From Wayside to Office

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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Alstom wayside intelligence concept.

RAILWAY AGE, NOVEMBER 2021 ISSUE: Suppliers are helping passenger and freight railroads drive efficiency—and a proactive maintenance approach—with remote health monitoring of wayside equipment, which is improving the way they operate and maintain infrastructure. Alstom, Hitachi Rail, Railway Equipment Company (RECO) and Siemens Mobility share how.

ALSTOM

Rather than maintaining equipment on a scheduled basis, or correctively when a fault is identified and reported, railroads can use Alstom’s Wayside Intelligence product line “to continually monitor key assets and adopt a more proactive approach to maintenance,” says Emilio Barcelos, Senior Product Manager, Wayside Intelligence. “Using predictive maintenance techniques, the system can alert the maintainer ahead of time and even predict the time before failure. This allows a more proficient use of the railway’s maintenance staff and keeps the velocity of the railway optimized.” 

“Collecting Internet of Things data at the wayside, then sending it to a centralized back-office allows railways to run their own analytics and business intelligence applications to pinpoint the root cause of an issue,” he adds.

Alstom’s Data Acquisition Unit (DAU) wayside recorder and reporter can monitor switch machines, track circuits and crossing equipment. It streams data up to an “edge compute device or to a back-office system at a central site.” The company’s Wayside System Data Management Module (WSDMM) interfaces with other wayside equipment. It is used to monitor track circuit, crossing data and system logs from wayside controllers, and to capture and route streaming data from the DAU and other event recorders. 

For switch machines, the DAU is used with the WSDMM or back-office application to monitor voltage, current and temperature. 

HITACHI RAIL

Hitachi Rail offers IECC® for remote switch machine monitoring and control. With it, “potential field problems are caught well before a failure occurs,” Hitachi says. “This networking interface will allow end-users the ability to instantly access the real-time device status, location information and a cumulative log of the last 100,000 switch machine movements.”

The STS MicroLok® II Wayside Control System for mass transit and freight applications performs key wayside functions, both in the field and remotely, such as train detection and track circuit integrity. MicroLok can “self-diagnose” and send alerts, as needed, back to a central location or control center. 

“Our goal is to make it as service free, as hands free as possible,” says Allan Immel, Hitachi Rail’s Head of Turnkey Systems Business Development for North America. 

RAILWAY EQUIPMENT COMPANY

Railroads can remotely monitor the health of Railway Equipment Company (RECO) switch heaters, batteries, LED lights, gate arms, gate lamps and switch machines, according to VP of Sales Matt Bolte. “Also with our event recorder, we have the ability to monitor everything at a crossing,” he tells Railway Age. The advantage? “The ability to notify the railroad when an issue arises, and what that issue is, to reduce repair time,” he says. Also, “as railroads collect more data year after year, they can start tracking data for predictive maintenance.”

SIEMENS MOBILITY

Through its “Railigent ecosystem,” Siemens offers options for remotely monitoring the health of the Siemens Track Information Monitor and Wayside Inspector Automated Grade Crossing Testing System, for instance. Other systems that can be monitored remotely are the GCP 3000+, 4000 and 5000 and the MS 4000 crossing systems. “Through these systems, we are actively monitoring the track circuit, which includes shunting sensitivity, ballast conditions, speed of train and trending data from crossing to crossing,” explains Tobi Bauer, SVP Rail Infrastructure North America. “We can also replay train movements and optimize settings for off-crossing equipment and precision maintaining.”

The monitored data is sent from the field to a Railigent data center, Bauer says. “The Railigent software then visualizes and analyzes the data and generates a report for our customer.”

Remote monitoring provides more than repair notices, Bauer says. “It also alerts to problems that would not have been found with traditional means and allows for precision scheduling. This includes deferring maintainer calls until working hours which, in turn, saves on cost, and ensures the maintainer has the proper tools.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Railroads continue to look toward data analytics. “An authority may see that a certain track circuit is always failing, so now they can take the data and analyze it to see why it is failing,” explains Hitachi Rail’s Immel. “They can also look at common failures and start to do trending.” And this leads to condition-based monitoring, he says, where the condition of the equipment or component drives the maintenance and inspection as opposed to a regular interval or standard. 

The market is also ripe for use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) “to get even more accuracy and automated decisions,” Alstom’s Barcelos says. “AI tools will allow most decisions to be made seamlessly at the edge rather than heavily relying on a person at the back-office. Proving the safety and explainability of the AI solutions in all use cases is a challenge. Once that is achieved, efficiencies will be gained, and maintenance costs and timing will be predicted with accuracy and traceability.”

Innovation in video and predictive analytics is on the way, as well, detecting obstructions, vandalism and broken equipment, and providing advanced notifications of potential issues, Bauer says. 

Suppliers also expect the approach to wayside equipment inspections will change due to the use of remote health monitoring. “With today’s technology you are able to perform many of the inspection tests during every train movement,” says RECO’s Bolte. “And now we are able to capture this data on a daily basis, instead of waiting to perform a monthly, 90-day or yearly test.” 

Bauer adds that inspections will someday be “automated using AI-enabled event recorders, and the frequency of field inspections will decrease using video analytics and AI.”

Sums up Barcelos: “As data standards emerge, more devices will be able to report a state of health, and railways will be able to take advantage of this evidence to build robust knowledge around their systems-of-systems’ health, status, maintenance needs and regulatory compliance.”

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