constructed at a cost of Rs 1,691 crore.

“It was a challenging task. Besides the difficult terrain, land was acquired for the Kashmir rail link project in adverse law and order situation in the state,” the official said.

Train service is already operational within Kashmir valley in the 118-km-long route between Qazigund and Baramulla in north Kashmir.

“The mandatory inspection of the track by Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) is being done and the clearance is awaited. The line is expected to open on June 26,” the official said.

Trial run on this section was successfully done on December 28 last year and since then trains carrying stones are running on regular basis.

Work on this section was executed by IRCON, a PSU under railways. It will have two main railway stations – Banihal in Jammu division and Qazigund in Kashmir division.

In addition to these stations, a halt station is also being provided at Hillar village in Anantnag district for the convenience of local public.

IRCON Director (Works) Hitesh Khanna said commissioning of this section would help realise the dream of connecting Jammu region with Kashmir valley. He said it was Maharaja Pratap Singh who first explored the possibility of connecting Jammu to Kashmir Valley with a railway line way back in 1898.

MatheranTracks to be lit up with LED lamps

For a nature lover and one looking for new experiences, Matheran could just be the destination in about a fortnight.

This mountaintop dense forest will have the added attraction of a ride back downhill in the narrow gauge train after a view of the breathtaking sunset. It will be a night safari through the forest and mountains under the security of lights.

The Central Railway which manages this 22 km ride has decided to illuminate the Matheran Light Railway (MLR) track with the latest LED (light emitting diode) lamps to add a new dimension to this tourist spot of heritage importance, though convincing Unesco to grant recognition has become an uphill task.

Generators will be installed to light up the Matheran track in compliance with the directives of the Commissioner of Railway Safety. He had refused to give clearance to run trains after sunset on this 107-year-old route between Neral and Matheran without proper lighting arrangements.

For smooth operation of the LED, a windmill energy system will be put in place. It will keep the track illuminated and provide power to the stations en route and the sleepy township located 800 metres above sea level, set in the forest at the top, as the name suggests — Matheran.

The windmill will be another step towards protecting the ecology of this region. Vehicles are not allowed beyond Aman Lodge station from where one has either to trek or go horse-back or by train alone. Hand-drawn rickshaws are available for local movement.

The township survives on the Railways and this was evident when torrential rains washed away the tracks in 2005. The delay in reviving the loss-making section had pushed the people towards penury. The Railways re-laid the track in 2007 bringing tourists back to the place facing the Western Ghats, and reviving the local economy. The revenue for the Railways is just about Rs. 60 lakh while they spend Rs. 6 crore to operate the two-hour journey that curls through dozens of exhilarating slopes and sets up the challenge of the “one kiss tunnel” to its romantically inclined passengers — that is steal one if you can.

The night running of trains is part of the programme to make the section more viable, stressed Central Railway general manager Subodh Jain, and push the earnings to Rs. 4 crore annually. The track has now been prepared to be used even during the monsoon, unlike in the past, to encourage round-the-year tourism.

Matheran has no blacktop roads; the broad pathways are dusty and rocky — allowing rain waters to percolate and preserve the foliage.

Two factors have come in the way of Unesco granting it world heritage status. After the torrential rains, the steam engine was replaced with a diesel locomotive.

A fortnight ago, the Railways did experiment with the steam engine to fulfil the UN body’s conditions but found it a fire hazard with the grass and tree boughs kissing the train in several places. They caught fire and the Railways decided against reviving the steam engine as it could set off summer forest fires.

The Railway Board intends to again petition the Unesco despite the rejection of its earlier proposal in 2009 to secure world heritage status for this mountain railway.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and the Kalka-Shimla Railway are now on the World Heritage list since 1999, 2005 and 2008 respectively.

Mr. Jain however maintained that the Railways and other government agencies were taking care of the entire region with commitment, adhering to world norms to maintain the ecology of the hillock irrespective of whether Unesco extends a helping hand or not.

High HP dual cabin diesel locomotive introduced

A newly manufactured high horsepower diesel locomotive with dual cabin arrangement has been introduced by the Railways for the first time in south India.

The 4,500 horsepower loco commissioned this month would be homed at the Diesel Loco Shed in Tiruchi, the biggest shed in Southern Railway zone with a holding of over 150 diesel engines including 27 EMD-type locos. This will be the first shed in south India to home the dual cab loco.

The loco pilot cabin has been provided in both ends of the diesel engine similar to that of an electric locomotive. It could be operated from front and rear cabin.

At present, all diesel engines being operated in south India are provided with only single cabin.

The dual cab loco would provide accurate visibility to the loco pilots to sight the signals and any obstructions on the track even at a speed of 130 kilometre per hour.

Dispatched from the Diesel Locomotive Works, Varanasi, the dual cab loco is presently being used for training loco pilots of Salem and Palakkad railway divisions on handling the engines.

The loco would be extensively used for hauling prestigious super fast trains such as the Rajdhani and the Jan Shatabdi expresses of south India.

Another unique feature of the dual cab engine is that it has been provided with a parallel display system for the Assistant Loco Pilot to monitor the performance of the engine from his seat. This facility is not available in other locomotives, railway officials here told ‘The Hindu’.

Equipped with computer controlled braking system, the engine can run at a maximum permissible speed of 130 kilometres per hour.

The seats inside the cabin have been ergonomically designed and various parameters such as speed, air pressure in brake pipes, feed pipes, main reservoir tanks have been customised and displayed in a computer (LED) display, eliminating the conventional gauges.

The control panel has been fabricated with fibre reinforced plastic material to give an elegant look.

With a 5,000-litre fuel tank capacity, the engine with six traction motors weighs 123 tonnes.

It would be utilised for hauling Rajdhani and Jan Shatabdi trains upon getting a clearance from the Commissioner of Railway Safety, the officials said.

Next rains, toy train may chug to Matheran

The popular toy train between Neral and Matheran may begin operating from next monsoon. Central Railway (CR) plans to run these services during the monsoon if the commissioner of railway safety accedes to its request. Toy train services remain suspended during this period due to safety concerns.

A trial run of the train service, attached with seven compartment and engines (both at the front and rear end), was carried out successfully on Saturday. Technicians of Parel and Kurudwadi workshop made changes in the engine and the compartment to make the trial successful.

Central Railway general manager Subodh Jain said, “The services can be run during the monsoons between Aman Lodge station and Matheran. If the CRS approves the request, the services will be resumed at the earliest.”

The running of the Matheran Light Rail (MLR) will be of immense boon to the economy of the tiny hill station, where motorable vehicles are banned. Tourist prefer to walk, ride on a horse or take hand-pulled rickshaw to traverse the 3 km distance between the Matheran town centre and Dasturi Car park—the last road point from where cars is available.

The stretch between Neral station and Aman Lodge has steeper gradient and is prone to landslides. Morever, the demand from the locals of Matheran is primarily to ensure rail connectivity between Matheran and Aman lodge.”

Jain added, “The successful trial has opened up the option of attaching more compartments to the existing service. For the new move, we will have to replace the existing narrow gauge tracks.”

CR will be able to attach two more coaches, creating capacity of 60 extra passengers. The project will take at least one year to complete due to the difficult terrain. It will cost Rs 3 crore.