Rail safety takes a knock with ‘fractures’

Southern Railway has recorded the maximum number of rail fractures in the country raising concern over the safety of train operations. Official data (up to May 2016) reveal that the zone reported 43 rail fractures and three accidents. Though timely intervention of engineers and engine drivers has contributed immensely in detecting and rectifying rail fractures, the menace, some railway officials say, remains a threat to safety.

While a simple crack may not be of much concern, a fracture causing separation of the track could lead to derailment of trains. Engineers say extreme weather condition is the primary reason for rail fractures. While the track breaks due to coefficient of linear expansion in summer, the same happens in winter due to contraction.

“Tamil Nadu has hot weather conditions almost all through the year. The difference between the highest and lowest temperature in 24 hours has an impact on the rails. In many States, winters remain cold all through the day. In this State, the temperature is high during the day and drops in the night…the wide variation in numbers can cause the cracks,” a senior railway engineer said.

Over 6,000 km of track

Southern Railway has a running track of 6,950 km, including 4,493 km in Tamil Nadu and 1,684 km in Kerala. “We conduct ultrasonic tests once in two months along high density routes to detect fracture on rails. Even minor cracks are detected and repaired. If major cracks occur after the periodical inspection, engine drivers can sense a strange ringing noise. They alert the next Station Master on the abnormal noise. A caution order is issued to slow down all trains in the section till the problem is attended to,” the official, who preferred not to be quoted, said.

Asked if substandard quality of work or material could be a problem, he said rails were supplied by Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) for the entire railway network and there was no scope for any compromise in laying the track or its alignment. “The material is the same across the country. We are in touch with the Bhilai Steel Plant, the bulk manufacturers of rails, in this regard. It is our continuous endeavour to improve the quality of rails and ensure safety.”

The official said that important sections like Chennai-Chengalpet, Chennai-Gummidipoondi and Chennai-Jolarpet had continuous track circuit technology.

A fracture resulting in the separation of the rail would automatically break the circuit and switch the signal to danger (red).

“Such continuous track circuit is there in many stations between signals. The risk of cracks is more in the mid sections and less important routes like the Madurai-Sengottai route where very few trains are operated. But the patrol man, Permanent Way Inspectors and other staff constantly monitor the tracks physically at regular intervals.”

Southern Railway has also reported 1,061 signal, engine (loco) and coach failures up to May 2016 which is almost the same compared to the cases reported in the corresponding period last year. Cracks on rails, engine and signal failures also affect punctuality of trains.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 3:04:32 AM |

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