India has joined a growing number of countries looking to the skies to improve their safety, after the country’s train operator used satellite technology to alert road users of trains approaching trains at crossings. Indian Railways is undergoing a trial with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to use satellites outside of the earth’s atmosphere to sound horns at unmanned crossings.
ISRO and Indian Railways have been working on India’s project since June 2017, which involves the installation of a microchip into trains, enabling remote operation of its hooter.
Satellites are well-suited for use as a method of controlling rail infrastructure as they can deliver the necessary commands at a lower cost than if relying on a terrestrial communications network, such as GSM-R. The technology has also been used in a similar fashion on rail infrastructure in Europe.
India’s latest foray into satellite-controlled rail no doubt forms part of an attempt to lower the high numbers of people who die on the country’s tracks. In the city of Mumbai alone, in 2016 3,202 passengers were killed by trains, an average of eight people a day, according to figures obtained from the government.
As reported in the Times of India, Tapan Misra, director of Ahmedabad-based Space Applications Centre, a division of the ISRO, said that once India’s project is completed successfully it will be installed in phases on trains across the country. “Under the pilot project, IC chips have been installed on five engines of trains on different routes. The testing on the satellite-based hooter system has been going on since June to check if it is reliable and can function under different climatic conditions.”
India’s trials come after a test of similar technology in Italy, where Ansaldo STS and the state-owned company that manages its rail infrastructure, RFI, worked on a system designed to help with the operation of the signalling system, European European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).
Originally tested over a three-year period on one operational train that travelled more than 90,000 miles without incident, it was then rolled out on a 30-mile section of track on the island of Sardinia between Cagliari and San Gavino. Francesco Rispoli, manager of satellite technology at Ansaldo STS, said that the trial, which was the first large-scale roll-out test in Europe, has successfully completed another 6,200 miles.
“Through close collaboration with the rail operator, we have been able to verify the technology in real operational conditions,” said Rispoli, adding that it made a good business case for satellite technology to extend ERTMS to regional railway lines.
“The main goal of this stage is to demonstrate that this solution satisfies all the requirements needed, without impacting on the safety levels of the ERTMS.”
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