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Geographical Information System – A perfect tool for improving Quality of Services(QOS) in railways

Akhil Agrawal1, Nirupama2
1Telecom Development, Railway Board, New Delhi
Tel: +91-11-3383138
[email protected]

2University of Western Ontario London, Ontario, N6A 5B9 Canada
Tel: +1-519-645-7902
[email protected]

The Geographical Information System (GIS) is a complete system capable of assembling, storing, manipulating, and displaying geographically referenced information, i.e., data identified according to their locations. In GIS environment, right from the first step of digitization of relevant network, diagrams, maps and data entry to attributes attached with each important location can be created and made available instantly whenever and wherever required. The system can be ideally used by the transportation network organizations like Indian Railway, which have assets distributed all over. Such system, which will be an aid to the management, has been named as Indian Railway’s Management Information System (IRMIS). This paper discusses the possibility of using GIS to create IRMIS with reference to Signalling and Telecommunication (S&T) department of Indian Railways. The system will store relevant information pertaining to all the assets, for example, in the case of underground cable, it will include the details like cable route plan, i.e., the location of the cable with respect to track and the depth at which it is laid, number of cables, number of cores in each cable, cores used and spares, cable termination details with location etc. This information, once stored, can be accessed by the maintainers, engineers, managers and planners from anywhere in the country.

Railways around the world find great utility in using GIS to manage key information for rail operations and maintenance, asset management, and decision support systems. The list of ‘what GIS can do’ is very long and includes the management of track, power and signalling & communications assets, asset tracking, real estate management, marketing and site selection, commodity flow analysis, emergency response management, passenger information, capacity planning and risk management (www.esri.com).

Railway network, which is a functional network, can be defined as a set of interlinked paths in geographical space through which tangible objects can flow (Elroi, 1998). The users have very little control over their passage through the networks between nodes (Waldorf, 1979). Accurate geographical locations are important in a GIS so as to make it capable of assisting in transportation network planning, scheduling, dispatching, case and load tracking, resource allocation, and emergency preparedness, to name the few. As more people realize the potential of GIS for continuous interaction between the user, the graphic environment, the database and the algorithms, it is predicted that more network applications will utilize GIS and the user will execute more sessions involving interaction with the graphic display in order to reach decisions. The vast amount of data that can be associated with networks in GIS is invaluable for analysis and interpretation and many a times provide the solution that has until now not thought of.

Indian Railway Network
Indian Railway (IR) network consists of 62,809 route-km of rail track spread over entire length and breadth of the country. There are 6,896 stations distributed over its network. IR employs 1.578 million people and runs 12,000 trains everyday, carrying 4,411 million passengers / year & 441 million tones / year of originating freight traffic. IR’s rolling stock asset includes 7,206 locomotives, 35,650 passenger coaches and 253,186 wagons. The fixed assets consist of over 108,413 track-km, 6,896 S&T installations on stations, 14,579 route-km of ‘Over Head Equipment’ (OHE) on electrified sections, numerous depots for maintenance of rolling stock like carriage and wagon depot, loco-sheds etc.

IR has three-tier organization structure;

  • Divisions – dealing with day to day operations,
  • Zonal Railways – to coordinate inter divisional operations, monitor the functioning of divisions and
  • Railway Board – for formulating policy and coordinating inter Railway operations.

The information regarding fixed assets is kept at divisional level and rolling stock at zonal level. The data regarding the type of asset, its age and condition are maintained manually at divisional and/or zonal level. No fixed format is followed for keeping this data. Due to IR’s vast geographically distributed assets and the fact that the data regarding the asset is maintained manually, it is very difficult for the management to get updated information about the assets, whenever required. Availability of accurate and updated information through GIS based IRMIS, will help in fast decision-making for planning the up-gradation and creation of assets including the budgeting side of it. The emergencies arising out of disruption of traffic either due to natural calamities such as floods and earthquakes or due to unfortunate train accidents can be managed more efficiently if correct information regarding the location of disruption point, alternative paths, availability of material for relief and restoration and much more is available and accessible, on-line, to the management.

Signalling And Telecommunication Assets
Signals on a station are provided to regulate the movement of trains at the station section because at the station section it is possible for trains to take alternate paths. A clear signal indicates to the driver that the route is clear and the train can negotiate the path safely. The communication is provided between section controller and Station Master so as to facilitate controlling of the trains in the section. While the type of signalling has to be identical in a section, the S&T equipment may be different, which depends on yard layout of the station. The yard layout in turns depends on the traffic requirement at that station.

Typically, S&T equipment at a station are signals, lever frames, location boxes, relays, power supply equipment, cables, control phones etc. Keeping the details of the assets and making it available is of paramount importance for i) maintenance; ii) fault rectification; iii) restoration in case of damage to the S&T equipment due to thefts, accidents etc; iv) planning for modification in yard; and iv) replacement of assets.

