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— Compiled by Katie Berk, Assistant Editor
When in the market for switch machines, railroads place a high priority on finding a machine that's cost effective and easy to maintain, according to North American switch machine suppliers. Between the slow economic recovery and money allocated for other communications and signal projects, such as meeting the positive train control (PTC) mandate, railroads are as budget-conscious as ever.
"Railroads need switch machines to be reliable and have a low cost of ownership," said Russell Glorioso, marketing and communications manager for switch machine suppler Ansaldo STS, in an email.
So, suppliers are standing at the ready to try to accommodate them. Progressive Railroading recently checked in with 10 switch machine suppliers to find out what the railroads are looking for and what they're doing to meet their demands. Their responses follow.
Alstom is upgrading the TM100 in-tie switch machine, which is designed to help reduce costs, parts inventory and maintenance. The TM100 also serves as a reliable replacement for existing wayside machines, according to Alstom. The company has upgraded the motor module to be more compatible with both freight and transit environments. The upgrade to the TM100 makes the machine "more reliable and robust," said Alstom's North American Director of Communications Isabelle de Fleurac in an email.
Since the TM100 is directly connected to the stock rail, it can eliminate the need for layout rods, according to Alstom. The clutch also has been eliminated, and the machine features a brushless "servo type" motor and no gear timing. The TM100's layout allows for mechanical tamping, requiring less maintenance, de Fleurac said.
Due to requests for immediate delivery, Alstom now keeps the TM100 in-tie machines in stock rather than build the machines once an order is placed, de Fleurac said.
In addition to its in-tie offerings, Alstom now markets a wayside machine that features a basic platform with a range of configurations that can fit many applications and a range of budgets, said de Fleurac. The GM4000A wayside machine was developed to accomodate simple single control or dual control with an enhanced controller. The GM4000A is a "drop-in" replacement for all industry machines, so no modifications need to be made to existing equipment, according to Alstom. It delivers 4,000 pounds of thrust and features an 8 and 3/4-inch profile. A solid-state controller provides universal power and field configurable control with no necessary wiring changes, said de Fleurac.
Ansaldo STS is aiming to design switch machines with an eye toward the looming PTC mandate.
"The industry is extremely focused on the implementation of positive train control, and to help the railroads accomplish this we have developed the VitalNet™ Point Monitor for situations with hand-throw switch machines in dark territory," said Ansaldo STS' Glorioso. "The railroads have thousands of switches in dark territory that must be equipped with PTC and we are working to ensure installation and set up is fast and flexible, saving money and eliminating the need to perform track work."
The VitalNet Point Monitor measures four inches high, enabling it to mount directly to the stock rail, and the design accommodates rail- and point-run, according to the company. It can monitor a switch position and interface with a VitalNet Wayside Interface Unit to communicate the switch position in compliance with PTC regulations.
The design for the new VitalNet Point Monitor is based on Ansaldo's M23 design, which the company has offered since the 1920s.
GE Transportation currently is focusing on designing new switch machine applications for metro trains, said company spokesman Tom Scott.
"The product differentiator is our modular concept that, with its compact layout, reduces the overall costs for infrastructure and civil works," Scott said.
GE is partnering with Tianjing Railways Signaling Factory to launch a pilot program for the Bejing metro, with the first installation for its in-tie system expected in August.
Global Rail Systems Inc. has revamped its TS4500 switch machine for a new application. Although the TS4500 has been traditionally categorized as a yard machine, the company now is developing it into a mainline application aimed at alleviating the point lock issue, says Global Rail Systems' Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ron Martin.
The new design, which employs a point lock instead of a lock rod, allows run through and is "much safer," says Martin.
A point lock is attached to the point of the turnout and mechanically locks the point to the stock rail. A lock rod, on the other hand, is a rod in the switch machine that restricts the machine from throwing when in the locked position. With a lock rod, there are "several mechanisms between the switch machine and the actual point of the track to be locked into position," Martin says.
"By providing a mechanism that will be locking the actual point to the stock rail, we are eliminating many of the possible points of failure and maintenance required to keep that machine-bound mechanism adjusted and working as designed," he says.
The switch machine design translates into "big money savings" for railroads, Martin adds. Since run-through in a lock-rod machine could break the rail and cause derailments, the new design will "alleviate costly mistakes by train crews," he says.
The PTC mandate has prompted Invensys Rail's engineers to design the SC-100 rail-mounted switch circuit controller, which can mount directly to the base of the rail. The linear motion of the controller provides a 1:1 ratio of movement between the controller and switch point. The controller has four contacts for each indicating position, which can be wired in several different configurations, Invensys officials said in an email.
The ease of installation of the SC-100 Rail-Mounted Circuit Controller is intended to make it easier to deal with dark territory switches for PTC, according to the company. The SC-100 can be installed without additional crossties for mounting, providing a considerable savings, according to Invensys.
The company also is introducing the S-23 Mainline switch machine, which is built on an "industry-proven design with refinements to improve the performance and life cycle of the product," according to an email. The machines are offered in dual control, optional hand-throw indication with various gear ratios, and in a 12 VDC or 110 VDC version. The S-23 machine is designed to provide an alternative for switch machine sourcing, according to Invensys.
No matter how much railroads stress the need to cut costs, "safety is the overriding factor in new product development," said National Trackwork Inc. (NTI) Vice President of Sales Robert Fiorio in an email.
