On the priority list are passenger safety and increase in train speeds. Since proper inspection, relaying and maintenance of railway tracks are essential for the purpose, IR is looking to switch to a completely mechanised regime on the trunk route by 2020 and on its entire 67,368-km network by 2024.
The transporter has suffered 659 train accidents in the last five years, of which more than 56% have occurred due to derailment. The importance of track maintenance and renewal was driven home in FY17-18 which saw a mere 73 accidents, the lowest-ever in IR’s history, owing to 4,405 km of track renewal.
Better track maintenance improves safety standards by lessening the scope for human error. IR has so far employed permanent way inspectors, assistant engineers and divisional engineers to maintain track records manually with the help of track recording cars, oscillograph cars, among other equipment. Track geometry, vital for determining track condition, has to be recorded at regular intervals and any human error or negligence can prove disastrous.
Mechanisation would ensure more efficiency and accuracy in the system, besides improving the working conditions for railway staff. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal recently inducted into the system five new machines, including three Dynamic Track Tamping machines, one Ballast Cleaning machine and one Points and Crossing Tamping machine. These added to the fleet of 883 track maintenance machines.
According to AK Khandelwal, executive director, track machines, “the new Dynamic Tamping Express (machine) is a high-output integrated machine which can measure pre- and post-track geometry, correct track alignment to the required geometry, tamp three sleepers simultaneously, and stabilise and measure post-tamping track parameters under load”. Costing Rs 27 crore each, “42 more such machines would be inducted in the next three years,” he says.
The Ballast Cleaning machine screens ballast under the sleepers on plain tracks and turnouts and improves mobility, safety and passenger comfort. At present, 115 such machines are operational, with 41 more planned for induction in the next three years. As for the Points and Crossing Tamping machine, used for track geometry correction on turnouts, IR plans to add 62 units to a fleet of 32 machines over three years.
Mobile workshops are required to operate these machines. So, the general class coaches provided to workmen for accommodation on tracks are being transformed into mobile workshops, equipped with a fully furnished modular kitchen, bio toilets, storage space, and office-cum-living space, with all amenities.
The railway ministry has signed MoUs with France, Germany, Czech Republic, China, South Korea, Canada, Slovak Republic, United Kingdom, Japan, Russia, Sweden and Kazakhstan for the upgrade of its infrastructure. While Rs 3 lakh crore has been spent since 2014 on modernisation, IR is looking to raise more money through advertising revenues and monetisation of assets.