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Safety concerns on critical train routes as Karnataka lacks 'Kavach'

The automatic train protection system can prevent head-on and rear collisions, like the recent one involving Kanchanjunga Express in West Bengal. Yet it has not been implemented in crucial sections in the state, with an SWR spokesperson saying that they had "Automatic Emergency Braking" to prevent mishaps.
Last Updated : 23 June 2024, 01:11 IST

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Hubbali: Kavach, a key tool that prevents train accidents, has not been deployed in Karnataka, raising questions of safety on several 'critical sections' (stretches where the possibility of accidents is high) and high-density routes that have crossed 100% capacity utilisation.

A majority of routes in Karnataka fall under the South Western Railway (SWR) jurisdiction. At present, the SWR has 3,390 route km and handles an average of 380 to 400 passenger trains and another 200 to 300 goods trains daily.

The automatic train protection system can prevent head-on and rear collisions, like the recent one involving Kanchanjunga Express in West Bengal. Yet it has not been implemented in crucial sections in the state, with an SWR spokesperson saying that they had "Automatic Emergency Braking" to prevent mishaps. 

Apart from the absence of Kavach, vacancy of posts is also straining the safety infrastructure. Senior officials informed DH that there is at least a 25 per cent to 35 per cent deficit of human resources, such as guards and train operating loco pilots in the safety section of SWR.

Of the sanctioned 5,200 loco-pilot posts, more than 1,800 (35 per cent) are vacant. Similarly, of the 1,330 sanctioned posts of train managers (guards), 325 (25 per cent) posts are vacant. Overall, there is a 28 per cent vacancy of safety staff, which includes signal engineers, communication department staff and others, in SWR.

“This huge vacancy is a matter of concern as it compromises the safety of trains and their passengers,” said a senior officer requesting anonymity. The officer said the railways is approving operations of new railway lines and building of stations without sanctioning new station operations staff.

The officer pointed fingers at the Union Finance Ministry, which is not allocating funds to the Railway Board to appoint new workforce. As the SWR is spreading itself thin by deploying existing staff on new routes, chances of untoward incidents increase by that many times, said the officer.

SWR officials have identified Miraj-Hubballi-Bengaluru, Hubballi-Ballari, Bengaluru-Mysuru, Bengaluru-Chennai, Bengaluru-Guntakal and Vasco-Da-Gama–Londa routes as critical sections.

These routes have reached their maximum carrying capacity. There are also segments such as Castle Rock-Khanapur, Hassan, Sakaleshpur, Subrahmanya and others in Ghat sections with very high gradients that are vulnerable to landslides and other natural calamities.

Manjunath Kanamadi, SWR Chief Public Relations Officer, admitted the absence of Kavach. “At present, none of the routes in SWR has Kavach. However, given that a section of railway routes in SWR comes under the Golden Quadrilateral, we are hopeful that soon the critical routes will get the Kavach system.”

“Even without Kavach, we have Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) and others to prevent accidents,” he said, adding the Railway Board is filling vacant posts regularly.

The Yeshwantpur Railway Station.

The Yeshwantpur Railway Station.

Credit: DH Photo by B K Janardhan

The Kavach factor Kavach is an indigenously developed automatic train protection system (ATPS) designed by the Research Designs & Standards Organisation (RDSO). India’s Kavach is considered to be one of the cheapest and most efficient anti-train collision systems. To lay Kavach on a kilometre of train route, it costs Rs 50 lakh. The system functions on radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. Currently, the IR has implemented the system on 1,465 km in North India and work is in progress on another 3,000 km. 

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Published 23 June 2024, 01:11 IST

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