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We have an Anti-collision Device network called ‘Raksha Kavach’ for rail-guided systems. But we deny it to the people, says the inventor of the device.
Anti-collision devices (ACDs) are microprocessor-based, communication-capable, GPS-enabled compact devices with special world-recognised intelligent self-deducing capability, requiring no human inputs, but draw strength from networking with each other - mounted on locomotives, stations, the last vehicle, level crossing gates and any other vulnerable locations.
They can detect any condition of two trains likely to get endangered seriously by colliding with each other either at the front or at the rear end or sideways on double tracks, in all station sections, block sections; automatically initiate braking action to control the speed profiles of both the trains to avoid any serious consequences. (For more, see: atrilab.com; videos at www.youtube.com/atrilab).
In the railways, while station masters are provided enough electronic protections against wrong doing and unsafe things, for drivers and guards - except for a badly-working voice communication system and visible signals - there is no automatically-acting protecting system against human errors.
ACDs provide this protective layer, and that is why I named it as 'Raksha Kavach'. An ACD network only ensures that trains are automatically brought to a safe halt if any serious consequences are visualised by the trains running, following existing signals as perceived by the drivers, without the driver's co-operation, the halt is forced. That is protection for drivers, guards and passengers.
ACDs are like having additional lookout electronic drivers travelling with existing drivers and guards and also posted with the station masters, who have electronic eyes to "see" more than 4-5 km and built-in intelligence to do the limited job of assuring within 3 km of range, no event of serious consequence will occur, whatever be the signals' indication or drivers' perception.
There is no scope for human error in this system.
(For complete description of operations see: http://anticollisionsystems.blogspot.com/2006/02/raksha-kavach.html).
Out of sheer anguish at the loss of lives in train collisions during 1999 the idea took shape and I produced the first prototype in collaboration with the private sector. No international technology is even now available for the kind of spectrum of possible train collisions that ACDs can effectively protect.
International patents were obtained specifically because of the deviation count theory incorporated as invented by me in those stressful days, which make ACDs detect their own position on the railway network with the least inputs from ground-based equipment. That led to cost savings.
And it is a non-signal equipment, making it economical to produce. But as it evolves further, it can run trains too, eliminating the need for current expensive fixed-signal systems. That has created enemies for ACD.
It is a sophisticated intelligent device and involves complex reliable communications and short-term bridging algorithms to take care of GPS blackouts. Knowledge levels available in government railway personnel are woefully inadequate to create the technology and suitable private enterprise with will to innovate and invest own intellectual capital becomes necessary.
The risk of dealing with rigid government departments usually tied in too much red tape. It needed some enthusiastic NRIs to get into this effort. Actually, being a government man, I had to put in place a process for selecting such a technology delivery company, that too at an economic price. An invention has to be nurtured and scaled up to work to get benefits. Out of three competitors, one succeeded in producing the prototype within low costs and time-frame in 1999. That happened to be a non-resident Indian (NRI) group supported company Kernex Microsystems, Hyderabad.
Maybe they had a dream to see one Indian company competing in the technology space rivalling Europeans instead of remaining cyber-coolies.
On the basis of bartering mutual IP rights, with Konkan Railway (to whom I donated my rights of personal research work in the public interest) having royalty and marketing rights for Indian Railways and Kernex to have exclusive development and manufacturing rights, the total costs of development were kept low with long-term interests factored in. The sophisticated knowledge base needed for continuing such development of technology can be better managed in the private sector if only long-term stakes are created. Else they would have demanded higher costs to cover the risk of short-term engagements and refused to invest their own intellectual property rights necessarily involved in manufacturing and development of firm-ware. This is not like construction of an airport. We are talking of innovation.
The costs also are kept fair for which mechanisms were incorporated, and the relationship constructed so that together Konkan Railway and Kernex will benefit but if anyone falls out wrongly, penal financial costs will be heavy.
The entire relationship was designed keeping in view the public interest.
But strong forces are working overtime to kill the ACD project from the inception, foreseeing a danger to their fiefdom.
ACD is a non-signal system, but performed better than signals in the area of preventing collisions.
After failing to stop the successful performance review of the working of ACDs in the toughest railway (NF Railway), the department took it upon itself to keep playing the game of misplacing the files in the board, revising the norms again and again and also suddenly introducing a multi-vendor concept, which is not tenable in such development efforts. For patent products, a proprietary article certificate can be issued which is a standard process. In fact, the railways procure even non-patented items using the proprietary article certificate, saying others are not producing the said items. But when it comes to the ACD, this is conveniently forgotten.
