Year-Round Illumination: LED vs. Halogen vs. Incandescent

Written by John Fogel
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Amglo/Dan Loran

When the dark days of winter are in full force, finding reliable, cost-effective locomotive lighting is a timely topic for discussion. While A19 lighting for number plates, steps and engine rooms are increasingly using LEDs, headlights on most locomotives still rely on halogen. Whether you are looking to replace incandescent lamps with halogen or make the transition to LEDs, finding a durable product that has undergone rigorous testing by an experienced manufacturer is your ticket to weathering year-round railway operations.

Of the three available lighting options, incandescent lamps offer the lowest price point but have a much shorter lifespan than halogen or LED. LEDs take top honors for longevity but can be expensive to install. While halogen lamps don’t have the service life of LED lights, they still last more than 5,000 hours, which is eight times longer than incandescent lamps. Incandescent lamps must also be replaced immediately once they burn out, as they lose brightness. By contrast, halogen and LED lights can be replaced at the nearest scheduled stop, which is a huge advantage if a lamp burns out in the middle of nowhere (if one halogen lamp burns out the train can continue in service; if both burn out the train must stop and have them replaced).

What to Look For

Once you’ve decided on a lighting option, finding a product that meets applicable specifications is essential. Whereas the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sets standards for halogen headlights, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) governs specifications for A19 LED lights. To the north, Transport Canada enforces specifications set by the Railway Safety Act that are virtually identical to those established by the FRA. For example, both the FRA and Transport Canada require headlights to generate a minimum output of 200,000 candela.

Finding all-purpose lighting for interior locations like cabs, engine rooms and stairways, as well as for train number and step lighting, is as important as identifying suitable options for headlights. Although manufacturers offer A19 LED lamps for all-purpose lighting, larger locomotives may have as many as 20-plus outlets, which means that expenses can add up quickly for budget-conscious railroads.

Regardless of where your lights are located, finding reliable replacements should be your top priority. Every time you need to take a train out of commission for maintenance, you incur loss of revenue as well as the expense of stopping and restarting your locomotive. Replacing lamps requires time and labor, and the fewer times you need to take a train out of commission, the better it is for your bottom line.

Finding the Right Manufacturer

In most cases, the reliability of your lighting comes down to your choice of manufacturer. In addition to choosing a company with an established track record of serving the railroad industry, you’ll want to select a manufacturer that has been in business for a while so you can be sure they will be around the next time you need to make a purchase. Perhaps the most important consideration is the manufacturer’s quality assurance process. Look for manufacturers that have their own facilities for testing their lighting and a defined production process for building their lamps to deliver consistent quality.

In terms of testing, the FRA specifications focus on the center beam and beam angle. However, a good manufacturer will also test a sample of lamps from each batch to validate their durability and ensure they’re able to function in a wide range of temperatures, ideally from –40 degrees to +70 degrees Celsius. In addition, look for a manufacturer that conducts destructive testing to verify that lamps can survive the vibrations typical of locomotive operation.

Another feature to look for is whether the manufacturer has any proprietary testing for extreme weather conditions. For example, a manufacturer may offer an offline annealing process to reduce stress on the lamp’s glass. You’ll also want to obtain a certificate of conformance that states that the product has been tested and meets all requirements.

Selecting reliable, cost-effective locomotive lighting is imperative for the safety of your operators, technicians, passengers, and ensures your compliance with government regulations. By evaluating which lighting solutions make the most sense for your budget and needs, identifying a qualified manufacturer and ensuring that products are tested to meet FRA, AAR and Transport Canada specifications, you can secure a quality lighting solution for your fleet. With the right lighting solution, you can ensure your passengers have a safe, well-lit and affordable travel experience all year long.

John Fogel, Product Manager at Amglo, has worked with the company for more than 15 years in product development. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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