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Rail News Home C&S

November 2007

Rail News: C&S

From window shoppers to adopters


Vital and non-vital positive train control (PTC). Communications-based train control (CBTC). Centralized traffic control (CTC). Dark territory control. Track warrant control. Different technologies for different applications.

Depending on their needs, railroads use them to enforce train speed limits, automate dispatching, generate electronic authorities or issue track warrants in dark territory.

But all train-control technologies have a common aim: to improve safety. Railroads continue to test and deploy systems designed to prevent train collisions, enforce track limits, ensure switches are in the proper position or reduce the risk of miscommunication when track warrants are issued. However, many railroads remain in the tire-kicking phase, analyzing train control from cost vs. benefits and regulatory perspectives.

In the second of a two-part series on train control, Wabtec Railway Electronics Corp., Quantum Engineering Inc., Thales Rail Signaling Solutions Inc. and RailComm Inc. describe how they’re providing railroads a few more reasons to consider becoming adopters instead of window shoppers.

Custom tailoring
Wabtec Railway Electronics continues to work with Union Pacific Railroad to develop a communications-based system that’s similar to the Electronic Train Management System (ETMS®) Wabtec supplied to BNSF Railway Co. ETMS is designed to monitor and relay movement authorities and speed limits through a digital communications network. The system displays data, commands and a moving map on a computer screen inside a locomotive cab, and automatically initiates braking if an engineer doesn’t appropriately respond to movement and speed-limit warnings.

UP’s system will account for its cab signal territory and provide interoperation between UP and BNSF trains in territories where they overlap, says Wabtec Railway Electronics Vice President and General Manager Robert Bourg.

“Crews from either railroad will be able to use [train control] equipment that’s familiar to them,” he says.

UP recently installed computers onboard 65 locomotives as part of a pilot under way on lines totaling 333 track miles between North Platte and South Morrill, Neb., and Spokane, Wash., and Eastport, Idaho. As part of the pilot, Canadian Pacific Railway is installing computers onboard 15 locomotives used on the Spokane line because UP dispatches CPR trains in the region. UP will continue conducting the test through mid-2008 and begin implementing the system by the end of next year.

The Northern Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp. (Metra) is closer to deploying its own version of ETMS, as well. In the first quarter, Metra plans to begin testing the system on the Rock Island line between Chicago and Joliet.

“Metra has unique operating rules and we will accommodate them,” says Bourg.

The commuter railroad expects to deploy the system by 2008’s end.

Meanwhile, Wabtec Railway Electronics last month won a contract from Norfolk Southern Railway to develop a vital PTC system based on ETMS. NS plans to deploy the system, to be called Optimized Train Control, on a 222-mile South Carolina line in 2009.

By that time, BNSF expects to deploy ETMS on a third — and potentially a fourth — line. Next year, the railroad plans to install the system on a 150-mile line between Hettinger, N.D., and Terry, Mont. The Class I already has deployed ETMS on a 135-mile corridor between Centralia and Beardstown, Ill.; and 323 track miles between Fort Worth, Texas, and Arkansas City, Kan.

Wabtec Railway Electronics recently converted ETMS communications equipment used on the Texas/Kansas lines to a MeteorComm MCC-6100 software-defined radio system, which features multiple frequency bands.

“The software-defined radio system meets federal narrow-band requirements and provides more than one communication path,” says Bourg.

Quantum Engineering also recently enhanced a train-control system, but for a railroad outside the United States. In October, the Panama Canal Railway Co. began using a vital switch interlocking on two wayside switches. The railroad implemented Quantum Engineering’s Train Sentinel® PTC system last year.

Jockeying for position
The switch interlockings are controlled by Train Sentinel and Quantum Engineering’s Engesis Advanced Control of Trains computer-aided dispatching (CAD) system. The interlockings transmit switch commands via VHF radio and the vital switch ensures the switch is in the intended position, says Quantum Engineering President Mark Kane.

“In addition, the train interrogates the switch as it approaches the switch — another method of ensuring the switch is in the correct position for the route of the train according to the track warrant,” he says. “Once interrogation is initiated, the vital switch cannot be thrown until the train has passed over the switch.”

Train Sentinel obtains information from an onboard computer and location data from a Global Positioning System, and issues an alert if crews are approaching restrictions and authority limits. The system will stop a train if a crew member fails to respond appropriately or “hazardous” operations are detected.

Quantum Engineering currently is working with Kansas City Southern de México S.A. de C.V. (KCSM) to deploy Train Sentinel in a 310-mile territory between Morelia and Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico, where Kansas City Southern is helping develop a deep-water port for freight moving from Asia to the United States. Although no implementation date has been set, KCSM might install Train Sentinel sometime next year, says Kane.

Meanwhile, Quantum Engineering is making strides with its first U.S. Train Sentinel installation. The Ohio Central Railroad System continues to implement Train Sentinel and a CAD system in Ohio and portions of Pennsylvania. The owner of 10 short lines began deploying the systems last year.

