As technologies advance, manufacturers of switch machines and switch stands are keeping up to speed to provide railroads reliable switching equipment.
With the Positive Train Control (PTC) deadline looming, manufacturers of switch stands and switch machines ready for the change by upgrading switch machinery technology and working with railroads to meet the 2015 mandate.
Alstom Signaling, Inc.
"Alstom Signaling, Inc.'s Rail Mounted Switch Circuit Controller (Model 7R) allows for the fastest industry mounting and 'true' point detection due to its rail clamping method," noted Randy Brundridge, director, North American product sales. "Its tough design allows it to withstand the highest levels of vibration without contact chatter."
The company says that unlike the larger conventional switch controllers, the 7R offers customers a unique advantage; the unit's compact, sleek design enables easy mounting between standard tie spacing for simple installation and ample space for performing maintenance.
The GM4000A has been upgraded with new, more reliable point-detection-contacts for contact dependability in harsh environments and better vibration resistance without chatter. Additionally, the GM4000A has been revamped with a new, more reliable electronic controller, which has a higher resistance to vibration. A new controller power coupler has also been introduced to help reduce water ingress during flood conditions. The wire harness has been fitted with new automotive connectors that provide a more reliable pin interface, which also helps reduce water ingress.
The Model 6 yard machine is now available with an optional two-wire mode controller to facilitate operation in yards where only two-wire power cables exist. This feature saves the retrofit cost of expensive field copper cabling and allows users to upgrade their existing products to this machine."
"The signaling market overall has remained stable in the current economy," said Brundridge. "Metro and Commuter rail tend to be focused on state of good repair, while light rail is continuing to see new lines and extensions being built; freight is seeing a mix of both."
Brundridge says that PTC continues to be a big focus for its customers and, as a result, is also a big focus for Alstom. On the wayside, a couple of key drivers for equipment upgrades are enabling devices to communicate wirelessly and enabling switch point detection and wireless communication of switch machine status in dark territory.
"Although there have not been any safety issues, we have seen inferior imitation or remanufactured parts that have caused customer product failures," explained Brundridge. "Only true Alstom OEM parts can deliver quality dimensional and material assurances."
Many rail properties are moving towards uncomplicated, modular switch machine designs to more easily acclimate a newer workforce, says Alstom and points out that the GM4000A has grown to be a popular choice among consultants and rail properties and credits its straightforward design and electrical and mechanical design flexibility.
Ansaldo STS has introduced the Cycle Counter for all standard circuit controller machines, which allows the end user to maintain the machine on a basis of operation instead of over a period of time. An isolation module is now available, allowing the user to chain more machines together for one indication line instead of multiple lines.
Additionally, Ansaldo STS's Electronic Biased Neutral Controller (EBNC) provides the company's Style M switch machines with new capabilities and reduces operating cost. With the EBNC, Style M switch machines can be operated with the use of a MicroLok II wayside control system, eliminating the need for external vital electromechanical relays, which in turn reduces operating cost, the company notes and says the EBNC extends the switch machine's performance capabilities through direct overload protection based on time and current, which makes the Style M switch machine interchangeable with other switch machines without the need to change wiring or control logic.
"Ansaldo STS has seen a steady growth in the switch machine market due to the reliability and low total cost of ownership of the M23 and M3 switch machine families," said Russ Glorioso, head of external communications-Americas. "Since freight railroads are investing to ensure they reach critical milestones with PTC implementation and transit agencies are under increasing cost pressure, Ansaldo STS has seen that the proven reliability of Style M switch machines has become a key driver in the eyes of customers."
With the integration of PTC, there is an opportunity to record more information and detect possible failures before they happen, he says. Overall, it allows for a potential reduction in failures, increase in efficiency and maximization of safety, which Glorioso says it's the company's main goal.
Ansaldo STS has also developed the VitalNet™ Point Monitor for situations where hand throw switches must be monitored to meet the PTC mandate. The VitalNet Point Monitor was developed as a solution that provides simple installations and flexible set-ups, helping to save customers money and eliminate the need for extra trackwork. Its small size allows it to be mounted directly to the stock rail and the design accommodates rail/point run. It monitors a switch's position and interfaces with a wayside interface unit to communicate the switch position with compliance to PTC regulations.
Ansaldo STS offers a full-service refurbishment program; customers can also sell back any old Style M switch machine cores that are in their possession for a refurbished machine.
"Managing maintenance expenses is always an important priority and Ansaldo STS technicians can quickly identify the components that are worn-out and replace them with our own new, factory parts, thus, ensuring many more years of reliable performance," he explained.
GE has seen a sharp increase in demand for a version of the switch machine that moves the electronics to a weatherproof enclosure near the switch machine. This configuration was initially conceived as a way to increase the ease of maintenance, but it also allows tighter integration with yard automation electronics that were also located at the switch machine.
GE is seeing a demand from transits as they explore less expensive options to traditional switch machines for their yard operations in addition to interest from new markets around the globe as they look to gain efficiency in their mining and port operations.
"We're hearing from our customers that improvements in their mainline operations are highlighting their yards as bottlenecks and I see the potential for PTC's integration further reinforcing this thought," said Casey Haddock, product manager. "Yard automation is a proven way to improve yard throughput and powered switch machines, like the Hydra Switch, have a long history as workhorses in all levels of yard automation."