An example of a cable defect is discussed here – if a fault occurs in the cable, due to defect or damage caused to the cable by any external factors like theft, accidents, construction team working etc the information regarding cable route plan, total number of cables between the two locations where the fault lies and spare cores in the cables is required for quick restoration. The cables are buried underground and if the information is not readily available with the local maintenance staff, the restoration is done by unrolling a new piece of cable on the ground between the two nearest locations. Depending upon the nature of damage and availability of cable at the nearby stations, the restoration process takes anything between couple of hours to 8 – 10 hours. If the information is available regarding the spares cores, all that maintainer has to do is to change the connections at the nearest termination points and restore the circuits taking less than an hour. Similarly, while planning for yard modification, the requirement of putting new cables can be reduced if the information of spare cores in the cables is available to the planners. While deciding for replacement of the underground cable on age-cum-condition basis, macro view needs to be taken by the management. However due to lack of information, decisions are not based on macro level approach but taken on individual case to case basis. Such discrepancies can be avoided by keeping this information on IRMIS, which can store the relevant information and make it available to concerned officials making optimum utilisation of assets and correct investment decisions.

Indian Railways Management Information System (IRMIS)
For successful management every organization needs the internal flow of information, which demands many resources. This continuous supply of data can be achieved through the computer networking technology that is already available. GIS will provide the perfect platform for integration of geographical locations and the information as attributes so as to make it geo-referenced information. With the help of GIS, IRMIS should significantly increase the efficiency and competitive advantages of the huge railway network of India. Data can be collected only once for all purposes and can be updated regularly whenever any change occurs. As the railway system is a group of various disciplines so for proper and efficient functioning of the system, cooperation of many different experts will be required.

IRMIS will provide the ability for the whole unit to analyse and realise any problem or take any decision in a shorter period of time, considering different parameters at the same time, making decision support system more efficient and time & cost effective. Because of the safety the railway parameters must satisfy certain standards. Therefore, the aim of suggesting the formation of IRMIS is to achieve correct data processing about the state of railway infrastructure as the basis for planning, projecting and maintaining the railway lines along with handling emergencies. At the same time it ensures on-line access to data and information for users. It enables several kinds of analyses as support to decisional and planning functions, which depends on knowing the area location, content, technical state of rail elements, geographical conditions and administrative rules. Simplified visual display of complex networks, without loss of feature attribute or integrity, and the ability to perform geographic analysis is what GIS can provide the maintenance officials.

Since railway database is divided into civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and signal & telecommunication, every part has its characteristics and specifics making it of utmost importance that expert from all the fields work together. GIS gives opportunity to do just the same – sitting in different parts of the city/country they can access the same database at the same time to discuss various related matters.

The way maps and other data can be stored or filed as layers of information in a GIS environment, makes it possible to perform complex analyses too. So far the raw data is maintained manually in the form of variety of tables and reports defining the status of the assets and whenever need arises the data is made available for that particular section (so many kilometers). IRMIS can easily be made to classify all the data in the predetermined format for each parameter and the results can be displayed graphically. In case of disruption of traffic, IRMIS can also be used for identifying the location and for taking corrective action for flow of traffic through alternative paths. Therefore, IRMIS will have the railway working improved tremendously by

  • Enabling identification of the ‘traffic disruption location’ by relating to geographic attributes;
  • Reducing Mean Time To Repair (MTTR);
  • Optimally utilizing the assets;
  • Improved planning and decision-making for asset replacement and creation;
  • Emergency handling i.e., to maintain contingency plans to cope with various types of emergency from mechanical failure to terrorist attack. Up-to date data and rapidly accessible map based records can be made available through GIS the effectiveness of alternative plans can be modeled, and as the sophistication of GIS increases, plans can be put into effect through GIS.

The data by location can be transferred to the railway’s network called ‘Railnet’, which is entered into the system through digitization of topographical maps of appropriate scale. Since, it takes time to put-in the entire information into the database, a group of technicians must be establish that will take care of the technical database unity, collecting data at the central point and for upgrading the system. All the decision makers and other users would have access to computer graphic workstations connected to computer network of the system. Digital photographs can be included to enhance the user’s visualization of the track.

GPS Technology and IRMIS
IRMIS should be user friendly so it can easily be used even by the people who are not well versed with computers, as, high order of computer literacy is not expected among the IR employees. Integration of GPS (Global Positioning System) and GIS technologies (Southby, 1994) could be introduced so as to combine the track geographical location with the attribute data to increase the reliability of the database in geographical sense. Correct location of each point is of utmost importance in railways as the safely of people is at stake. Also, correct location is of utmost importance so as to provide information regarding freight movement to the consumers. Alternatively, we can identify fixed locations at suitable intervals to feed the rolling stock movement data. The data along with geographical location will then be analysed and presented to the concerned persons. The recorded track database can also be used by the maintenance officials for prediction and planning of maintenance requirements and associated budgets. With time the length of recorded IRMIS database will increase and will provide the experts the invaluable information on trends that might exist in many forms. This will also help analyze if any particular section is deteriorating and requires repairs. The decision making would not be handicapped anymore with a reliable, consistent and user friendly computer based information system.

Concluding Remarks
For survival in this constantly changing world every service provider must be updated and should use all the available resources optimally. IRMIS will combine technological abilities of information technology and the new discoveries in the field of planning and maintaining the railways to enable the maintenance of railway infrastructure in highest quality. This will also enable optimal planning which will lead to productive investments and new construction in railways. The concept also gives the ability to upgrade the contents as well as the information equipment. Through GIS and through the experiences of other working railways in the world we can plan and maintain our railways so as to substantially benefit financially too. Queries such as the shortest distance between points to the analytical portion of the software, which then absorbs this information and proceeds independently to the geo-database will be possible in the future stages of IRMIS.


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