Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Railway Projects: Way forward for Yahap#alanaya averting derailment

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Opening the Indian built Kilinochchi railway.
The main allegation levelled against the previous Government at the last Presidential election was mismanagement of public funds, particularly in mega projects in the infrastructure development sectors including ports, airports, highways and railways. The accusation was that those projects were implemented through foreign bilateral loans where there was no room for competitive bidding and for maximisation of domestic value added, because the contracts had to be awarded to companies of those countries, thus paving the way for corruption, economic losses and debts. Even an Advanced Level student in Economics or Commerce would understand the advantages competitive procurement offers to buyers, whereby they could compare among different sources, and opt for the best buy. Unfortunately, that simple logic, let alone deep and complex principles of economic good governance, was not adopted in planning and implementation of such mega projects. This was in contradiction with pledges in the Mahinda Chinthana – 2005 thus alienating many professionals who expected much from that Government towards national economic development. In fact, that was one of the strategic errors committed by that Government, which not only acted as a catalyst for self-destruction of that regime in January 2015, but also caused severe foreign indebtedness to the economy, the gravest repercussions of which are yet to be experienced.
Dullas wanted local engineers
Railway projects could be identified as one such domain of blunders committed by that regime. The policy makers went against professional advice and the political will at the Ministry level to construct the Southern railway extension beyond Matara and to reconstruct the Northern railway lines to Jaffna and Talaimannar through domestic effort and Sri Lankan engineering strength. Plans were prepared by transport experts under the Uthuru Mithuru project led by the Minister Dullas Alahapperuma to construct the Northern railway tracks through local effort in 2009. His confidence in the ability of Sri Lanka Railway (SLR) engineers and local entrepreneurship to effectively undertake the Northern railway rehabilitation would possibly have been inspired by Sri Lanka Railway’s exceptional reconstruction of the Tsunami devastated coastal railway in 56 days at a cost of less than Rs. 450 million in 2005. The policy stance taken by the Minister was further demonstrated when he politely declined the bilateral loan facility offered by the Iranian Government for an Iranian company to undertake the task, and instead, requested for credit assistance to procure material such as rails which could not be turned out in Sri Lanka for the SLR to undertake the construction work. Mr. Alahapperuma also appealed to patriotic Sri Lankans to make “per sleeper based” contributions for the Northern railway reconstruction, for which many Sri Lankans living in the country and abroad, positively responded with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, all these initiatives and motivation were ignored, ending up with handing over of the project to Indian contractors, and subsequently scrapping of the Uthuru Mithuru project together with the Transport Ministry portfolio held by Mr. Alahapperuma.
Another effort was made in 2010 to convince the policy makers to locally construct railway track and signalling infrastructure, both in the South and the North. SLR, in effect, constructed the track up to Omanthai in the North and once again demonstrated its capability. Plans were prepared to reconstruct the Palai-Kankesanthurai section by the SLR at an estimated cost of less than US$1 million a kilometre, and even a Joint Communiqué was issued on 13th June 2010 by the then President of Sri Lanka and the Prime Minister of India to the effect that the SLR would undertake the project with Indian credit assistance for material imports. However, this initiative was aborted; the project was handed over to an Indian company for designing and construction, when even the rails ordered by the SLR for indigenous construction of this section were already being shipped.
