Yes, you have read that right. GAGAN (GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation), a satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS) that was developed by Isro for the Indian airspace, now relays train-running data — both location and speed — every 30 seconds, making the system far more accurate and efficient.
How does this work?
First, the entire network is expected to be covered in a year’s time. A locomotive is fitted with an RTIS device, which has two units — one is kept in the engine and the other placed on top. SIMs (subscriber identification modules) of two mobile operators — Airtel and Vodafone — are placed in it. However, thanks to the use of a dedicated satellite, tracking train movements is possible even in areas where there is poor or no mobile connectivity.
The RTIS device uses GAGAN to transmit signal. The satellite then relays data first to the control hubs, which finally reaches the railway enquiry system. Both passengers and freight customers receive a more accurate information on train status when the train concerned is connected to a locomotive equipped with RTIS.
How is it useful?
Apart from knowing the exact location and speed of a train, this ISRO-aided system will help us in future planning. In case of a disaster, the driver can directly communicate with the control room by just pressing a button.
Just type it in
A loco pilot just needs to key in his user name, password, train number and date. The system gets activated and keeps relaying information to the section control. Multiple emergency messages, for example, running over cattle, can be relayed to the control room. As the location and speed are relayed every 30 seconds, the IR can easily locate its trains between stations as well.
Unscheduled stoppages can be detected and interventions made. It also allows loco pilots to send emergency messages to the control room. This is significant as drivers are strictly not allowed to use their mobile phones for reasons of safety. Now, the driver simply needs to push one of the six buttons on the new device to alert the control room and apprise it of the nature of the fault — coach-, track- or engine-related, or running over an animal.
While the immediate gains of the satellite-enabled relaying of data are visible, the system will turn out to be far more productive if the IR finds multiple ways to analyse and use the humongous volume of data that it receives daily, for its future planning. The correlating of this new data with the information on tracks and topography that the IR already has may open new windows on research and development.
There are 14 million daily updates at present, up from a mere half a million before January 8. Once all 12,000 locomotives are equipped with the system in a year, the volume of data is expected to rise to 30 million daily updates.