For a safe trip to the holy rivers

Every three years, millions of Hindu pilgrims converge in India to be part of the gigantic spiritual Kumbh Mela congregation. Precise planning is crucial to smoothly and safely transporting the crowds of people to their destination: a bath in one of the holy rivers of India. Right on time before the event, Siemens Mobility upgraded three interlockings to a higher technical standard to meet increased capacity demands. The Kumbh Mela 2019 took place from January to March.

Colorful clusters of people are pushing through the busy streets of Allahabad. This year more than 130 million people travelled to the mega-city, which was recently renamed Prayagraj. An area of 45 square kilometers in the city is the point of confluence of three holy rivers – Ganga, Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati – and a dip in these rivers is considered by many to be auspicious and spiritually liberating. Hindus believe that when there’s a special planetary constellation, the purifying effect of the water is maximized. This is when the Kumbh Mela, one of the largest cultural and religious congregations in the world, takes place (see info box).

Proven expertise 

The local administration made its own arrangements: It constructed a new temporary city, the largest ever built, with 250 kilometers of roads and 22 pontoon bridges. It was then left to the Indian Railways, which manages the world’s fourth-largest railway network, to help the pilgrims reach their destination, and it was prepared. It put on track an additional 800 trains, four times the usual number that pass through the 11 platforms of Allahabad Junction Railway Station. Contributing to the success of this mammoth task was a team of Siemens engineers. After the contract agreement was signed on June 30, 2017, their work and technology assisted the operator to greatly increase the rail’s transport capacity and ensure the safe and highly available transport of all the extra passengers.

To be prepared for thousands of travelers

The project was performed in different phases. Siemens engineers resuscitated a 24-year-old route interlocking and modernized two other interlockings at the Allahabad, Varanasi, and Manduadih stations – all within a radius of 130 kilometers. The team helped upgrade the Manduadih yard from its mechanical signaling system to the Siemens route relay interlocking (RRI) system, which is operated solely by electrical circuitry, to prepare to manage the huge influx of people for the Kumbh Mela. The team responded in the nick of time to fulfill the tight deadlines set by the Indian Railway Board. “Our efforts helped the Railways commission the system by the agreed deadlines,” says Prashant Rode, Senior Manager at Siemens Mobility in India.

Enabling a higher frequency

At Varanasi, the team made alterations to the old RRI to enable a conversion from a single to a double line. “Varanasi is a very busy yard with 602 routes, and so incorporating the alterations was a challenging task. After commissioning, it’s now possible to simultaneously receive and dispatch the trains, which in turn has increased the flexibility of the yard. Northern Railways is now adequately equipped to handle the additional Kumbh Mela Special trains,” says Swati Khale, Head of Engineering at Siemens Mobility in India.

More than 40 new routes

A new platform was constructed at Allahabad station, which is why Siemens had to modify the old route relay interlocking to meet the new requirements. After the commissioning of the new signaling system, 41 new routes were introduced and a new platform was put into commercial operation. Now, after upgrading the 25-year-old Siemens RRI system, the total number of routes has increased to 576, which has resulted in increased flexibility and more train movement.

This project allowed Siemens once again to prove that it can serve not only advanced European markets but also provide customized solutions for different countries with different local requirements. “We made real what matters yet again for our customer Indian Railways with our on-time commissioning of the RRI system just before Kumbh Mela and our adherence to tight deadlines. Our technology and strong customer commitment and focus enabled our customer to convert single lines to double lines. This enhanced the flexibility and ease of use convenience for the thousands of pilgrims who used the railway services to reach the Kumbh Mela,” says Manish Agarwal, Head of Infrastructure Sales at Siemens Mobility in India.


Picture credits: Siemens Mobility

The Kumbh Mela is held every three years when Jupiter, the sun, and the moon stand in a specific relationship to each other. It’s believed that the festival is the best time for washing away one’s sins by bathing in the sacred rivers, and that the practice can lead to immortality. The four cities of Allahabad (now called Prayagraj), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik take turns organizing the festival, of which there are different types. In 2019, the world’s largest religious festival took place in Prayagraj from January 15 to March 4. More than 130 million pilgrims are reported to have participated.

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