Needless to say that the outcome of this foreign undertaking of Sri Lanka rail infrastructure construction was detrimental towards the country’s technological advancement and national added value multiplication. The Northern railway construction projects, undertaken by Indian contractors, had an average cost of over $2 million a km and the Sri Lankan engineers, entrepreneurs and workmanship lost both employment and a rare opportunity to develop their skills and competence. Based on the rates worked out in 2010 by the SLR for indigenous reconstruction of Palai-Kankesanthurai section, the economy has had to spend in excess of $250 million (or over Rs. 30 billion) more as capital expenditure for nearly 250 km of track from Medawachchiya to Talaimannar and from Omanthai to Kankesanthurai, and any such excessive capital costs paid also amounts to unnecessarily heavy foreign debt. This “economic loss” would be even more if compared at the rate of SLR’s reconstruction of 10 km section between Thandikulam and Omanthai in 2010 at an average cost of little over one-third of a million dollars a km but the trains could still achieve 100 kmph speed on that section even though lighter section rails were used for the purpose with no continuously welded joints.
The Southern railway extension contract, awarded to Chinese contractors without competitive tenders, also appears to be associated with excessive capital costs averaging to almost $10 million per km, even though one might argue that the imperatives therein, including tunnels, viaducts, marshy terrains, cuttings and fillings, could not be compared against those associated with the Northern line reconstruction work. It might also be worthwhile appraising whether any intended and actually realised benefits sufficiently compensated for the high capital cost of $89 million incurred to rehabilitate nearly 130 km of coastal railway track from Kalutara to Matara on bilateral loans, again with no competitive tenders being called.
Fraction of the cost
This is because any rehabilitation of that line could have easily been undertaken at a fraction of that cost by the Sri Lanka Railway employees, demonstrated beyond any doubt by their exemplary accomplishment of track rehabilitation after the Tsunami devastation. Unfortunately, no such vigilance in capital spending appears to have prevailed, and the economy was made to get into foreign debts of unnecessary scale, which our future generations will have to pay back with interest.
The story does not end there. Absence of competition among suppliers is a clear recipe for quality lapses, because the buyer is deprived of “competitive choice”. Any deficiencies in quality, in return, would result in poor performance of the asset procured or created. One may wonder whether that was the procedural gap which lent to various quality concerns raised by stakeholders including trade unions with regard to recently imported diesel multiple units, compelling the then Secretary to the Ministry of Transport to call for an independent examination of quality by a team of experts in view of rectifying any such defects prior to completing payment on those procurements. Similarly, the Ministry of Internal Transport had to appoint an expert committee chaired by the former General Manager Railways (GMR), Engineer Priyal de Silva, to examine the concerns raised pertaining to track and signaling infrastructure development projects recently implemented on bilateral credit with no competitive bidding. The Committee has produced a report highlighting quality issues, inappropriate technologies procured, procedural flaws, excessive costs, and resultant operating constraints. Most strikingly, the report has highlighted how absence of competitive procurement could lead to the dual disadvantage of excessive costs and inadequate quality. For instance, it has viewed the Northern line’s new signalling system as “out-of-date” and costly, and has pointed out that several stations had been sub-contracted at about 10 per cent of the average contract price. A competitive tender would have attracted even such sub-contractors to directly bid, possibly enabling much lesser capital requirement for a given technology.
Sleepers were cracked
The report has also found newly laid imported concrete sleepers being cracked at several locations, subsidence at bridge approaches, and several bridges being rejected by the Consultants. Inappropriate yard designs at stations, particularly at Kankesanthurai where trains longer than 16 or 17 coaches could not be accommodated, is reported to be constraining train operations. The possibility of capital saving and value multiplication realisable through assigning of at least some civil work to local companies is reported to have been ignored. This report, containing many such important observations and recommendations, was submitted to the relevant authorities for corrective action, for finding out responsibility; but most importantly for taking precautions to avert such flaws in the future, which also is the sole purpose of this article.
