Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Raising the bar on crossing protection

Written by  Mischa Wanek-Libman, Engineering Editor
Raising the bar on crossing protection Bruce Kelly
Improved technology from suppliers backs up a continuing campaign to keep accident trends going in the right direction.

A safe railroad goes hand-in-hand with a productive, not to mention profitaitable, railroad. On the most fundamental level, grade crossing warning systems serve as safety devices and recent enhancements are aimed at making grade crossings safer. Suppliers realize that the overall goal of safety isn’t tied solely to a crossing’s rate of incidents. Manufacturers are making warning devices that are more user-friendly, more reliable, and easier to maintain in order to help protect the public who use crossings, the crossing maintainers, and the railroad operators.

Ansaldo STS

Ansaldo STS USA, Inc., offers the Model 95 Highway Gate Crossing Mechanism. According to Russell Glorioso, head of external communications-Americas at Ansaldo STS, the Model 95 provides top-quality performance in a variety of crossing configurations, including standard highway crossings, highway crossings combined with pedestrian gates, and highway crossing four-quadrant gate systems with entrance and exit gate mechanisms.

“The design offers our customers a simple, reliable and durable mechanism, built with both safety and value in mind,” said Glorioso. “It can be outfitted with either a relay (vital or non-vital) for motor control or with the new electronic motor controller, which provides a test button feature and LED indicator to quickly check functionality of the gate mechanism. Like all Ansaldo STS USA products, the Model 95 Gate Mechanism is backed by the Ansaldo STS USA R.A.I.L. Team (Rapid Action Information Link), providing direct support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

GE Transportation

Derald Herinckx, global products leader of signaling systems at GE Transportation, says the company continues to enhance the capabilities of its ElectroLogIXS XP4 product. With its integrated ethernet capability, the ElectroLogIXS XP-4 allows customers to simplify designs by scaling one product from simple to complex applications. This ethernet capability also provides complete visibility into the ElectroLogIXS diagnostics interface offering users an intuitive setup and maintenance environment and new flexibility for remote access.

The flexibility of the ElectroLogIXS product family has also been leveraged to introduce a ElectroLogIXS Exit Gate Management System. The ElectroLogIXS Exit Gate management System is comprised of existing ElectroLogIXS technology and, says Herinckx, provides customers the opportunity to simplify the hardware, software, and sparing requirements in four-quadrant gate crossing applications.

“GE has already incorporated the first round of next generation diagnostics into the ElectroLogIXS XP4,” said Herinckx. “The ElectroLogIXS uses standard communication protocols such as SNMP to make fault information rapidly available to the railroad’s network management system. GE continues to build on this capability by working with railroads to determine how this interface can continue to grow and adapt to meet railroad needs.”

Invensys Rail

The most recent crossing-protection developments, in both safety and productivity, according to Invensys Rail Corp, are its remote monitor/test/report systems. These systems monitor actual crossing operation, compare that operation to a standard and report variances, including alarm conditions, direct to a signal maintainer or a central office location. The company says crossings can be tested remotely, including FRA tests, and necessary preventative maintenance can be planned and scheduled in advance. Also, with these systems, alarm reaction times can be greatly reduced to maximize crossing up-time. The current remote monitor/test/report systems can also provide a platform for further automation in grade crossing operation and maintenance.

A second area that Invensys sees growing interest in is four-quadrant gate systems, which further restrict vehicle access to the crossing. The company offers complete four-quad gate systems that are an extension of its grade crossing equipment packages.

Invensys Rail has integrated its Coded Audio Track Circuit (PSO 4000) and its GCP 4000 Crossing Controller technologies to provide an Occupancy Detector System that can be configured to provide constant warning time in electrified territory. This means that a coded, audio, overlay track circuit is available for electrified territory in an integrated crossing package—the “Crossing-In-A-Box” for electrified territory. Invensys’ crossing-protection products and systems are equally applicable to transit or heavy rail passenger operation where grade crossings are present.

National Electric Gate

National Electric Gate Co. has a product line that includes various types of gate arms, articulated gates, conversion brackets, digital light sets, LEDs, bus bars, insulated test links, insulated tools, bond strand, tefcel case wire, and signage.

“Our product line is constantly evolving,” said Marty Peterson, Jr., director of operations. “In doing this, we’re able to continually modify and update products and our customers receive cutting edge products per their specifications and requirements. No matter how big or how small the railroad is, we’re always willing to work with them on an individual basis.”

Part of that evolution means making products that are user-friendly. NEG’s quick connect gate assembly, which went through field testing last year, eliminates the need for through bolts by utilizing a vice shield between sections. The company’s digital light set use a quick connect plug instead of hardwiring to save time in the field, and its Gate-Saver 2-WAY can take an impact of up to 30 mph and return to its original position rather than needing a maintainer to service it.

A second element of evolving a product is making sure it sees time in the field. Peterson says NEG has worked hard at developing good relationships with railroads so that when the company has a new product, they can place it in service and receive honest feedback on its performance.

“[If the Class Is] come back to us and say, this isn’t what we’re looking for, we’re willing to work with them hands-on to modify the product to meet their expectations,” said Peterson.

Progress Rail

Progress Rail Services offers a suite of products built around the company’s Event Analyzer that monitor, record, and report on the operations and health of highway crossings.

“Taking up little space in the crossing bungalow, since the Event Analyzer is the size of a B2 relay, it continuously monitors a crossing’s health and performance and can report to a central office, Progress Rail Services’ OnSite system, other networked devices, or a maintainer when issues with a crossing occur. This allows the maintainer to address these issues before they become significant enough to affect safe operations. For example, if a crossing controller is switching between its normal and standby equipment, the Event Analyzer can detect and report this condition, alerting the railroad of possible maintenance before operations become affected,” said Marc Miller, product manager, data acquisition products.

The Event Analyzer can monitor analog signals, digital signals and can also monitor a signal’s current to confirm operation. According to Miller, using customized applications, which are locally and remotely accessible via the Event Analyzer’s built-in web server, the monitoring options are almost endless. The Event Analyzer can monitor a variety of crossing controllers, but can also monitor additional components of a typical highway crossing. Miller gives the example of Progress Rail Services’ SmartBell, which is an electronic bell that not only generates a ringing tone to alert pedestrians and motorists to the presence of trains, but also independently monitors the bell’s function via a built-in accelerometer. The accelerometer measures the sound level and ring rate of the bell, and unlike a traditional microphone, the SmartBell’s accelerometer is tuned to the specific frequency of the bell and is able to filter out other noise. A Gate Tip Sensor is used to monitor the position of the highway and/or pedestrian gates to confirm they actually moved to the horizontal position. They also detect if the gate is broken. Finally, Light Out Detectors and Current Sense Monitors can be incorporated to let the maintainer know a flashing light is out.

“Progress Rail Services continues to invest in its suite of Crossing Performance Monitoring products to aid the rail industry’s goals to be more productive through automation and remote monitoring, while maintaining safe operations,” said Miller.