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How Kavach anti-collision system could have prevented Kanchanjunga Express accident | Explained

Kavach is an automated situational awareness system that provides automated train protection as well as collision prevention capabilities for trains. Here's all you need to know about this system.

Written By: Om Gupta New Delhi Published on: June 17, 2024 18:46 IST
Kavach anti-collision system
Image Source : FILE Kavach anti-collision system

At least 15 people died, and over 60 were injured after a goods train collided with the Kanchanjunga Express train en route to Kolkata, West Bengal. This incident has once again highlighted the importance of the Kavach anti-collision system, which is set to be installed across all railway routes in the country. Kavach is an indigenous collision prevention system designed specifically for trains. Let's delve into what the Kavach anti-collision system is and how it works.

The Kavach automatic train protection (ATP) system, developed by the Research Designs & Standards Organisation (RDSO) for the Indian Railways, is a technology with Safety Integrity Level 4 (SIL-4) certification. Beginning in 2012 as the Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) project, Kavach aims to create India's own automatic protection system to enhance safety and reduce accidents within the Indian Railways.

Notable features of the Kavach system include:

  • Automatically applying brakes to maintain train speed during emergency situations
  • Transmitting line-side signals inside the train cab and automatic whistling at level crossings under foggy conditions and high speeds
  • Constantly updating movement authority
  • Direct locomotive-to-locomotive communication to prevent collisions
  • Actively utilising SOS to avert mishaps and accidents

How does the Kavach system work? 

The system is made up of multiple electronic and RFID devices placed in locomotives, tracks, the railway signalling system, and each station at one-kilometre intervals. While a 4G LTE-based system is in the works, the current system utilises ultra-high radio frequencies to communicate with its components. If a train driver ignores a signal (known as Signal Passed at Danger or SPAD), which is a primary cause of train accidents, Kavach issues a warning. When the system detects another train on the same track within a specific distance, it can immediately alert the train operator and take control of the brakes.

During adverse weather conditions like fog, the device continuously monitors the train's progress and sends signals ahead to the engines. Kavach combines key elements from both the Indian anti-collision device and the European Train Control System.

What are components of Kavach system? 

The railway system includes Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in its tracks, utilizing electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and fetch information from a wireless device at a distance, without requiring physical contact or direct line of sight.

Moreover, the driver's cabin (locomotive) is furnished with RFID readers, a computer, and brake interface equipment.

Finally, radio infrastructure, comprising towers and modems, is set up at railway stations.

What is the cost of implementing the Kavach system? 

The Kavach system implementation carries a substantial cost. Installation of trackside and station equipment comes to about Rs 50 lakh per kilometre, while outfitting a locomotive with Kavach technology costs approximately Rs 70 lakh per unit. The budget allocation for Kavach in the 2024 fiscal year was Rs 710 crore, with nearly Rs 560 crore allocated in the 2025 Interim Budget.

What is the current implementation status of Kavach? 

During a session in the Rajya Sabha in February, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw provided an update on the Kavach implementation. He stated that Kavach has been set up on 1,465 route kilometres and 139 locomotives, including Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) rakes, mainly on the South Central Railway network. Additionally, he mentioned that tenders have been awarded for the installation of Kavach on the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah corridors, which span around 3,000 route kilometres. 

Vaishnaw also highlighted significant progress in establishing essential infrastructure, such as completing the installation of optical fibre cables along 3,040 kilometres and erecting 269 telecommunication towers. Furthermore, 186 pieces of equipment have been installed at stations, and 170 units have been attached to locomotives. Track-side equipment has been deployed along 827 route kilometres.

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