Saturday, August 28, 2010

Suppliers meet the PTC challenge

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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PTC’s cost, technical challenges, and tight time frame are giving the railroads headaches. Suppliers are working feverishly to provide relief.

Positive Train Control installed, tested, and commissioned by year-end 2015? If you’re a railroad, publicly you’re saying, “Yes, we’ll get it done,” along with, “This is costing me a whole lot of money that I might have to divert from other sources.” Privately, you might be saying, “I have this severe headache, and it doesn’t look like it’s going away very soon.”

Help has arrived from the supply industry, in the form of PTC systems and subsystems specifically designed for rapid rollout, ease of installation, and compatibility with their existing, service-proven platforms. The “Big Six”—Ansaldo STS USA, Alstom, GE Transportation, Invensys Rail, Siemens Mobility, and Wabtec—have been neck-deep in development of PTC since well before the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008 forced the industry into taking a crash course in advanced train control and then applying what it has learned within a very short time frame. The railroads may be lobbying for relief—a deadline extension, and maybe even some federal financial assistance—but until that happens, if it happens, the PTC mandate must be met.

At Railway Age’s June 2010 PTC Seminar in Washington, D.C. most of the major suppliers were on hand to explain what they’ve developed. Those not present have contributed to this article. What’s presented here represents years of ongoing R&D, and in many cases, proven technology.


Alstom Transport Signaling Solutions’ new “PTC Wayside Rapid Deployment Solution” is described as a “multi-configurable deployment container” packed with virtually everything needed for a wayside PTC installation that can be kitted at a central distribution center and shipped to remote field locations via truck. Its “closed loop returnable packaging” eliminates packaging waste and is therefore a “green solution.”

The deployment container is barcoded and serialized, and can be adapted for three configurations. Option 1 is two complete kits with a main control case enclosure, solar panels, power converter, three-section mast, mast mounting base, “7R” switch, radio, antenna, Micro WIU (wayside interface unit), and all cabling. All major parts are pre-wired inside the main control case enclosure. Option 2 provides four basic kits with a Micro WIU, radio, antenna, power converter, “7R” switch, and all cabling. Option 3 is one complete kit and two basic kits.

Alstom says it configures this product to the customer’s specifications utilizing its own PTC components as well as those of other suppliers. It can, if requested, recommend what components to use.

Invensys Rail

Add Invensys Rail to the list of major railroad industry suppliers offering Positive Train Control. The basic Invensys Rail North American PTC system has been operating on KCS subsidiary Panama Canal Railway since 2005. “Extensive product development on this base has brought Invensys world-wide train control and dispatch expertise and the company’s wayside and communications to the mix, resulting in an advanced, interoperable system for a heavy-haul-type rail operation,” says Vice President-Information Technology, PTC, and New Business Development Rick Soldo.

“Invensys Rail solutions are based on a suite of field-proven products adapted to meet ITC standards,” says Soldo. “PTC-ready Wayside Interface Units are now available and being field tested with various railroads throughout the U.S. Locomotive equipment with over one million track-miles of successful PTC service is being demonstrated for interoperability. The communications and messaging products used widely throughout North America are being adapted to meet the emerging ITC standards. By leveraging Invensys industrial automation and energy management technologies, the company is also providing innovative PTC system management solutions. The Invensys Rail PTC-enabled products can be combined with system integration and engineering services to provide total solutions tailored for individual needs.”

GE Transportation-Infrastructure

“For PTC, the wayside must send signal system information to the TMC (onboard computer),” says GE Transportation-Infrastructure, ITCS Product Manager Greg Hann. “Our WIU provides the interface between wayside and train. It can be standalone or integrated as part of signal system, and communicates switch, signal, and hazard detector statuses using ITC (Interoperable Train Control) standard WSMs (Wayside Status Messages).”

There are three types of wayside locations to equip for PTC: microprocessor-based (new or existing), relays, and dark territory hand-throw switches. For microprocessor-based locations, key considerations are: Existing or new location? Age of current technology. Impact on signal system (modifications/retest). Time to design and install. For a new location, compatibility with existing equipment on the line. Current application design (distribution of logic and inputs/outputs, etc.) There are several options. GE recommends an integrated WIU like its VHLC because it offers “plug-n-play” upgrades for existing locations and replaces existing equipment with a “technology refresh.” A standalone WIU is “a true overlay independent of the signal system, but it’s still likely to require modifications for interface (communications, etc.). It may be possible to perform monitoring functions without modifications, but wiring will be required.”

Key WIU considerations for relay locations are:

Monitor it, or is there an opportunity to replace it? What is the current condition of existing equipment? Are there any near-term signaling upgrade plans? Voltage or current sensing? Can the wayside aspect and PTC status disagree if there is no lamp-out detection? What is the physical interface? Space and scalability. Hann says GE’s integrated WIUs require no changes to the existing application program or existing wiring. PTC upgrades plug into existing chassis. They’re a non-invasive overlay to existing signal system. Software inputs and outputs allow for exhaustive lab testing. They also add electronic configuration management to legacy equipment.

GE’s standalone WIUs offer non or minimally invasive wiring—no disarrangement. They’re easy to configure, with minimal application design time, and are optimized for space constraints and low power consumption. They’re also a non-invasive overlay to the existing signal system, with voltage and current sensing, and are scalable from dark territory switches to 386 vital inputs.

Ansaldo STS USA

According to Director-Product Marketing Bernard Clement, Ansaldo STS USA has identified “vital PTC needs you may have” as “an integrated PTC system that meets FRA 236 Subpart I, monitoring hand throw switches, and monitoring relay locations without disarrangement.” The company’s Full Vital PTC system is in use on the Alaska Railroad.

ASTS’s Rail Mounted Point Monitor features vital detection, normal detection only or normal and reverse monitoring, and “proven” proximity sensor technology. It’s based on the company’s M23 switch machine technology. The Hand Throw Switch Point Monitor offers “low cost installation, simple setup, and no special trackwork. It clamps to the rail. Hand Throw Switch WIU meets the AAR S-9220.0200 specification. It’s got six vital inputs, three vital outputs, three Ethernet ports, an embedded web server for configuration and diagnostics, and link back to the server for automated configuration of non-vital parameters and integrated remote application monitoring.

Siemens Mobility

“Our PTC architecture is similar to ETCS (European Train Control System),” says Siemens Director-Business Development Bill Conis. “Our WIU is built around a vital CPU and our proven, reliable hardware/software platform, Sicas S7. It features a small footprint—DIN rail, rack, or wall mount—and low power consumption. It supports colorlight, searchlight, and color position light signals, and a.c. as well as d.c. lighting. Our WIU GUI (Graphical User Interface) offers simple installation and configuration, and Windows-type pull-down menus.”

One Class I is now installing test locations, with 180 WIUs to be installed during 2011. A second Class I will test the WIU in the fielding the fourth quarter, with rollout planned to begin in 2011.

Wabtec Railway Electronics

As the de facto standard Class I onboard platform, ETMS (Electronic Train Management System) is “well aligned with PTC requirements” and “minimizes impact on operation,” according to Wabtec Technical Director-Train Control Requirements Frank Wilson. Interoperable with all Class I’s and compliant with ITC interoperability standards, its territory and road transitions are designed into the architecture. ETMS “operates across all signal territory types and methods operation. A PTC Development Plan for a vital version, V-ETMS®, has been filed with the FRA and has received Subpart H PSP (Product Safety Plan) approval. “V-ETMS is on a path to receive PTC type approval,” says Wilson.

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