One very clear recommendation of the Priyal de Silva Committee is to call for competitive tenders on all future requirements of railway procurement and infrastructure development when such cannot be executed by the department itself. This was completely missing in “negotiated” projects implemented in the past on bilateral loans, may those be of Indian, Chinese or other origin. Given that these were loans, and not “grants”, Sri Lanka being the borrower Government, acting in her national interest, should have had the freedom to decide how such credit would be ustilised for Sri Lanka’ s betterment, and her policymakers should have had the backbone to say “no” to any unfair conditions if laid down by any lending agency. At the minimum, the borrower Government and its agencies should have been able to call for competitive bids among the potential suppliers in the lender country. The Indian Government, for instance, has issued very clear guidelines in respect of Government supported Exim Bank Lines of Credit (Reference: F.No.21/6/2008-CIE-II, July 2010, Government of India, Ministry of Finance;, where the necessity of transparency in procurement, and opening the procurement for competitive bidding is emphasised.
By passing
Therefore, Sri Lankan policymakers and officials cannot justify any procurement bypassing the competitive bidding process, covering behind the banner that those procurements were on Government-to-Government loans and thereby could not be considered “unsolicited”. In fact, they should act with Sri Lanka’s national interest, and implement projects locally wherever feasible so that maximum economic multiplier effects would be accrued to the nation, and go for competitive tendering whenever local procurement is not possible, in view of obtaining maximum technical and operational benefits on least possible capital deployment. After all, these are credit accorded by friendly nations, presumably with the interest of seeing the development of borrower friends, and thus, should not be on self-interest of exploiting the friends in resource shortage for selling their own products and services at uncompetitive costs. Besides, if the lender countries are so confident of the cost competitiveness of their suppliers and contractors, there is no reason for them to worry, and they should not object for the borrowing countries calling for international competitive bids, which, if required, could also be coupled with offers for financing through lines of credit from bidder’s own country.
This is precisely the guiding framework the Ministry of Internal Transport, during the 100 day Government, established vis-à-vis railway and transport sector related development work. The Ministry, under the guidance of the Minister Ranjith Maddumabandara, adopted the three-tiered strategic framework, namely (a) seeking maximum national value added through design and implementation of projects by local engineers and enterprises to the maximum possible extent, (b) imperatively resorting to international competitive bidding whenever procurement from abroad becomes unavoidable (c) call bids together with that of supplier country bilateral credit terms whenever the Government of Sri Lanka finds shortage in capital funds and when multilateral soft loans are not available. The proposals to locally develop the Maho-Vavuniya railway section at an average estimated cost of approximately $0.4 million per km and procurement of new rolling-stock for railways were submitted for the Government approval on those principles, and the intention of these initiatives was to pursue “good governance” to avoid mistakes made during the past few years. In fact, this policy conforms to the procurement procedural norms promoted by the multilateral credit agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which have also expressed renewed interest in supporting Sri Lanka’s railway development projects through concessionary credit.
Competitive procurement
There is no better alternative to this strategy of competitive procurement and maximisation of national value added in project implementation if the present Government is to succeed in its Yahap#alana agenda from an economic point of view. It should not slip back into “negotiated projects” on bilateral credit without calling for competitive bids. If it gets deceived by the “government-to-government” slogan and go without bidding, such would not only be falling during the day into the same economic and political pit the former Government fell in the night, but also would amount to violating the very principles standing on which the present administration, being in the opposition then, launched corruption allegations against the previous regime.(The writer is also a former GMR (2007-2009) and Transport Ministry Secretary (twice in 2010 and again in 2015). He could be reached at

