Digitalisation and automation are the way forward for Indian Railways, feels Tilak Raj Seth, Head Mobility, Siemens Limited. In an interview with Financial Express Online, Tilak Raj Seth talks about the four pillars of Siemens Mobility and how they fit into Indian Railways ongoing and future plans. Edited excerpts:
What should be the major focus areas for Indian Railways and how will technology be an enabler in that?
Railways is the harbinger of technology in our country. Most kinds of heavy technology came through railways, and then any technological progress is also very visible in the field of railways. Advanced technological progress in automation, digitalization, intelligent solutions can make a lot of difference and Siemens is engaged in all of them. And with these technologies, we can also help Indian Railways or the railway sector, including metros. We can help them transform this sector. And they can achieve sustainability and reliability.
We have a pyramid; electrification is one level the second is automation. The top-notch is digitalization. This is where we can make a lot of difference for Indian Railways. On the infrastructure end, with the view to enhancing capacity, throughput, and also improving the efficiency, Indian Railways wants to convert the whole of the network into the electrified route. Indian Railways has a time-bound program and they want to upgrade the speed and improve the infrastructure to 160 kmph speeds. The existing network and the newer networks are being thought of with still higher speeds. This is naturally possible with advanced signalling and other methods of the electrical infrastructure. For signalling, we have our own India version of the European Train Control Systems. The first tenders have already been notified, and the industry is very keen to participate. So are we and we will whole-heartedly participate.
Are there any concerns of the private sector? With the government increasingly focusing on PPP in Indian Railways, how is the ease of doing business?
The announcement of PPP in the last budget is a very welcome step. But PPP demands a balance of making an equitable distribution of the risks. India still looks at putting their ridership risk on the private partner, which may be in some areas helps. If the ridership risk is on the government side, then it can be a game-changer for doing business. PPP is a very good step, and if ridership risks are taken by the public authority, then it will catalyse the private participation to an even greater extent.
Indian Railways, Siemens and TATA have together participated in a PPP project, the Pune Metro Line 3. Both Tatas and Siemens feel that this PPP project is also transformative in nature in terms of bringing enhanced mobility through this metro network.
What steps need to be taken in Indian Railways in terms of electrification and automation?
There are four strategic pillars of Siemens Mobility. One is enhanced passenger experience, which includes information or necessary infotainment or connectivity during the journey, food and other comforts. With technology, it is possible to keep the passenger connected at all points of time. Behind the simple man-machine interface of the infotainment, there is a large infrastructure network of communication, signalling, and availability. For example, in Gurgaon Metro, we were providing passengers 99% of the availability. And we are spread throughout the country in route relay interlocking and electronic interlocking.
The second pillar is guaranteed availability. Our service wing is providing the maintenance services to the Mumbai line. Mumbai trains are the lifeline of Mumbai city, and we are able to maintain them with a very high degree of availability.
The third pillar is to make trains and infrastructure intelligent. So, that means, whatever information you have on the moving stock like locomotives, you can bring that information to your control centre. We are doing a pilot project with Indian Railways, Northern railways, to find out if there are breakages in the rail, which is called broken rail detection. We have solutions where we are able to provide intelligent information from the intersection of roads. So broadly, there is a need to make trains and infrastructure intelligent. And put sensors, get the data, evaluate that data, bring this analysis and insight from this data back to the customers to do predictive enhancements and proactive corrections.
The fourth pillar is to increase value sustainably over the entire life cycle of the operation, which is the need of the hour for every rail operator. The cost, the sustainability, over not only the capex period but also the entire life cycle is very critical. In India, we have just now equipped Indian Railways with a 9000 HP locomotive and we know that this is a sustainable system, which will not only reduce the unit cost for Indian Railways but also provide sustainability. We have electrification solutions, we have hotel load converter. A hotel load converter feeds the entire train power supply. If you energize the converter, you could de-energize the diesel engine in the power car. It will reduce a lot of noise and also save huge amounts of diesel and rupees. We are also are enhancing our engineering footprint in India. Our strategy has a great fit with the rail stakeholders.
Nearly 1.8 billion passengers per annum are being moved, which is like the whole planet moving on earth in India every once every year. Several metro projects are underway in major cities. Around 500 kilometres is under built-up, and another 500-600 is on the planning stage. This provides enough emphasis to both the authorities and the technology providers like us to see that the last-mile connectivity or multi-modal and integrated transport solutions are in place, which is critical for any nation naturally including India.
Would Siemens be interested in participating in the RRTS or Rapid Rail Transit projects?
We know about the RRTS projects, and the new organization called NCRTC has been formed. I am told that roughly 210 cars are needed for the first project. It’s a project which will boost the intercity transit or the local suburban travel. Siemens has done this kind of work for Mumbai city. Bombay trains are running with Siemens equipment and we are also very interested in this project. It’s a good step taken up by the government to enhance integrated mobility.
What is your take on digitalization in Indian Railways?
The baby steps of digitalization have begun. But, we need to cover a lot of distance. Let’s take the example of REMMLOT remote monitoring. I think it’s a good step where the electrical data of the electrical machines is gathered from the locomotives. Going forward, we need to also get the mechanical data in advance. Siemens has, in its portfolio, the VEMS or the Vehicle Equipment Measurement System. It works in the following way; the EME coach is scheduled to come to the depot and VEMS, which has an array of sensors, is at the entry point of the depot. By the time the train comes in we already have the data on the wheel profile, rail profile, brake pads etc. You can take corrective action in a very accelerated manner. For example, just to make a point, imagine if you had to work on the wheel after certain kilometres or days, but with VEMS you realize you can still run the system a few more thousand kilometres or a few more days. You have saved your cost of maintenance.
You can bring in digitalization through advanced video analytics on road intersections, where through artificial intelligence or progressive learning or advanced algorithms you could decongest the road intersections through economic and effective measures. We can, through a lot of digitalization methods, predict equipment failure far ahead and prevent the breakdowns. I believe digitalization has a way to go and Siemens is doing its first steps. And I believe with the rail stakeholders, whether they are in the field of mainline railways like Indian Railways or Metros or even the Road Authorities, we could great solutions.
What should be the top 3 priorities for the government over the next few years?
Augmenting infrastructure in terms of capacity throughput is very essential. A lot of steps to induct technology are being taken. A lot of kilometres are being added. If I look at 15 years ago, over the last one and a half-decade, we have come a long way. We were a country where the authority wanted to do everything themselves. From engineering, consultancy to monitoring, testing, commissioning. Today, Indian Railways is outsourcing engineering and consultancy and even testing, commissioning and inspection, operation, etc. So we have come a long way.
We have also come a long way in terms of the way contracts were framed. Earlier, they used to be absolutely one-sided, towards the government’s side. Today the contracts have become equitable. In the word, or in the letter, they are really equitable. The authorities don’t hold only the private sector responsible. But, in spirit, the change needs to come across the entire infrastructure domain in the country. We have a long distance to cover to make the spirit according to the letter, to share the risk equitably and not delay payments of a contractor. Automation and digitalization are the way to go.