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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Hi-tech solutions for India's train crashes

By Monica Chadha
BBC correspondent in Delhi

India's vast rail network is set to get hi-tech solutions to prevent the recurring major crashes that blight its reputation.

State-run Indian Railways is planning to introduce systems to prevent collisions and to keep drivers alert.

Golconda Express in Warangal
Crashes often leave many dead
They will be put in the driver's cab on all trains in an attempt to reduce accidents.

Indian Railways spokesman Davinder Sandhu told the BBC the anti-collision device is based on the Global Positioning Satellite or GPS system.

"Any problem by way of derailment or any other danger on the tracks will be picked up by the GPS and a warning will be conveyed via this device to the driver inside the engine cabin," Mr Sandhu says.

"He can then prevent an accident by carrying out the required action."

On top of this, drivers will be kept alert by a vigilance control device that will make sure they do not fall asleep while operating a train.

"If no action is performed by the driver for 20 seconds at a stretch, then the device gives out an audio-visual signal for the driver to move controls," Mr Sandhu explained to me.

"If the driver fails to do anything, then the brakes come on automatically within the next 30 seconds."

Working conditions

Indian Railways has been plagued by accidents in recent months.

Train cab
Drivers sometimes work in temperatures well over 50C

It is the one network that connects the billion people living in this sprawling country. Nearly 13 million people travel by trains every day. When there is an accident, that often translates into large numbers of casualties.

In July, an express train derailed in the south-eastern state of Andhra Pradesh killing 21 passengers.

In June, 51 people died when a train crashed into boulders in an area south of the financial capital, Bombay (Mumbai).

Mr Sandhu also says India Railways is looking at drivers' working conditions more closely to reduce the number of accidents caused by negligence on the driver's part and improve efficiency.

At present, drivers sit on hard wooden seats in cabins where temperatures often soar to an unbearable 56C.

The rest rooms provided for them often have no electricity and they have no recreational facilities.

But now, they can look forward to yoga classes, counselling for work as well as personal problems and air-conditioned rest rooms on long distance trips.

They will also get cushioned seats in the engine room as well as a walkie-talkie to keep in touch with the station officials.

Plans on track?

Drivers have welcomed this move.

Mohan Rana has been a railway driver for the past 20 years and he says improved facilities will definitely ease their lives.

Delhi train station
Some 13 million Indians travel by train each day

"We are always alert anyway but it would be nice if there was a device to double-check and prevent collision. It will be good for us."

Another driver, who had been with the railways for 25 years said he had got used to the present conditions but there was definitely room for improvement.

He also said the air-conditioned restrooms and recreational facilities will help them perform better.

So it seems like Indian Railways has come up with a good strategy to keep its trains and drivers on track.

But it remains to be seen if their plan stays on track too.


SEE ALSO:
More dead in India train crash
03 Jul 03  |  South Asia
Dozens die in Indian train blaze
15 May 03  |  South Asia
India train crash toll rises
23 Jun 03  |  South Asia
'Error' blamed for India train deaths
03 Jan 03  |  South Asia
India's antiquated railways
02 Dec 00  |  South Asia


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