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Mangal Dev, Head of Hitachi Rail Systems Co., India & South Asia Region feels that selection of right technologies and efficient project implementation will help in expediting modernisation of India's rail transport network.
How are you presently servicing the Indian Railways?
Hitachi and its subsidiary company, Ansaldo, are engaged with the Indian Railways on many platforms. We will be introducing state-of-the-art technology in signalling and telecommunications on the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) from Delhi to Mumbai. Together with multi-section digital access counters, electronic interlocking will be used for signalling. All the stations in the corridor will be networked to one common operational control centre at Ahmedabad to manage capacity and time-table of trains. Additionally, we are also going to apply the Train Protection & Warning System (TPWS) for the first time. If a train driver is unable to detect a signal, the system will automatically stop the train. Ansaldo has already completed the challenging project of decongesting the existing network between Ghaziabad and Kanpur. We had to design and implement signalling on an existing network. In this case too there will be a train management system at Tundla. Since the Indian Railways is increasing the speed of its services, it needs the TPWS on a large scale in Delhi-Howrah, Delhi-Mumbai and Chandigarh-Bhopal lines. We are participating in these tenders and have also implemented the first two projects of TPWS between Delhi and Agra and Chennai suburban areas.
Having already acquired invaluable experience in the area, what in your opinion are the key complexities encountered in servicing a network as humongous as the Indian Railways?
The Railways is taking a lot of action in the right direction. Firstly, it is now using right technologies and has also made changes to its project implementation strategy. It strives to track all the ongoing projects and complete them expeditiously before starting on something new. This is very important as it means that resources will get freed up faster for other projects. Secondly, the pattern of these contracts is also changing. The Railways has realised that it has to design and build projects from The Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) is showing the Indian Railways how this contracting can be carried out for large engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) projects. This would mean a lot of well-crafted contracts for both the Railways and industry. Thirdly, on the funding part, the Railways is quite ambitious about modernising its network and making it safe. It has managed to get funds from several multi-lateral organisations like JICA, World Bank and ADB, as well as from new sources such as the LIC.
A new development fund is also being created in addition to the Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC).
You often emphasise how effective use of the Internet of Things (IoT) can lead to a paradigm shift in the way the railway system operates in India. Please elaborate.
For a very long time, the Indian Railways was operating in silos. So, how do you connect all the stakeholders together? And Railways has different systems and departments. To enable communication, you need to bring all of these on the same level. This information has to be first properly collated and analysed, and thereafter disseminated to the right stakeholder. On top of that, to measure data using new kinds of sensors, you need new platforms. And this leads you to IoT. You have to use the data intelligently so as to create decisive support systems, like a dashboard for decision-makers. This goes well with the government's policy of digitalisation. Today, a passenger or prospective customer wants to interact with the Railways. However, social media, call centres and other means of establishing communication with the Railways are presently quite fragmented. Therefore, the Railways has connected social media to a common window. It is also trying to analyse and provide a resolution to all the feedback received. But I think it needs to take it to the next level to create what is called an engagement platform to provide customers with a new experience. Again, picking up information from the ticketing reservation system and using it for analysis of train capacity on a particular network can help in maximising capacity utilisation, which would translate into additional revenue.
What are the challenges that the Railways is bound to confront as it modernises?
One of the biggest challenges is to upgrade its manpower skills to be able to use new technologies. It has to figure out a way to convince all stakeholders that these technologies will be beneficial, thus garnering their support. For example, a station master must be made to feel that the train management system facilitates his job in running trains efficiently. Second, the Railways wants to decongest its existing network. However, it cannot spare the network even for a second as it is operational round-the-clock. It will, therefore, have to find ways and means to build redundancies into this system so that it is decongested to improve reliability. The third challenge will be to monitor these projects on a large scale. Although the Railways has created a platform for project management, its effectiveness must be measured by the support system's ability to identify challenges without the need for human intervention. The other challenge is to find the right technology. Today the Research Designs & Standards Organisation (RDSO) does this selection. But that is again not on a scale that it can be quickly implemented. It usually starts with a very small pilot project. Thereafter, implementation and obtaining of results take up a lot of time.
What is the progress on your own engagement with Make in India?
Hitachi today has close to 250 railway engineers working on different railway projects. Then come products followed by their servicing. We are doing lot of localisation in terms of signalling equipment. The interlocking system is now manufactured in India. We will continue to add on to our list as we identify the right suppliers who match our quality requirements. In the next phase, when we get the next big project, we would be doing Make in India in rolling stock.
How often do you have to modify your technology to acclimatise it to India's needs?
The operating as well as climate requirements in India call for customisation of our products. For every project that we have implemented, we have had to make modifications. These modifications have to be taken through an approval process. If it is a safety product, there is a CENELEC SIL process and we have to get it SIL-4 certified. And if it is a reliability product, we have to take reliability measures. When Hitachi implemented the traction system on EMUs in Mumbai, we had to modify our motors to meet the requirements. The Railways still vouches for its quality because traction motors from other suppliers take a lot of time to stabilise in the Indian environment. We will be making certain changes for the DFC project too.
A year ago, you bought stake in Frauscher Rail Signalling Systems India. Any plans for more such deals or acquisitions in the current fiscal?
Hitachi has already created a platform called Social Innovation, which basically means 'collaborative creation' with the customers, suppliers and partners. It is in our DNA to collaborate with various partners. Now if we can serve a global footprint using an Indian partnership or if we have to enter into a more specific relationship, we are open to that. In IoT, for instance, the implementation will be on a large scale and customisation of solutions will have to be done to meet India's needs. There are areas where we could fast track technology implementation.
With the sector projected for a significant growth, how challenging will it be to find adequately trained manpower?
Who are the people actually working on the rolling stock in India? It is the Indian Railways. When urban transportation started to take off, the metro authorities also depended on the Railways for these resources. Now every city with a population of more than one million will have to implement the urban transportation system. This means there will be a lot of stress on what is available with the Railways. As part of the effort to train more people, both the government and private universities have started to take up engineering disciplines for the sector.
On top of that, Railways' own institutes are now being envisioned to create a railway university. But efforts need to be scaled-up so that the Indian Railways, industry and metro authorities collaborate on a PPP to create a common pool of railway resources for the long haul. Hitachi is doing its bit here. We are associated with Sir Padmapat Singhania University, Udaipur, for a railway engineering programme. We will be taking students of the programme to our facilities in India and Japan to further develop their skills by giving them internships in our factories. The first batch will be ready from next year.
What are the three main benefits that will accrue to India following the modernisation of its railway network?
The Railways contributes almost 2.5 per cent to the GDP. Therefore, if the Railways story can be successfully turned around, it will be a real game changer for the Indian economy. Second, when you invest in the railways, you are investing in an entire ecosystem. It spreads to the peripheral and inner ecosystem to create jobs in diverse spheres like services, manufacturing, logistics and engineering and design. Third, you will be able to provide a reliable service to passengers. People of India will be able to travel in a transport system that is safe, punctual and cost-effective.
- Manish Pant