For the past seven months, the CAD system has been working in “non-equipped” mode, meaning it functions as a standard CAD dark territory control/track warrant control system with voice communication between the dispatcher and crew, and paper warrants on the train, says Kane.

The Ohio Central is seeking Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) approval to begin operational testing with the FRA in December. Full Train Sentinel implementation is scheduled for March 2008, says Kane.

Quantum Engineering recently incorporated FRA Emergency Order 24, which governs hand-operated switches in non-signaled territory, as a standard part of its track warrant control/CAD system. The system now creates an electronic record of switches as a train moves through dark territory.

“Today, railroads are keeping a paper trail to fulfill the intent of the emergency order,” says Kane. “The electronic recordkeeping will alleviate the need for this, reducing the burden on a dispatcher and providing a definitive record for FRA purposes.”

RailComm also recently enhanced its train-control systems, which are designed for dark territories and CTC. In August, the company began offering its Domain Operations Controller (DOC®) for both systems through a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery method.

Instead of accessing DOC through a local area network, authorized users can access the control system via a secure Internet connection. RailComm houses DOC in a secure data center.

Users can be given different privileges so “only a few are actually controlling trains,” says RailComm President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Denny.

DOC:CTC is a CAD system designed to automate dispatching functions; DOC:TWC is a computerized track warrant control system that enables railroads to dispatch trains operating in dark territory under General Code of Operating Rules.

The SaaS delivery method is targeted at smaller railroads that might be reluctant to purchase hardware and software for a train-control system, says Denny. They can become SaaS customers for a monthly charge and minimal upfront costs, such as customized software that’s part of the start-up fee, he says.

Three Genesee & Wyoming Inc. short lines recently became SaaS customers. The Buckingham Branch Railroad Co., Iowa Northern Railway Co., Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon and Capital Metro of Austin, Texas, have signed on, as well.

Catching the next wave
Capital Metro, which will use DOC for CTC and track warrant control, also is obtaining field code emulator devices and wireless communication modules for all control points from RailComm. The commuter railroad plans to transition from dispatching/control through old DC code lines to CTC over wireless or wired media, says Denny.

“Austin Metro will use a third-party cell network for communications,” he says. “Cell is the wave of the future.”

Thales Rail Signaling Solutions also is lining up additional rail customers for its train-control systems both in North America and abroad.

“We take a global approach to train control and have projects in Europe, the United Kingdom, China and North America,” says John Brohm, president of Thales Rail Signaling Solutions-U.S. and vice president of operations for Thales Rail Signaling Solutions-Canada.

Last year, Thales Rail Signaling Solutions’ parent the Thales Group acquired Alcatel Transport System’s divisions that provide signaling systems, including train control. Since January 2007, Thales Rail Signaling Solutions has assumed dozens of Alcatel’s train-control projects and pursued new projects.

Along with Siemens Transportation Systems Inc. and Bombardier Transportation, Thales Rail Signaling Solutions is one of three bidders for the Port Authority Trans-Hudson’s (PATH) new $500 million signal system.

PATH plans to replace its fixed-block system with a state-of-the-art automatic train-control system to reduce headways, operate trains more closely together and increase service frequency. The system will feature over-speed protection to prevent trains from exceeding speed limits. PATH expects to begin the project next year and complete the installation in 2014.

For now, Thales Rail Signaling Solutions is developing a CBTC system for Vancouver, British Columbia’s new 12-mile “Canada Line” that’s scheduled to enter revenue service in late 2009.

Formerly awarded to Alcatel, the contract was transferred to Thales in January. The rapid-transit line will run between Vancouver, the city’s airport and Richmond, B.C.

Thales Rail Signaling Solutions offers the SelTrac® CBTC system for transit-rail applications, and European Train Control System (ETCS) for freight and passenger-rail applications in Europe. ETCS is gradually being applied in Asia.

From Spain to Switzerland
Overseas, the company is providing the SelTrac CBTC system for the Dubai Metro, and ETCS for Spanish Ministry of Transport high-speed commuter-rail lines and the high-speed Lotschberg base tunnel in Switzerland.

In January, Thales Rail Signaling Solutions obtained a contract extension from the Tube Lines, which is rebuilding the London Underground’s busiest lines, to provide SelTrac as part of a new signaling system.

Already being implemented on the Jubilee and Northern lines, SelTrac also will be installed on the London railroad’s Piccadilly Line.

Although Thales Rail Signaling Solutions has about 30 train-control projects under way, most are ongoing rather than new installations, says Brohm.

“I’d like to see more investment in urban rail infrastructure,” he says.

All train-control system suppliers also would like to see more interest from railroads in adopting the technology. When it comes to PTC, railroads tend to revert to their traditional “super conservative” ways, says Quantum Engineering’s Kane.

“When railroads other than Class Is are interested in PTC’s safety benefits, you get a feeling that the full acceptance of the technology is just around the corner,” he says. “As I’ve said for many years, ‘Nobody wants to be first, but everyone wants to be second.’”


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