Central Railway commuters, who experienced utter chaos after a fire engulfed the signalling panel at Kurla on Tuesday night, might be justified in thinking that they would have been spared the ordeal, if the railways had a back up signalling system. Unfortunately, there isn’t any backup for the signalling panel, in case of any such unforeseen situations, and setting up a new panel will invoke a humungous expenditure. Railway officials feel that having a backup for such signalling panels, technically called Route Relay Interlocking (RRI), is impossible as these are massive systems. “The expenditure required for setting up a backup signalling panel and systems is enormous. Moreover, a large tract of land is needed for such setups,” said a senior railway official. The signalling system at Kurla had cost over Rs 5 crore.
Railway experts claim that having a backup for such huge RRIs is similar to having two houses. “A second signalling system would take the same space, and so it would become unviable to connect two RRIs at the same time,” said another railway official. Each panel controls the working of a ‘point’ that connects intersection of tracks, which enables trains to change tracks and directions.
In order to achieve a safe operation (to get a green signal), the signalling system assures that the track ahead of the signal to the next is free. RRIs ensure that the signal changes from red to yellow, to double yellow and to green depending on the movement and distance of trains. RRIs connect and control train operations on particular sections.
The ground floor of the building where signalling panels were installed and got charred controlled over 68 signals on the Sion-Kurla stretch, including Tilak Nagar and Kurla LTT terminus, and car shed tracks where trains are maintained. “We have a system of running trains even when signals aren’t functioning. It is not possible to have backup for such a huge signalling system,” said V Malegaonkar, chief PRO, Central Railway. Central Railway officials claim that barring a few signals, the rest have been restored and that services would run on time from Saturday.
Meanwhile railway experts and ex-railway officials state that it is an impossible task to have a backup for such huge systems anywhere in world. They claim that even countries like Japan or European nations, where high-speed trains operate, would not have a separate signal panel as backup.
“The only backup for running these signalling systems is by having additional power supply through digi-sets or inverters to prevent a power supply problem,” said Vishnukumar, a former railway official. They feel that the best way to prevent a fire is to have an improved fire alarm system that would not only inform the fire brigade, but also minimize the affect of the fire on the systems. On April 18, only a couple of rail employees and railway police officers had tried dousing fire using dry chemical powder and fire extinguishers.
>> Yesterday, CR operated 917 services off the planned 974 till 5 pm
>> Today, CR expects train services on the main line to run 20 minutes late, while harbour line commuters can expect delays of 10 minutes
>> The signals have been corrected in a way that they indicate red and yellow colour. It would take at least one more day to ensure that the signals also display double yellow and green colours
>> A three-member committee will prepare a report on the incident within a week
Fire scare near Kurla signal cabin
A minor fire was reported yesterday at a spot close to the Kurla signal panel building that was gutted on Tuesday. Yesterday’s fire is alleged to have occurred due to a gas leak at around 5.15 pm, when workers were cooking food inside the building. “The workers immediately doused the fire using extinguishers even as fire engines reached the spot. No one was injured in the incident,” said a CR official. It is alleged that the workers were preparing food at the entrance of the two-storied building, when the fire erupted. This was the second mishap this week, even as 200 workers including railway officials were working round the clock to restore the signalling and crossing point operations that were affected due to the earlier fire.