Odisha Train Accident: Why KAVACH Anti-Collision Technology Didn’t Work?

On June 2, 2023, three Indian Railways trains, including two express trains and a goods train, were involved in a tragic accident, resulting in the death of over 200 people and injuries to over 500. In the accident, train no. 12841 Shalimar – Chennai Coromandel Express and train no. 12864 SMVB – HWH Superfast Express, both derailed near Bahanaga Bazar railway station in Odisha’s Balasore district at around 18.55 hrs on Friday. Many people on Twitter are asking Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav why the indigenous anti-collision technology ‘Kavach’ did not prevent the accident from happening?

What is armor technology?

Kavach is an anti-collision technology developed in India to prevent train accidents. This anti-collision technology reduces the margin of error to a margin of error of one in 10,000 years. Confirming the facts, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav had earlier said, “The indigenously developed anti-collision technology is SIL4 certified, which means there is a chance of an error in 10,000 years.”

The Kavach technology is, in more technical terms, known as the Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) or Automatic Train Protection System (ATP) system. Its objective is to bring down the number of rail accidents to zero. The technology has also received a SIL4 certification, confirming that it can reduce the margin of error over 10,000 years.

Did ‘Kavach’ fail?

The armor technology has proved its effectiveness in several tests conducted by the Indian Railways and the probability of failure of the anti-collision technology is one error in 10,000 years. So why did the accident happen despite the Indian Railways having such incredible technology? The simple answer is that armor technology is yet to be installed on the entire rail network of India and this section was without armor technology as well.

During Budget 2022, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced to protect 2,000 km of railway network in India by Kavach technology in the financial year 2022-2023. “As part of Atmanirbhar Bharat, 2,000 km of rail network will be brought under indigenous world-class technology armor in 2022-23 for safety and capacity enhancement,” the Finance Minister said in his statement.

However, the railway network is spread over 60,000 km and hence, it will take time to install Kavach across India. That’s why work is being done on the priority section of the railway. In addition, the armor is designed to avoid head-on collisions between locomotives of two trains running on the same track. In this case, train no. 12864 SMVT Bengaluru – Howrah Superfast Express derailed and crossed the track next to which Coromandel Express was passing.

While initial reports suggested that the Coromandel Express train collided with a goods train, causing four coaches of the superfast passenger train to derail, railway officials denied this. Since all the trains were derailed, armor technology could not possibly work in such a case.

Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra tweeted on the issue, “Many people are asking this question. Railways has an indigenous Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system called Kavach, developed by the Research Designs and Standards Organization (RDSO). apparently it was not installed on the route in which this accident occurred. So perhaps an initiative is needed to check whether the armor needs any ‘range enhancement’ and then Provide resources to set up on a war footing across the network.”

How does armor work?

The armor uses a network of devices mounted on two trains moving towards each other to avoid collisions. The devices work with the help of radio technology and Global Positioning System (GPS). The system avoids the risk of collision by accurately estimating the course of the two trains at “collision risk” and automatically initiating the braking system.

Basically, this technology warns loco pilots about any approaching train, and automatically stops the train by applying emergency brakes. This happens when two trains are coming close to each other on the same track. In this case, a train derailed on another track, due to which such a big accident happened.