After agreeing to freeze specifications and performance norms, with a promise that once these are satisfied, full commercial scale implementation would start, it is unethical to again insist to prove against freshly revised norms. Not enough, revisions and testing and proving did not take place. Over a decade, innumerable changes were made and development done to satisfy the same before freezing the product finally. No one can keep on investing his or her intellectual capital without returns eternally. As part of commercial project implementation, improvements can continue - and should continue - but not as a mere research project with heavy investments but not returns.
So knowing the same, this strategy is now adopted to kill any spirit left in the private company, which stood by and worked over a decade on this project with 500 Indian software and hardware specialists investing in the hope of future returns. The NRI group is a disillusioned lot now.
All the accidents in which lives are getting lost now can be easily prevented by the level of ACD technology developed and proven in 2002 itself. But since then more features have been incorporated to prevent even remotely imagined situations with least probability. Fundamentally, ACDs do not replace existing signals, but add an additional safety layer. Trying to make it an alternative to signals is truly ridiculous and also mischievous.
As they get ACD implementation delayed, all-out efforts to somehow get very expensive foreign technology-based signal projects continue, despite the accidents. But they wilfully hide the fact that the non-signal device ACD, does more than what the expensive foreign technology can do. The rub is non-signal device ACDs cost one-fifth compared to inferior performing foreign signal equipment. That seems to justify the angst.
The system of administration is clever and spins yarns well. So long as I was part of the group, I could fight within but it was not a joke. Actually intellectual work took hardly 2% of time in ACD development, but the rest 98% was only to fight the self-interest groups driven by interests in foreign companies' technologies. Once I left Konkan Railway in 2005, there appears to be no one with enough grit to keep the fight on within the system.
So step by step, thousands of ACDs installed are being disabled, denying them maintenance. Refusing to own up the equipment is one simple way of allowing it to rot. Then there is this fear of the vigilance process instilled in officers to fall in line and help kill the ACD using the Konkan Railway organisation itself.
Slowly, the situation is developing for forced legal recourse to be taken by the private company partner who is getting ditched in the process. Loss to Konkan Railway will not be a problem for officers, because the rules of the game of survival dictate that one protects his own skin and should bury things in thick files of inaction.
Soon after an accident, the Railway Board has a wonderful, fail-safe method of putting off pressure from the public, talking technical gibberish. The innocent non-technical ministers faithfully repeat the same. For example, with the public outrage now, suddenly another trial to prove ACD on multiple-line sections (that is, more than two lines) is being talked about. This is a matter of getting the correct track ID, using the patented deviation count algorithms, which has been tested and proven a number of times. Local customisation is a built-in process for the ACDs, where checks and balances are built in to allocate the correct track ID. The second point is if too many ACDs are present in a small region (like 10 or 20), will it cause a communication black-out? This has been suspected by the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) and they already quietly tried out with 20 ACDs within one kilometre, which never happens, trying to get a reason to condemn the system, in NF railway trials. But they found to their surprise that ACD communications remained sound. So they kept the results to themselves.
When I hear the minister speaking of doing multi-track trials and Konkan Railway officials singing the same song, I only tell myself, here they go again to take the heat off and avoid allowing the implementation in other zonal railways. When there is a will to sabotage the project at any cost at the Railway Board level, ministers will become helpless. The technical mumbo-jumbo will keep them off track. Unfortunately, accountability is blurred in our systems.
But innocents pay the price.
The Railway Board says that Konkan Railway has to come forward to continue to test further and prove further. The goalposts keep shifting. It has been repeated in Parliament that the ACD is successful and will be implemented. Every budget speech since 2003 has been saying that, of course. So the ministry is not at fault. Then Konkan Railway refuses to release dues and starves the partner company of funds, saying orders are not forthcoming. Papers fly around and meetings continue. Another spoke is driven in by the Railway Board to force Konkan Railway to find another vendor, quoting that single bids cannot be accepted due to the 'rule of vigilance'. Of course it is not applicable in this case. But a rule is a rule.
There are good people also in the Railway Board, who sit mutely, as innocent commuters are crushed by colliding trains, because everything is as per proper procedure. We order inquiries after rushing to the site and offering tearful condolences.
It looks like we are waiting for another collision to happen, given the weakest link is that of a driver's human failure - a constant feature of our present train-control systems.
(Rajaram Bojji, is former managing director of the Konkan Railway and also inventor of ACD Technology)
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