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Automatic Train Control

Safety-Critical Embedded Systems for Railway logo

Automatic Train Control: An Overview of Available Systems

09 December 2014 by CRITICAL Software

An automatic train control (ATC) system integrates all the vital and non-vital functions that guarantee the safe operation of trains. It comprises three sub-systems, which include onboard and wayside equipment:
  • Automatic Train Supervision (ATS)
  • Automatic Train Operation (ATO)
  • Automatic Train Protection (ATP)
These sub-systems, together with a full interlocking system, perform the following functions:
  • Signalling
  • Automatic train protection
  • Traffic management
Automatic train control also includes automatic train operation functions.
For more information, please download this free white paper.

Available Downloads

  • Automatic Train Control: An Overview of Available Systems

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

20,000 elephants killed for ivory in Africa


GENEVA (Reuters) – More than 20,000 African elephants were killed for their ivory in 2013, driven by demand in China and Thailand, and some local populations face an immediate threat of extinction, a U.N.-linked wildlife conservation agency said on Friday.
Criminal gangs and rebel militias hunt dwindling herds for tusks that fetch many thousands of dollars per kilo, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species said.
“Today we are confronting a situation of industrial-scale poaching and smuggling, the involvement of organised transnational criminal organisations, the involvement of rebel militia,” CITES secretary-general John Scanlon told a briefing.
Fighters of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) were sanctioned by the Security Council this year for illegal hunting and ivory trade, particularly in central Africa, he said.
The 2013 estimated figure is less than the peak of 25,000 elephants poached in 2011. But it was the third straight year that more than 20,000 were killed illegally on the continent that has an estimated 500,000 elephants left, according to CITES which monitors 51 sites, including national parks.
“It (poaching) is levelling off, but at a level that is far too high. The number of elephants that are killed is far exceeding the number of elephants being born,” Scanlon said.
Large seizures of smuggled ivory in Africa, those over 500 kilos, rose in 2013, for the first time exceeding those in Asia, according to CITES. Its 1975 pact to ban or restrict trade in endangered species has been ratified by 180 countries.
A record 40,000 kilos were confiscated last year, already exceeded by an estimated 55,000 kilos seized this year, it said.
This was due to better enforcement especially in Tanzania and Uganda, which accounted for 80 percent of thelarge-scale seizures in Africa last year, Scanlon said.
“We need to deploy the same sort of techniques that are deployed to combat other serious crimes such as illicit trade in narcotics, human trafficking or illicit trade in arms,” he said.
Rangers, customs officials and prosecutors must tackle poaching, driven by speculators betting on extinction, he said.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New Cloud Based Web Solution for Automatic Rail Monitoring

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 by OEM Technology Solutions

OEM Cloud Cover
Australia's OEM Technology Solutions is offering cloud based web monitoring to streamline rail asset use and incident management, potentially offering huge savings to rail operators worldwide.
OEM's equipment powers more than 20,000 rail car systems in more than 20 countries. It says the introduction of real time monitoring will have far reaching ramifications.
OEM managing director Richard Gobee said: "By providing remote, real time, at-a-glance access to all critical train data such as location, speed, equipment status and other information, we have enabled operators to improve their operations, safety, efficiency and their bottom line."
The system is based on OEM's proven PC3 Series Controller into which has been integrated the company's new IO3640 Communications module which has GPS and 3G capability, enabling information to be transmitted via an Etherios Device Connector.
Using Device Cloud by Etherios, a platform-as-a-service that provides two-way communication between any device and the cloud, the various OEM connected train systems constantly stream their status via the Web without human intervention.
Mr Gobee said that the new OEM product would allow these customers to implement a connected rail solution to decrease downtime by pre-emptive maintenance.
Mr Gobee said: "The customers who have seen the system are very excited."
The cloud solution is a generational development of an OEM Technology Solutions system that has for some time enabled OEM products wirelessly so rail operators could gather information remotely by querying on-board systems on trains.
But the operators had to query individual systems. With the web-based solution the systems are reporting automatically and an operator only has to look at the screen to see which are working within their operational parameters and any that are flagged as being outside those parameters, indicating they will need attention when next the unit is in for scheduled maintenance.
OEM Technology Solutions' offerings include wireless monitoring and control systems for essential subsystems such as video surveillance, passenger information, driver advice, speed measurement, air conditioning, fire detection, door control and lighting. Etherios is a division of Minnesota based, Digi International, with whom OEM has had a 20-year relationship.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Some Sweet Memories of M2 or Canadian Loco Fan

A beautifully written piece full of nostalgia for that Great Lady: the Udarata Menike. M2 hauls the Udarata Menike

The blue M2 Canadian diesel locomotives that came into service starting 1954 powered the Udarata Menike, Yal Devi, Ruhunu Kumar and the Podi Manike (the Nan Oya Express). At that time we lived at the end of Ramakrishna Road with only the approach road separating us from the railway line. Little as I was, I remembered the Ruhunu Kumari, (the Matara Express) roaring past us in the morning. Later I would watch her out of my class window in Miss Dwight’s Standard II class at St Thomas’ Prep School.

Sl train.jpgM2 # 570 Alberta which hauls Yal Devi to Kankasanthurai.

The M2 manufactured by Canadian General Electric was so successful in then Ceylon, that when the purchase of another batch of diesel locomotives was being considered in the 1960s the contract went to the Canadians again. This time MLW, the Montreal Locomotive Works, who supplied the M4 commencing 1975; another set of blue Canadian diesels!

