Mint Primer: Can technology drive train safety into the future?

As India pushes through plans to modernize its rail infrastructure, increasing capacity with new trains and tracks, with faster rollouts and constant upgrades to systems, Kavach can ensure safer train journeys. That’s because India continues to suffer from train accidents, Mint explains:

What is the technology behind Kavach?

Most safety systems used worldwide rely on radars or RFID (radio frequency identification) tags. Launched in 2020, the Kavach system works on a comprehensive communications protocol that combines radio and GPS signals between trains and tracks and sends warnings to avoid collisions. On railway lines equipped with Kavach, the system can automatically brake – even if the driver does not – if it detects a threat to the safety of the train. These are 4G/5G compatible systems. Anti-collision systems have been used in Europe since the 1960s. In Japan, trains are equipped with seismic sensors to stop them in the event of an earthquake.

What is the status of the Kavach system?

Automatic Train Protection System (ATP) Kavach has been indigenously developed by the Research Design and Standards Organization (RSCO) and three Indian companies. Kavach’s aim is to secure India’s more than 68,000 km railway network. However, since the initial rollout, only 1,500 km have been equipped with the Kavach system. Indian Railways plans to install Kavach over more than 6,000 km by 2025, covering key routes including Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah. Kavach deployment is expected to increase to 5,000 km per year by FY26 from 1,500 km per year currently.

Are anti-collision systems 100% safe?

“There is a chance of a single mistake in 10,000 years,” said Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw at the launch of Kavach. Obstacles up to 10 km away can be detected by sensors on tracks. These send signals to trains to reduce speed, after which the train’s driver (or automatic systems) can bring the train to a stop. Like any other technology, it needs constant upgrades.

Why does it take so long to deploy Kavach?

So far, less than 5% of the railway network is covered with Kavach. The cost of installing trackside equipment, including Kavach station equipment, is approx 50 lakh per km and the cost of installing Kavach in a train is 70 lakh each. The budget allocation for Kavach in FY24 was 710 crore and in the interim budget for FY25 it was 560 crores. About 6,000 km have been put out to tender and the railways are likely to conduct an expedited tender. Increased spending on Kavach and involving more private players will help accelerate the rollout.

The future is faster; will it also be safer?

The National Rail Plan 2030 aims to identify new dedicated freight and high-speed rail corridors and increase the average speed of trains. Recent accidents such as the 2023 Balasore crash that killed more than 300 people and the June 17 accident that killed 10 people have prompted the government to accelerate Kavach deployment. In Europe, there were 1,615 rail accidents in 2022, killing around 800 people, according to Eurostat. In India, coverage of the entire network and all trains with Kavach will result in far fewer accidents.