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Cell phones soon for train drivers to make travel safe

Gaurav Raghuvanshi

New Delhi , March 19

THE next time you travel by train, you may see your engine driver sporting a cellular handset that will certainly be swankier than yours. It could also make your ride safer.

As part of their safety drive, the Railways are set to equip their operational staff with GSM-R (Global System for Mobile for Railways) equipment.

Indian Railways will become the first railway system in Asia to adopt the technology that allows emergency telephone calls to supersede all other communication and a group of users to interact simultaneously.

The Jammu-Guwahati trunk route passing through New Delhi and Mughalsarai will be the first to get the GSM-R based communication system and the Railways have already closed six tenders worth nearly Rs 200 crore in different Zones for the technology.

The system marks a significant improvement over the present VHF (very-high frequency) network that the Railways have. As of now, the only communication available to the loco-pilots (drivers) and guards are the walkie-talkie sets with an extremely limited range or the "emergency sockets" placed at intervals of 1.5 km along tracks that enable the guard or the loco-pilot to contact the nearest station.

"In the event of an accident, the loco-pilot or guard has to rush to the emergency socket point, access the phone using a unique key and then relay the information. The station staff would then try to alert other trains in the area. At times, that results in costly delays," according to a senior Railway Signalling and Telecommunications officer.

With GSM-R, the driver simply has to press the emergency button on his handset, and he would be immediately connected with the control office. The control office can then alert other trains instantaneously, the officer said.

The GSM-R handsets are specially designed to be more rugged and have greater battery life. They communicate with the control office that is equipped with a touch-screen control panel that helps the operational staff to track different calls.

"It works like the regular GSM handsets that we use. Only, it has certain additional features, which require one or two days to get familiar with. So the Railways do not have to undertake any major training programmes for adopting the system," he said. Regular mobile phone users would, however, not be able to access the Railways' system.

The Railways will use their existing optical fibre cable (OFC) and microwave networks and the GSM-R system will work independently of the private cellular service providers.

Siemens and Nortel Networks are the only two vendors for the GSM-R technology in the world. "Obviously, the bidding will be restricted between these two vendors," the official said when asked which companies had bid for the tenders.

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