NRF's high-tech solution: AI device to prevent sleepy train drivers
The Northeast Frontier Railway's eye-tracking device will gauge driver drowsiness and slam on emergency brakes. Critics argue current safety mechanisms suffice and urge scrutiny of work hours
The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) is developing an artificial intelligence-based device that would be able to read the blink rate of drivers and alert them or stop the train in case they are feeling sleepy, according to sources.
In June, the Railway Board had asked the NFR to develop the device.
The device — called Railway Driver Assistance System (RDAS) — will not only sound an alert but also apply emergency brakes in case a driver loses alertness for a certain period of time. RDAS will be interfaced with a vigilance control device to apply emergency brakes, the sources said.
"The device is still in the development stage and trials are on to ensure its proper functioning. The technical team of the NFR is working on it. We hope that it will be ready in another few weeks," a railway source told PTI.
On 2 August, the Railway Board wrote to the NFR and asked it to expedite the in-house development of RDAS. It also said that once the device is ready, it will be fitted in 20 goods train engines (WAG9) and passenger train engines (WAP7) as a pilot project.
All the zones have also been asked to provide their feedback on the working of the system after using it, so that further improvements can be made to it if needed.
The Indian Railway Loco Runningmen Organisation (IRLRO), however, dubbed the device a "futile exercise", saying that all fast-moving trains already have mechanisms to keep drivers alert.
"Every high-speed train engine comes with a foot-operated lever (pedal), which a driver needs to hit once every 60 seconds. In case, the driver fails to do so, emergency brakes are applied automatically and the train comes to a halt. The present system is good enough to ensure that the driver is alert," said IRLRO working president Sanjay Pandhi.
"I believe RDAS is a futile exercise. If the railways are really serious about the safety of train operations, it should, among other things, conduct studies on aspects such as fatigue, running hours, facilities and rest hours of train drivers."
"In many cases, drivers, including women, do not get any breaks for having food or answering nature's calls during their over 11-hour duty. If these things are well taken care of, there is no need to have any RADS in engines," Pandhi said.