Explained: What is Kavach? The Railways’ protective armour missing in Odisha

Explained: What is Kavach? The Railways’ protective armour missing in Odisha
Coaches of the Coromandel Express after it collided with a goods train in OdishaBCCL
  • The Odisha train accident which resulted in the death of 275 people has turned the spotlight on the Kavach initiative that aims to make Indian railways safer.
  • Announced in a revamped avatar in the 2022 Union Budget, the Kavach system was not rolled out on the Odisha route.
  • Of the total route length of 1.03 lakh kilometres, only 1,455 kilometres have been brought under Kavach yet.
The Odisha triple-train crash, which resulted in the death of 275 people and injured 1,175, has turned the focus on the Kavach initiative that aims to make Indian railways safer. The Kavach (translates to armour in English) system has not been rolled out on the Odisha route yet.

“The Kavach system was not available on this route,” said Amitabh Sharma, Indian Railways spokesperson.

The government has drawn sharp criticism from several quarters for ignoring railway safety.

In a bid to prevent the incidence of accidents, the government announced in 2022 that it would start rolling out a revamped avatar of Kavach on a trial basis, initially covering 2,000 kilometres and then expanding the coverage further. However, only 1,455 kilometres of railway routes under South Central Railway have been brought under Kavach as of January 2023.

The government has plans to expand it to 4,000 to 5,000 km in FY24, and has so far spent ₹17-22 crore on rolling out the system. For context, Indian Railways has a total route coverage of nearly 1.03 lakh km. Essentially, a little over 1% of Indian Railways’ route is protected by Kavach so far.


What is Kavach?

Kavach is an indigenous Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system developed by the Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO), an Indian Railways department, way back in 2002.

The Kavach system is designed to prevent collisions of trains – a leading cause of railway accidents in India. While there have been 58 railway accidents in the last 10 years, the Odisha accident is the deadliest.

This protection system is aimed at avoiding accidents arising out of driver-related or technical errors, as well as aid drivers (loco pilots) in running the trains safely even in inclement weather conditions.

Could Kavach have helped avoid the Odisha accident?

Kavach was not active on the Odisha route. However, even if the system was deployed, it could not have prevented the tragedy, according to railway officials.

The accident involved the Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, and a goods train. While the two passenger trains were running on parallel tracks, the Coromandel Express got derailed and hit the goods train. Its derailed carriages struck the rear carriages of the Howrah Superfast Express on the adjacent track, according to railway ministry officials.

"If an obstruction comes suddenly in front of a high-moving vehicle, then no technology in the world would prevent an accident," said Jaya Varma Sinha, member of operation and business development, Railway Board. She added that the presence of iron ore in the goods train led to the higher number of casualties.

According to Railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, a failure of the interlocking mechanism led to the triple-train accident.

"The change that occurred during electronic interlocking caused the accident. Whoever did it and how it happened will be found out after a proper investigation," Vaihsnaw told news agency ANI.

According to preliminary reports, the Coromandel Express’ loco pilot did not make an error. The train was given a signal to pass. However, it crashed into the goods train due to the failure of the interlocking mechanism putting it onto the same path as the goods train. At the time of impact, the Coromandel Express was at a speed of 128 kmph.

Railway safety in focus

Although officials say that the Kavach system could not have prevented the Odisha accident, it still brings railway safety into focus.

According to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), Indian Railways has failed to utilise funds earmarked for undertaking safety-related expenditure.

The report adds that Indian Railways was supposed to spend ₹1 lakh crore from FY18 to FY23 on safety, at ₹20,000 crore per year. Of this, the government was supposed to pay ₹15,000 crore every year, and the rest crore was to be raised by the Indian Railways. The report states that the Railways failed to do so in every year between FY18 to FY23.

With a little over 1% of Indian Railways’ total route length under Kavach and in the aftermath of the deadliest railway accident in decades, safety concerns are taking centrestage.


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