Class M4 MLW - Alco Bombardier -- 745 arriving at Aluthgama, Sri Lanka.jpgClass M4 No. 745Ruwanweli

 My Dad was on Carolina Group, Watawala for 27 years, and  before he retired, he planted in Bandarawela for four years. Carolina was a huge estate of 2230 acres. By a topographical twist of fate, the railway line from Colombo to Badulla went through one of the divisions of Carolina called Mt.Jean. In fact the Watawala railway station was located on Mt.Jean division! Our bungalow on Kadawella division was some distance away from the railway track, but each day around1.30 pm. we could hear the sound of the horn and the throbbing hum of the diesel locomotive as the "Menike" slided on ribbons of steel on her onward journey uphill amidst spectacular landscape on the way to Badulla. The blast of the horn would echo through the green hills and in the solitude of an estate bungalow it was a reassuring sound.

When the "Udarata Menike" was first introduced in 1954 it was powered by two British diesel locomotives. Before this, the train to Badulla was hauled by two steam engines which meant getting flecks of coal in one's eye, when looking out of the window ! And with the puffs of smoke blowing all over, the journey was not very pleasant. The introduction of diesel changed all that. A new set of carriages were hitched onto the diesel locomotives on her maiden run, and thats how it remained as long as I remember. The icing on the cake was the gift of twelve Canadian diesel locomotives under the Colombo Plan in the late 50's  - an outright gift from the Canadian government under the premiership of Pierre Trudeau. These diesels were a joy to behold, and I still remember the names of some of them, on either side of the locomotive gleaming in silver and blue. They were "Alberta" "Montreal" "Sasketchwan" "Prince Edward Island" "Vancouver" "Manitoba" "Toronto" and "Ontario". Out went the British locomotives  - at least on the up-country run, and in came one Canadian diesel to take their place. I later picked up some trivia about the Canadian locomotives. The distances they covered in Canada were at times over a thousand miles, and apparently the distance from Colombo to Badulla was insufficient for such high powered diesels of 2500 horse power. So after the "Menike" reached Badulla around6.20 pm each evening, the locomotive had to be kept running for some hours after that, even though the journey had ended ! Apparently, one locomotive could provide electricity for an entire town ! After Dad went to Bandarawela, I used to travel by the "Udarata Menike" several times whenever I came to Colombo, and the return journey was one which I always anticipated with joy. It was not the train per se, but the incredible journey and the terrain of the track.

In the the low country from Colombo to Rambukkana it was a smooth run. But once the train reached Kadugannawa the climb began, and if you sat on the right and dared to look out of the window when the train skirted the ridge called "Sensation Rock" you risked a nervous breakdown because a thousand feet below, you could see the roofs of thatched village houses and expanses of paddy fields  - all in minature. There was no protective barrier along this length of track and the train was travelling on the edge of a sheer precipice ! Once this nerve shattering climb was negotiated, the terrain evened out to a level run upto Nawalapitiya. It was past Nawalapitiya that the real torturous climb began all the way to Nanuoya and from there to a spot on the track between Ambawela and Pattipola which is the highest point on the railway. After this it was 'downhill' all the way in the plains of Uva to the terminus at Badulla. On one of these trips I happened to be in the compartment up front behind the locomotive, and a very friendly guard took me into his section of the compartment from where I could see the driver in his cabin and observe this Canadian powerhorse in action. I was introduced to the driver, Mr.Wadugodapitiya an old Trinitian, and a senior driver in the Ceylon Government Railways. It was he who gave me the trivia I quoted earlier on the Canadian diesels.

