Trainyard Tech, LLC, provides process control systems for Class I railroads in freight classification yards through its CLASSMASTERTM systems. “The biggest challenge for such process control systems is capturing precise railroad car momentum and speed,” the company says.
In a typical hump yard, railcars are uncoupled at the hump, and roll by gravity to their destination tracks, controlled by switches and retarders. Cars vary in weight from an empty car, about 20 tons on average, to loaded cars, about 130 tons on average. Cars can reach a maximum speed of 30 feet per second.
Trainyard Tech’s CLASSMASTER technology employs proximity rail sensors, around 200 in each system, located under the rails. They allow precise car locations to be determined as the car passes over each sensor. Precise car speed and momentum are processed in real-time using Trainyard Tech software originally written by Trainyard Tech Co-founder and President John Aliberti, with data acquisition systems from Microstar Laboratories, Inc.
“Trainyard Tech’s ultimate goal is to ensure that cars are sorted by destination, travel at safe speeds, couple safely and reach their destination,” says Aliberti. “Our systems store all data events for every railcar in a relational database. A wealth of information is stored for the life of the system, and is available to the customer via a web-based interface. Data, reports and graphs are used by the customer to help improve operations, maintenance and efficiency, and to perform troubleshooting. Getting a full picture of each car’s transit through the yard helps the customers make short-term decisions and long-term plans.”
Microstar Laboratories provides Data Acquisition ProcessorTM (DAPTM) boards and other measurement and control technology “to make those essential measurements, and respond to them in real time,” Aliberti notes. “DAP boards have an onboard processor, freeing systems from delays and providing high-speed measurement and real-time processing. Each Trainyard Tech hardware system includes a DAP board at its heart, plus digital input/output cards that aim to expand the number of inputs and outputs to increase capacity. This is provided by the DAPserverTM system.”
Microstar’s DAP boards allow CLASSMASTER to capture data every 10 microseconds. Digital input/output boards provide 256 inputs and outputs (128 of each). “This high sampling rate and high channel capacity gives us what we seek from a data acquisition system,” Aliberti says.
The Microstar DAP boards measure and analyze Doppler radar car-speed data. These are continuous speed measurements, used to adjust braking, with a sample rate of about 50 milliseconds. The Doppler pulse is converted to a digital voltage from which railcar speed is calculated. The DAP board directly converts the pulses over time, using a software filter. No extra hardware filters are needed; the DAPserver system is the only hardware used.
Aliberti says that Microstar Laboratories provides “a good product for us. It’s rugged. We install the DAP boards in harsh environmental areas—bungalows in the middle of the rail yard subject to a lot of vibration, dust, and temperature changes. If it allows us to do our job, then the customer is happy.”