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Railroads want switch machines that are reliable, easy to maintain and cost-effective. It’s what they want from every product, device or piece of equipment they use. Railroads also want to be able to employ “smart” switch control technology — systems that offer self-diagnostic, predictive and analytics capabilities. Technology that can provide next-level efficiencies.
Switch machine suppliers have been on the next-generation technology beat for some time now. They continue to offer traditional solutions (because they still work, and work well), but they also continue to develop new models with smart(er) controllers and predictive analytics platforms.
Some of the new stuff was on display at the Railway Systems Suppliers Inc.’s (RSSI) 56th annual communications and signaling exhibition, held June 29-30 in Grapevine, Texas. And some of it is featured within the pages that follow.
Progressive Railroading recently contacted a sampling of suppliers, asking them to share information on what’s new and/or tried and true on the switch machine technology front. Six of them offered responses.
Alstom SA’s portfolio includes the Model 5 Series of switch machines, which are designed for “traditional applications” and represent the “largest install base of any switch machine base in North America,” the company says. Model 5 units feature a robust motor and drive system, and operate in extreme weather conditions. The average “machine life” of a Model 5 unit is more than 20 years, Alstom says. “We’re constantly investing to ... improve this technology,” the company adds.
The company also offers the CTS2, an in-tie point machine that Alstom officials characterize as a “new concept for North America.” Suitable for hi-rail, high-speed, mainline and mining applications, the CTS2 that has been “upgraded to withstand the worst environmental conditions, with underwater operation and improved seals for track moving components,” the company says. It can function as a trailable or non-trailable unit; that flexibility, along with the in-tie track maintenance benefits related to ballast surfacing, makes the CTS2 ideal for new lines or railroads seeking to upgrade their infrastructure, the company says.
For transit applications, Alstom offers the GM4000A switch machine, which now features new point detection contacts for “superior dependability in harsh environments and better vibration resistance” to prevent signal chatter, the company says. Additionally, a next-generation electronic controller is available with improved shock and vibration resistance, including improved protection to water ingress.
Ansaldo STS, a Hitachi Group company, offers the Intelligent Electronic Circuit Controller (IECC™) for remote switch machine monitoring and control — it’s the next-generation vital indication and control module for the company’s M3 and M23 switch machines, Ansaldo says.
A drop-in replacement for the mechanical circuit controller in Ansaldo Style M switch machines, IECC enables users to instantly access the current status and location of a machine, as well as a cumulative log of the last 1,000 switch machine movements.
The submersible IEEC eliminates contact corrosion and wear, prevents inadvertent contact chatter and offers early detection of point bar misalignment. Configurable for right- or left-hand applications, it features a rugged design; reduced cabling; remote asset management; and remote status, diagnostics and alarms. It also offers dual M12 Ethernet ports for optional redundant networking links and is compatible with off-the-shelf Wi-Fi, cellular, fiber, Ethernet and DSL products.
The M3 and M23 with ECC are Ansaldo’s next-generation Style M switch machines. Features include the company’s basic Style M machine drive-train design; light-emitting diode diagnostics; an electronic latch-out feature that can be configured for manual, automatic or “disable”; and local/remote switch control capability.
RailComm offers two solutions that company officials believe add significant value to switches: remote control of yard switches, and remote condition monitoring and predictive analytics.
RailComm’s yard automation platform — Domain Operations Controller (DOC®) system — controls a variety of power switch machine types, and receives indications of switch position and power condition. All traffic — including the routing of trains in and out of a yard — is controlled from a safe, secure central location using a modern user interface that provides flexibility, speed and safety, the company says. “Yard dispatchers have a safer way to direct traffic throughout the yard, and protect tracks, workers and other assets while maintenance and inspection tasks are being performed,” RailComm says. Entrance/Exit (NX) routing takes into consideration all automated processes, including remote switch and derail control, blue flag protection and shove track system.
Meanwhile, the company’s remote condition monitoring and predictive analytics solution — RailComm Insight™ for Mainline Switches — is designed to improve the performance and availability of mainline switches.
Non-intrusive sensors and the Insight cloud-based analytics platform monitor assets and alert users to potential failures before they happen, “transforming traditional remote condition monitoring to a smart decision support tool for preventive and corrective condition-based maintenance,” the company says. Benefits cited by RailComm include lower maintenance costs, improved maintenance efficacy and fewer unplanned train delays.
Siemens offers an array of mainline and yard switch machines for the global marketplace, including internally and externally locked machines, as well as a variety of trailable and non-trailable options, in-tie switch machines, and external locks and point detectors.
In addition, Siemens continues to invest in the research and development of switch point monitoring systems to “provide customers with predictive maintenance information to minimize and/or eliminate switch turnout downtime,” the company says.
Siemens’ latest development is the Switchguard® S600, an internal locking machine with what the company terms as a “very high level of reliability and safety integrity.” The Switchguard S600 has been independently certified to a SIL4 safety integrity level by TüV Rheinland, the highest safety integrity level achievable for CENELEC, the company says. Available in trailable and non-trailable versions, the S600 is easy to install, has a long service life and has been rated for more than 1 million throwing operations, according to Siemens.
Several years ago, voestalpine Nortrak combined the fully trailable Racor® 22 switch stand with the Automater® — a powered machine for yard applications — to form the Racor Automater HT. The Automater HT is now in its second generation.
The HT is named for the backup mechanical Hand Throw lever that provides full dual control functionality. If problems develop with communications or power systems — or if the hydraulic actuator, hoses and motor are completely removed from the machine — the Automater HT is designed to operate in manual mode in the same way as a traditional mainline switch machine.
If anything happens to affect the power drive, there is no need for yard crews to refer to “special fallback instructions” and “maintenance crews don’t need to be called out on overtime for repairs,” the company says.
The second-generation unit incorporates a revised clutch design that places key components in a more accessible location, making inspection and maintenance more convenient. It also features a mechanical lock that prevents the hand throw lever from being moved if the selector lever is not first placed in the “HAND” position, the company says.
voestalpine Nortrak also has entered the mainline switch machine market with the Unistar HR.
The machine features a modular design and a variety of mounting options; it can control, monitor and lock multiple drive points through a single interface to the signal system. The Unistar HR has already been adopted in a number of projects and trials in Canada and the United States, the company says.
Vossloh Signaling Inc.’s TS-4500 direct drive hydraulic switch machine is designed for flat yards and terminal applications. It offers numerous efficiencies, such as minimal linkages and sealed bearings that “ensure reliability, minimize maintenance and lower the overall cost of ownership,” the company says.
Featuring a direct drive, the TS-4500 maximizes the available power for throwing any size switch point. It features a range of throw options, including on-site push button, DTMF remote or data radio control, and also can be thrown via a pump action when no power is available.
When combined with the Vossloh SIU (switch interface unit) and modular electronics, the TS-4500 switching applications offer “very low power consumption,” and the provided 12V battery allows for more than 200 switch throws, the company says.
Available as a stand-alone unit or as part of Vossloh’s RailMaster™ yard control system, the TS-4500 is the cornerstone of the Vossloh Modular Yard Automation (MYA) concept, a scalable solution for remote switch control in flat yards. MYA comprises numerous product modules that can be mixed and matched to achieve specific functionalities; yard control solutions can be tailored to customers’ needs.
“TS-4500 is often part of a larger solution that also features a switch occupancy detection subsystem, communication system, comprehensive control system, charging system and even yard management software,” the company says.