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April 2016

Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Perspective: Cloud-Connected Sensors Support On-Time Train Performance by Monitoring Wayside Equipment

By Andrew Whawell

Railroads in Europe and Australia have been using hardware and software to transform traditional wayside assets into smart devices, which are automatically monitored by a predictive-analytics, cloud-connected software platform. This end-to-end combination of Internet of Things (IoT) technology has enabled their railroad maintainers to change the way they work, moving away from inflexible, reactive maintenance programs to dynamic planning based on the condition of their wayside equipment. This results in a direct improvement of on-time performance due to a measurable reduction of signal equipment failure.

SA380TX sensorThe SA380TX sensor is an industrial data acquisition unit for rail applications that can be thought of as a ruggedized remote control oscilloscope.
Photo: MPEC Technology
Recently in the United States, pilot installations of this IoT technology from MPEC Technology — specifically, SA380 series sensors and Centrix data analytics software — have been installed on two Class 1 railroads, with further pilot installations planned for two additional Class 1 railroads this year. Several heavy rail transit operators focused in the Northeast U.S. are also actively planning pilot projects.

The objective of the U.S. installations is to provide remote monitoring of track switches, track circuits, and, in the case of the transits, third-rail power systems and train trip stops. In Europe, monitoring installations also cover train detection equipment, grade crossings, electrical power systems, and entire relay-based interlockings. It is expected that as the pilot trials in the U.S. continue, the number and type of monitored assets will also increase.

As the experience of the European operators has demonstrated, condition-based maintenance of signal, power and train control equipment can significantly reduce failure rates and emergency maintenance interventions.

Tracking analog and digital data

In the U.S. installations, the hardware system is comprised primarily of SA380 series data logging units that can be retrofitted to almost any field device used on the railroad. The SA380 units collect status and performance data from field assets then transmit it wirelessly in near-real-time to Centrix, a cloud-based platform.

In the case of track switches, the data logging units record both analog and digital data. The digital data provides information about the status of track switches — for example their position, the electrical state of the motor, and the position requested by the interlocking. When the track switch operates, the data logging units make a high frequency analog recording of the electrical current drawn by the switch motor.

All of this data is transmitted wirelessly or through existing IP networks and stored in Centrix. The railroad maintainers can interact with this data anywhere at any time, through a Web-based interface.

The Centrix platform provides several tools that the maintainers can use to analyze the data. In the first instance, the maintainers can access a graphical replay tool, which can display an animated recording of any sequence of events of interest. This gives them a comprehensive, detailed record of the operation of all the monitored equipment, allowing for detailed engineering investigations that would otherwise be difficult to conduct.

Centrix screenshotCentrix is a hosted software platform providing a centralized environment for storing, accessing and processing acquired data.
(Click to view larger.)
Source: MPEC Technology

Centrix also provides a sophisticated suite of analytical and machine learning tools that maintainers can use to remotely diagnose problems as they develop. Maintainers can also plan maintenance work, preventing faults from progressing and disrupting the operation of the railroad.

The Centrix system can be configured to automatically generate email alerts related to degraded equipment performance based on intelligent statistical analysis of historical data and pattern recognition algorithms.

The MPEC Technology remote condition monitoring system is a tool that enables railroad maintainers to adopt modern condition-based maintenance strategies. With appropriate training and access to data through systems like Centrix, maintenance work can be conducted more efficiently, with less time spent travelling to work sites, while at the same time reducing the number of disruptive failures.

Andrew Whawell MIRSE is managing director of MPEC Technology. Based in the United Kingdom, MPEC specializes in remote condition monitoring technology, providing industrial data acquisition units designed for the unique safety and environmental requirements of the rail industry. In addition to providing ruggedized hardware systems, MPEC has developed advanced server systems to provide graphical replay, analysis and fault prevention on acquired data.


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