LUDHIANA: When the government is planning to induct bullet trains in the country, Railways is still relying on the 50-year-old methodology of using detonators to operate trains during fog.
In the Ferozepur division of the Northern Railways, officials deploy fog-signal men, who are trained to install detonators on the railway tracks near all stations, in a bid to alert the locomotive pilot.
Detonators are the small crackers that are installed 270 metres before the home signal, which is around 200 metres away from the station.
Absence of automatic block signalling, which costs over Rs 60 lakh as per estimates, is taking a toll on the frequency of the trains in the winter season.
Divisional operating manager Ashok Salaria says, “When a train is about to arrive, fog-signal men fix two detonators on the railway tracks at a distance of 10 metres — around 270 metres before the home signal — and then stand at a distance of 40 metres from the place where the detonators are installed.
When the train runs over the detonator, it produces a loud hiss. This alerts the locomotive pilot that the station is about to arrive and the train is around 270 metres away from the home signal. Following the alarm, the drivers adjust the speed accordingly.”
He adds, “But detonators are installed only when station master or any other competent railway official declare the low visibility due to fog or smog through visibility test object.
How railways declares poor visibility due to fog
Railways is not dependent on the weather department to declare the poor visibility due to fog, says Salaria.
“It follows Visibility Test Object (VTO), in which a railway official draws a yellow-coloured circle of one-metre diameter on the platform, 180 metres away from the home signal,” he adds.
A competent railway official such as station superintendent, station master or any other authorised functionary then stands on that circle and sees the signal. “If he is able to see the signal clearly, then the conditions are normal. But if he cannot spot the signal, he declares poor visibility due to fog and then asks the fog-signal men to install detonators and it continues until the official doesn’t see the signal properly from 180-metre distance,” Salaria says.
Lack of automatic block signalling
This season, Railways also reduced the number of trains from operating on the tracks and even limited the train speed up to 60km per hour during fog. This caused considerable delays and cancellations on daily basis resulting in harassment faced by hundreds of passengers.
When interacted with some locomotive pilots, it was informed that in other divisions, the Railways have installed huge reflectors (sigma) near the signal stand which help in locating the signals.
The practice of using detonators has stopped in the rest of the divisions, but is still being used in the Ferozepur division.
“Moreover, Ferozepur division lacks automatic block signals (ABS) which are installed at other divisions of the Northern Railways. Around three block signals are installed at specific distance between the two stations and it helps in managing multiple trains on one track. It also helps to reduce the delay in running status,” a loco pilot said. Since this division lacks ABS, one train is operated at a time and another train is departed only after the first train reaches the other nearest station, thus causing delays.
Fog safety device
Railways has also provided the train drivers with fog-safety devices, attached with a global positioning system (GPS).
Fog-safety device is an audio-visual instrument enabled with GPS. “It indicates us about the positioning of the stations. It navigates the train route and indicates when the station is about to come, then we look out of the window to see the signal whether it is green or red,” said another locomotive pilot.