scorecardIndia’s new smart coaches aim to cut maintenance costs for Indian Railways
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India’s new smart coaches aim to cut maintenance costs for Indian Railways

India’s new smart coaches aim to cut maintenance costs for Indian Railways
Tech2 min read

  • Indian railways just unveiled their first smart coach in line with the country’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.
  • The interface on-board monitors the train on two fronts, coach maintenance and passenger welfare.
  • The Passenger Information and Coach Computing Unit (PICCU) has been implemented with the aim of cutting down on maintenance costs.
Riding on the ‘Make in India’ wave, the Indian Railways just unveiled their first smart coach and there are a 100 more on the way. In collaboration with the Modern Coach Factory, Raebareli, the ordinary Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches have been upgraded to include sensors that monitor various aspects of the carriage.

Equipped with black boxes that form a multi-dimensional communication interface, it monitors critical components of the coach that are usually responsible for derailments and delays. The sensor-based on-board condition monitoring system (OBCMS) enables the timely detection of defects.

According to the Indian Railways, this will help the department move from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance in an attempt to provide ‘world-class’ facilities to passengers.

What makes these coaches so smart?

A smart device is anything that’s connected to other mechanisms or networks through Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi, Li-Fi, 3G etc and can operate on its own or by interacting with other devices.

In the case of the smart coach, there’s a central processing unit that connects over a GSM network. The OBCMS is officially called the Passenger Information and Coach Computing Unit, or ‘PICCU’, an industrial grade computer that monitors two aspects, coach maintenance and the passenger interface.

Coach maintenance entails relaying information about the train’s health back to PICCU using a vibration-based self-powered harvesting sensor that’s placed on the axle box. The sensor is capable of predicting hard spots and defects on the railway track, the wheels of the train and the bearings.

Using that information, the Indian Railways can plan for maintenance accordingly to optimise their resources on a ‘need-basis’ rather being premature or once something already goes wrong. And since the railway tracks are also monitored, the probability of line failures should decrease.

The same goes for sensors fitted into the train’s air conditioning (AC) system, that will relay information about the AC condition with alerts for when repairs are required. In addition, the Water Level Indicator (WLI) technology will let PICCU know if the water level drops below sufficient levels.

For passengers, there’s an integrated information system that informs them of the train’s location, the expected time of arrival and how fast the train is going. The Indian Railways already has the RailYatri app that tries to do that same thing, but currently lacks the accuracy to pull it off.

More importantly, there are at least 6 CCTV cameras on board the coach to implement more stringent security measures. It’s not only about the security of passengers but also monitoring the behaviour and actions of the railway staff on-board.

That being said, in case of an emergency, a talkback system has been integrated so that passengers and the train guard can communicate directly. It’s also useful in cases where direct assistance may not be feasible, and instructions can be relayed over the network.

And, of course, the coach will have Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities for passengers to check-in and the browse the internet per their convenience.