The installation of signalling and telecommunications (S&T) systems is essential for safe and speedy train operations. S&T systems ensure the effective utilisation of a large fleet of locomotives and rolling stock and administer the entire urban rail network. Today, most metro rail projects use advanced S&T systems such as automatic train control (ATC), automatic train operation, automatic train protection and automatic train supervision. Further, ATC has two advanced variants – communications-based train control (CBTC) systems and advanced radio frequency CBTC. These advanced S&T technologies have gained prominence in the past few years with the majority of under-construction and upcoming metro networks deploying such systems.
The 13 km Aluva-Palarivattom stretch of the Kochi Metro, which was inaugurated on June 17, 2017, has deployed state-of-the-art CBTC technology which controls the movement of trains, allowing them to run at higher frequency and speed with greater safety. The under-construction Pink Line corridor of the Delhi metro will deploy unattended train operations (UTO) and CBTC signalling systems. Other under-construction metro systems such as the Hyderabad metro and the Nagpur metro will also use CBTC technology for signalling and train control.
Over the years, with the development of new metro lines, the market for signalling, train control and telecommunications (STT) equipment has gained significant traction. The current market size of STT systems is over Rs 68 billion and based on the pipeline of upcoming urban rail projects, there exists an opportunity of over Rs 320 billion. Further, under Union Budget 2017-18, an investment of more than Rs 200 billion has been planned for S&T over the three-year period 2017-18 to 2019-20.
To increase the reliability of S&T systems, various measures have been introduced in the sector. For instance, progressive upgradation of signalling systems like electronic interlocking with centralised operation of points and signals, multicoloured LED signals, complete track circuiting of stations, digital axle counters and automatic signalling, among other technologies have been deployed. Further, new technologies, such as train management systems, train protection warning systems and train collision avoidance systems have been introduced to provide automatic train protection.
For effective telecommunications, mobile train radio communication systems based on a global positioning system for mobile communications has been introduced. In another development, a modern optic fibre communication system which helps in better exchange of information and monitoring of trains has been deployed on the entire metro rail network. Apart from these, passenger information systems like LED display screens also feature in metro trains.
Currently, the S&T market in India is dominated by foreign players. Under the Make in India initiative, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (the erstwhile Ministry of Urban Development) has undertaken certain initiatives to promote domestic participation. The tender document for the procurement of metro cars and related critical equipment (including S&T equipment) has stipulated the mandatory procurement of nine types of signalling equipment from within the country.
Besides, the ministry has also finalised the long-pending norms for rolling stock and signalling equipment. These norms are applicable to over 90 per cent of the equipment imported at present. The norms mandate the installation of signalling systems based on CBTC technology with auto reversal function at terminal stations and the deployment of the UTO feature, which is grade of automation level 4.
The way forward
Going forward, focus has to be laid on the operation and management of S&T assets. The key to avoid failures such as train control equipment failure and fused light signals lies in improving maintenance and diagnostic capabilities. Given the high footfall on metro trains, absolute safety can be ensured only by complying with international standards that support interoperability and interchangeability between trains and track sides.