I have done many trips by train in other countries and can tell you that the trip from Colombo to Badulla should be classed as one of the great train journeys of the world. Apart from the spectacular scenery through which the track goes through, specially in the hill country, just consider the near impossible gradient which the train traverses.......In fact there is a place called for some unknown reason, "Soda Bottle" bend on the line between Kotagala and Great Western which is an engineering marvel. So steep is the gradient that at a certain point on looking out of the window if one is seated on the right side of the train, one can see the railway track in two tiers below -   a graphic indication of the height the traveller has just passed through. And then there is the engineering masterpiece of the Demodera loop ! Once the train leaves Demodera station (two halts before Badulla) it goes full circle and at one stage passes right under the station which it has just left, on its way to Badulla ! Imagine leaving a station and then after about five minutes looking out of the window - or rather, looking up  - to find the station you just left is right above you !! Talk about the realms of fantasy ! It is a matter of regret that the name of the engineer who devised this masterpiece has not been recorded for posterity. On the return trip past Nanuoya, one gets a clear view of Adam's Peak in the distance - weather permitting -  until one reaches Talawakelle.  At Nanuoya - and this is addressed to old Anthonians in particular  - there is a little hill near the station, with a neat little bungalow on its summit. This was the home of Freddy, Paddy, Gerry, and Merry Guneratne when their Dad Alec Guneratne  - an old Anthonian and legendary soccer star of a bygone era - was stationed in Nanuoya during his service with the Ceylon Government Railways. I once walked with Royston and Basil Hyde from their home on Scrubbs Estate, Nuwaraeliya to the Guneratne home at Nanuoya  - a distance of four miles. We were entertained with cordon bleu home made delicacies by Paddy's Mum   - it is still a warm memory that never fades and sparks nostalgia for a happy time and place...... But I digress, so I had better get back on track........ 

From Ohiya station upto Haputale the track seems to defy gravity ! It is cut on the side of a mountain and runs at the edge of a precipice with heart stopping views of the little villages far down below. It is a hair raising experience which I term as death defying ! You have to sit on the left of the compartment to get your hair standing on all ends ! If you wish to play it safe, just sit on the right and all you will see is the side of a cliff. But the scenery which greets the traveller will live in memory forever. A panorama of deep valleys, green hills and lush countryside where nature has run riot with her paintbrush painting the land in colours of every hue......This kaladescope of nature's bounty penetrates your very soul to inspire and nurture the spirit........It is a photographer's delight and an artists paradise........and the bracing mountair air gives one a near supernatural sense of well being. The scenery on this entire journey is a nature lover's delight. From the lush hills on the Kadugannawa climb right upto Nawalapitiya, and then the beautiful tea country all the way to Nanuoya.

There were no luxury compartments. There was 1st, 2nd and 3rd class, and an excellent Restaurant Car staffed by uniformed waiters. The catering was done by U.K.Edmund.  For Rs.1.50 you could enjoy a delicious rice and curry and the tea was the nectar of the Gods. There was no Observation Car.

I think today the "Menike" is powered by a German Henschel locomotive and has some Rumanian compartments. In my humble opinion the Henschel diesel does not in any way, shape or form look as sleek, majestic and inspiring as her Canadian counterpart. During my last visit to Sri Lanka in 2000, I was pleased to see some of the Canadian locomotives still riding the rails. On a trip from Haputale to Colombo in the "Udarata Menike" we crossed the "Podi Menike" the younger sister of the "Udarata Menike" which I observed was hauled by a Canadian diesel locomotive, "Montreal". With that I shall conclude this email. But the "Menike" - 'The Maid of the Mountains' or, as I prefer to call her 'The Maid of the Mists', will forever travel the corners of our minds in the realms of memory on a journey that has no end...

Bernard VanCuylenburg. 

Bernard turned 70 on the 25th February.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

UK forms new rail industry supply chain forum

5 November 2013

The UK Government has formed a new rail industry supply chain forum to bring together the Department for Transport (DfT), the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and industry stakeholders, to develop a strategy to enhance the country's rail industry.
The new forum will encourage the expansion of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) across the rail industry, as well as assisting the government in building and understanding supply chain capability.
The forum will also help the UK Government, execute projects such as Crossrail and the HS2 project.
"These new faster trains will help stimulate economic growth by improving connections between our major cities."
Intercity Express Programme (IEP) trains will start operating to Wales and the south west by 2017, and along the east coast a year later.
UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "They will slash journey times, boost capacity to many of our cities in the south-west and up the east coast to Scotland."
"Like our plans for a national high-speed rail network, these new faster trains will help stimulate economic growth by improving connections between our major cities."

