New Delhi,Binoo Nair: The railways has now set July 23 as the deadline to clear the massive operational snarl that affected trains since a fire destroyed the Route Relay Interlocking (RRI) system at Itarsi station near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. By Thursday evening, statistics made available to dna by the railway ministry showed that a total of 1,035 trains had been cancelled since a fire hit the RRI system early on June 17 morning.
The RRI system is an electronic mechanism comprising points and signals that allows trains to operate in real time and the knocking out of the RRI means trains are being piloted and cleared from Itarsi junction in a manual manner–with flags etc– used almost half a century ago, said railway officials.
“Itarsi is such an important junction that trains going from east to west as well as south to north and the other way round have to go through it. In a day we used to handle about 200 trains (150 passenger and 50 goods) which has now come down to around 80 per day. It is a massive loss and possibly the biggest operational setback the railways has faced in a very long time,” said an official involved in the work to get the Itarsi RRI system up and running again. The fire has hit trains to several routes from Mumbai, with trains going to Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and also West Bengal being cancelled in large numbers.
Explaining why it has been taking so much time, the official said that at the moment some 1,000 railway engineers, mostly from the signal and telecom cadre, have been camping at Itarsi along with senior railway officials. “What we are talking about is a fire knocking of a grid of thousands of cables that controlled hundreds of points (that give direction to a train) and signals. Reviving the system means every single of these cables have to be relaid, the points and signals tested,” said the official.
According to the railways, the best it can do is to ensure that passengers get to know about these large-scale cancellations well in time. Speaking to dna, Anil Saxena, additional director-general, public relations, Railway Board said, “We are ensuring that press releases on cancellations are carried extensively on television, radio and newspapers. We are coming up with almost five bulletins a day.”