That's why NTI recently introduced its Safe View directional lights for switch stands and switch machines, he said. The solar-powered light features red and green LED lights that turn with the target and provide a visual check that the points are closed, in addition to the target, which could be damaged or obstructed.
The lights can be retrofitted to any NTI switch stand or switch machine, and can be installed on the target mast in minutes, Fiorio said.
"The lights can last thousands of hours, require zero maintenance and use no energy," he added.
NTI also has introduced a new Flood Guard technology, which is designed to ensure reliable switch machine and switch stand performance in standing water, such as in a mine or tunnel.
In addition, the company has integrated the use of a Remtron remote-control actuation system with its National Model 1100 Electric and 1500 Solar switch machines. The system can accomodate up to 18 switch machines from a single transmitter, according to Fiorio.
NTI's 1100 and 1500 switch machines feature a standard connecting rod, standard spiking pattern, elevated control box, low profile and grease fittings, and have no hydraulics.
NTI's new 1002RG "Backsaver" switch stand features an ergonomically designed rectangular handle designed to reduce back, neck and shoulder injuries caused by a worker bending over to operate the device, said Fiorio.
RailComm is developing a patent-pending technology to track individual cars throughout a yard, generating a real-time map of all fixed rail assets in the facility. A version of this technology will be in revenue service by the end of the year at the new CSX Intermodal facility in northwest Ohio, said Chief Executive Officer Joe Denny in an email.
Currently, railroads rely on the accuracy of database tables to "track" cars, said Denny. As a result, some misplaced cars are not discovered until they roll by an AEI reader on the mainline, eliminating an opportunity to correct the error until the car appears at the next classification yard, said Denny.
By enabling railroads to know the exact location and status of an individual rail car, Denny believes RailComm is creating a platform to directly measure a rail car's physical location. Railroads can make the appropriate corrections to the car management database, which eventually will enable them to optimize blocking plans, taking into account the relative priority of each car and processing the switch list in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, Denny said.
Siemens Transportation Systems Inc.'s signaling products include the Sicas S7 vital wayside controller and the Switchguard ITS 700 in-tie switch machine.
The Sicas S7 is a scalable platform used for control on the wayside. It features hot-swappable boards, distributed architecture capabilities, structured, reusable programming and an optional local control panel that displays diagnostic information, according to Siemens. The machine also supports remote diagnostic and troubleshooting via an integrated web-hosting application.
The Sicas S7 can be used for various applications from automatic signals to large multi-track interlockings and is compatible with existing DC-coded track circuits, Siemens officials said. The platform offers an integrated event recorder and can be programmed in ladder logic.
The Switchguard products are designed to help railroads address turnout reliability. The Switchguard in-tie machine features mechanical tamping of the switch machine layout. The Switchguard is available with a hand-throw lever, which previously was unavailable on in-tie machines, Siemens officials said. The operating mechanism is installed in its own compart-ment in the hollow tie, eliminating separate switch machine housing. All moveable parts are protected against both mechanical da-mage and the effects of inclement weather. The hollow tie also can be electrically heated at a fraction of the cost required to heat the standard switch machine layout, according to Siemens.
VAE Nortrak has developed its new "Hytronics" technology.
"The PTC mandate is forcing railroad signaling departments to economize on design and installation work due to limited resources. The Hytronics system allows them to use their existing signal system designs for switch machine control," VAE Nortrak officials said in an email.
Hytronics technology was developed by Nortrak's parent company in Europe. The term Hytronics was coined to signify the division's dual specializations in hydraulics and electronics. The Hytronics line includes drive systems that deliver hydraulic power to the switch points. The systems use independent modules to handle locking and detecting switch point position. Different switch machines in the Hytronics line can be used for embedded transit and tramway applications, ballasted transit and commuter networks, and higher-speed freight and passenger turnouts that require multiple setting points, according to VAE Nortrak.
Hytronics technology is designed to enable the distribution of power exerted along the switch point hydraulically. The addition of slave hydraulic "setting points" doesn't require changes to the point locking or detection modules, or to the signal system wiring, according to VAE Nortrak. The system can automatically detect obstructions that potentially could cause tight gauge at or between the controllers. These features are designed to ensure that the longer switch points required to support higher speed turnouts can be moved smoothly and evenly by the master drive and multiple slave units, while the signal system only has to control a single switch machine motor, VAE Nortrak officials said.
The drive unit with the motor and junction box also doesn't need to be mechanically connected to the track, enabling the drive unit to be installed at another location in areas of restricted clearances, such as on a tunnel wall, according to the company.
VAE Nortrak currently is adapting the Hytronics drives to meet North American operating and maintenance requirements, and expects to produce the drives in the United States soon.
VAE Nortrak also currently is redesigning its blue rod and hollow steel tie system to use the Hytronics technology. Once the company is satisfied with accelerated load testing, likely in the fourth quarter, VAE Nortrak officials expect to release the North American version of the product for tests on railroad properties.
Western-Cullen-Hayes Inc. has been selling the same switch machine design for almost 20 years and has no plans to change it, according to the company.
"It's been a very good product for us," says Sales Manager Carl Pambianco. "The basic design has been very well received over the years."
However, the company is considering some "small tweaks" for the machine, such as enhancing the electronics and using LED lights, he added.