UPDATED: Train 18: RDSO and ICF Propose Solution for Damaging Cattle Runovers

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Indian Railways may finally have an answer to the problem of cattle runovers (CRO) by high-speed trains like the Train 18.

After a series of widely publicised Train 18 failures and body damage due to CROs, IR’s famed internal R&D outfit Research, Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), and makers of Train 18 – ICF, were ordered by Minister of Railways Piyush Goyal to herd together and chew the cud to arrive at a lasting solution.

A possible approach, codenamed GRASS (General Runover Avoid and Save System), was presented jointly by ICF and RDSO in a recent meeting with the Minister and the Railway Board.

However, with elections announced and the Model Code of Conduct in force, it was decided that official announcement of the system will be made after the electoral process is complete by 1st June. This also gives RDSO and ICF enough time to test the system on the Vande Bharat Express, according to a top official at ICF.

The uniquely Indian solution involves fitting sensors on the leading bogie for constant monitoring of the track ahead. The laser sensors can detect obstruction on the line ahead upto 250 metres. If the sensors detect an animal in front, they trigger the automatic and instantaneous deployment of an inflated rubber device at the front of Train 18. The rubber device will be mounted in front of the existing cowcatcher and will work in a fashion similar to an airbag in a car.

A snippet from the confidential presentation made by RDSO and ICF to the Ministry

The idea, according to top RDSO sources, is to bounce any animals straying into the path of a speeding Train 18 off the inflated cowcatcher. “At the moment of impact with the inflated rubber cowcatcher, the inertia of the animal’s body will be replaced with some kinetic energy of Train 18.”, said the senior RDSO official on the condition of anonymity.

The animal will, in 99.7% cases, take to the air and land at least 10 metres away from the track – a safe distance from the adjacent lines and any other trains, according to the official.

However, one issue yet to be resolved. Simulations suggest that in case of cattle straying into the path of two trains from opposite directions on adjacent tracks, devices on both trains may trigger and create unpredictable results, mainly for the animal. Work is underway to develop a system similar to the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) used by aircraft to avoid running into each other.

RDSO programmed a simulator and test dummies rigged with sensors to try and recreate such train-animal interactions. According to officials, they have been able to repeat successful shooing away of cattle at speeds as high as 160 kph. The cattle, on making contact with the ground, was successfully able to walk away most unharmed.

Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament from Kerala, scoffed at the project in a recent tweet, using complex words to say that the govt only cares for the rich passengers of Vande Bharat Express, but doesn’t worry about adding such features for regular users.

Outraged Shashi Tharoor on the Train-18 safety device

If the project proves successful on Train 18 rakes, IR will explore rolling out similar devices on locomotives that normally handle high-speed trains like Rajdhanis and Shatabdis, according to a senior official in the ministry.

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