Image: Intercity Express Programme (IEP) trains will start operating to Wales and the south-west by 2017. Photo: courtesy of Gov.UK

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Modern tech to optimise train movement

Tireless efforts of R and D officer will hopefully end delays
View(s): 240

With Android phones being fixed to engines, the woes of train commuters whose common complaint is delays, will soon be eased.
To be tried out initially on the coastline between Colombo Fort and Matara starting next month (November), the ‘Train traffic optimisation system’ has become a reality due to the tireless efforts of Research and Development Officer Anura Pushpakumara Kasthoori (46) of the Department of Railways.
The new system will initially be launched on the coastline between Colombo Fort and Matara. Pic by Hasitha Kulasekera
Explaining that train travel has been riddled with numerous issues due to time-tables not being drawn up in a scientific manner and routine errors, as real-time data are not being used, Mr. Kasthoori who had been tasked with studying the issues has now come up with a solution.
With a train considered “a moving robot”, his solution is for the Android operating system programmed device in the engine room to relay real-time data through GPS (global positioning system) and GPRS (global positioning receiving subsystem) to a central server at the Telecom internal data centre in Colombo Fort.
With the data thus relayed from the Coast Line being studied and analysed for six months, the Railway Department would be able to come up with a master time-table. Thereafter, a Google map will show officers at the Maradana Train Control Office, the trains travelling along their tracks, what speed they are travelling at and whether there are delays, points out Mr. Kasthoori.
According to his vision, under this three-year project, LED screens could display the electronic time-table and people may even be able to get train arrival and departure times on their mobiles so that they could adjust their work schedules accordingly without kicking their heels at railway stations and cursing the department.
“The full benefits will be reaped only after about two years,” assures Mr. Kasthoori, adding that the study of real-time data and train dynamics would help in the time-table being adjusted with an added benefit being accident reduction as driver-to-control room and also driver-to-driver communication being easy.
Under the current system, train times cannot be predicted, he explains, pointing out that there are three “different” operations for networking. They are:
• The Centralised Traffic Controlling (CTC) system under which the Control Office in Maradana uses signals and colour lights to allow trains to proceed or to halt them. This system works on the Maradana-Pallewela, Maradana-Wadduwa and Maradana-Negombo lines.
All aboard: The brains behind the Train traffic optimisation system Anura Pushpakumara Kasthoori (left) with an engine driver. Pic by Reka Tharangani
• Under the Local Operating System, once again colour lights and signals are used by the Train Controller at a particular spot after getting the required information over the phone from the relevant Station Master
• Under the Tablet System which is electrically controlled, only one train is allowed per block. Although considered a very safe system, it has become obsolete across the world and been replaced by computers.
The ‘Train traffic optimisation system’ which is now on the cards and is part of the ‘Railway Management System’ had been mooted by Mr. Kasthoori as a research proposal he submitted last year (2012) to the National Research Council (NRC) under the Science and Research Ministry, which is directed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“This is my M.Phil research project at the School of Computing of the Colombo University,” he says, adding with humility that it was selected as one of the best and awarded Rs. 2.5 million by the NRC. While he has been guided by his M.Phil supervisor, the very experienced Dr. Kasun de Soyza, on the side of the Railway Department there has been much support from General Manager B.A.P. Ariyaratne, Additional General Manager (Technical) S.M. Abyewickrema, Deputy Mechanical Engineer (Projects & Development) A.D. Wickremasinghe and Chief Superintendent of the Railway Stores, S.M. Nirmala Ganasinghe.
The project came somewhat naturally to Mr. Kasthoori because he knows the Railway like the back of his hand, having joined the department in 1992 as a locomotive driver. Be it the Northern Line, the Main Line up to Badulla, the Colombo-Kandy line, the Maho-Trincomalee line, the Gal-Oya-Batticaloa line, the Kandy-Matale line, the Coast Line up to Matara or the Kelani Valley line up to Avissawella, he has travelled them all, manning a train engine.
It was in his precious free time that he followed a degree in IT and Computer Science at the Colombo University’s School of Computing.
With his IT knowledge coming in handy, when he was studying the current system that he realized that the shortcomings impeded an increase in track capacity. When giving information over the phone, human error crept in causing not only delays but also congestion, he says.
This is why he has come up with a system to mitigate these shortcomings with the objectives of increasing track capacity, proper implementation of train routes and a time-table based on real-time data.
An automated train controlling system without human intervention as followed in the developed world is Mr. Kasthoori’s dream for Sri Lanka.