He says customers are beginning to fully appreciate the flexibility that a dedicated yard switch machine offers and sees more diversity in the hardware configurations ordered and more requests to implement new features in software. With flexible hardware and software, GE is able to better tailor the product to each individual yard.
"In order to respond to the point-machine market's growing requests for innovative technology, we have upgraded the original design of our CTS2 in-tie switch machine to be easily compatible with extended and narrow gauge applications," explained Francesco Traquandi, product manager.
Collaborations with several international customers, from Brazil to New Zealand, led to the integration of a new generation of seals and waterproof technologies that have strengthened one of CTS2's previously peculiar features (e.g. IP67 certification).
The economic environment has reduced the overall requests for signaling and track equipment, but it has increased the investments on product trials and technical evaluations focused on innovative solutions designed to minimize the total cost of ownership of the future railroad infrastructure, he says.
"Several railroad companies are now led by a new generation of signaling managers and engineering leaders, so the level of interest on break-through solutions able to increase the safety and the availability has increased," Traquandi explained. "As a result, our efforts to upgrade our portfolio have, as well."
The typical installation procedure is critical for track possession, due to the complexity and the duration of the required steps. For this reason many customers are now looking at integrated solutions where the turnout and the point machine are fully tested as a single item and they are completely or partially pre-assembled out-of-track, reducing the installation time at the moment of the commissioning, he notes.
"The compact layout of our CTS2 in-tie switch point machine fully complies with this new trend and the positive feedback received from rail operators who have adopted the new CTS2 confirms the values of our design features," he said.
National Trackwork, Inc., a Minority Business Enterprise, recently introduced the 9955 Keeper Chain. This device, which attaches to any switch stand, increases switch stand safety and security by safely locking the lever in the bracket to prevent gapping by an unsecured handle.
"Gapping in the points leads to derailments," explained Robert Fiorio, vice president of sales and marketing. "Quick and easy to install and use, this product is a low-cost way to significantly increase safe switching operations in all yards and sidings. It can be fitted to new National Trackwork switch stands or retro-fitted to any switch stands installed in the field.
National Trackwork offers new Mechanical Switchman and rebuilds old units to like-new specifications. The Mechanical Switchman takes the place of a connecting rod and eliminates the need to stop before entering a switch and automatically closes the points after the train moves safely through. The NT2000 Mechanical Switchman are extremely reliable, use no power, are quick and easy to install, maintain and adjust and has a low cost life cycle to automate switching operations, the company notes.
"The National Trackwork 1002RG switch stand is a rugged and reliable yard switch stand with a rectangular ergonomically-designed handle for safe and easy switching," Fiorio explained. "This handle effectively reduces and eliminates neck, back and shoulder injuries due to throwing these devices. The1002RG switch stand uses an adjustable screw eye for quick and easy installation, maintenance and adjustment. Several target styles and color schemes are available per U.S. Department of Transportation standards and integral 'Positive Lock' footlatch and bracket system assures safe and secure switching operations."
Another innovation from National Trackwork is its Flood Guard technology that is designed for safe and reliable switching performance in standing water. In tunnel or mining operations where water levels fluctuate greatly and flood conditions can occur, the Flood Guard technology keeps the mechanism high and dry for reliable performance and is available on all National Trackwork products.
National Trackwork also offers Model 1100 and 1500 electric and solar powered switch machines, which operate off a pushbutton from a remote control and on the machine itself. This machine uses all steel construction, standard connecting rod, standard spiking pattern, uses no hydraulics, installs quickly and easily with little maintenance, Fiorio says.
"Long service life and low initial investment keeps life-cycle costs low while performance is increased significantly," he explained.
"We are constantly enhancing our automation platform, RailComm's Domain Operations Controller (DOC®), with new features and improvements that benefit all of our customers who currently control their yard or mainline with DOC," said Greg Fogarty, vice president of sales and marketing. "We are giving special focus to our hosted delivery program that allows our customers to reduce their capital investments and still benefit from all the DOC system has to offer for yard automation and mainline control."
RailComm has invested in research and development to launch new products this year. One such product is the next generation controller platform, which the company has designed from the ground up. The platform is led by the new Expandable Automation Controller (EAC), which RailComm says, offers many improvements over its existing controllers.
"Railroads and transits invest in technology that will bring positive return to their business over time," said Fogarty. "Our yard and mainline solutions offer a high return on investment to our customers and, therefore, the majority of our customers don't hesitate utilizing their budgets to acquire RailComm's solutions."
The entire industry has experienced great impact derived from the PTC mandate, he notes and points out that PTC presents both challenges and opportunities for the company. As RailComm builds new products and services, the company is making sure that it is possible to integrate with other technologies that railroads are investing in.
"We know that the railroad industry in North America will continue to grow in the coming years," explained Fogarty. "As demand continues to increase, railroads are faced with the challenge of keeping up with this volume. Thus, we see railroads investing in key technology that will allow them to increase capacity, efficiencies and productivity, such as yard automation, in an easy, affordable and scalable way."
Since voestalpine Nortrak Inc. introduced the redesigned HY-100 Automater yard switch machine in 2012, along with the Buy America-compliant HY-300 and HY-310 transit switch machines, the company has been concentrating on fine tuning those designs in 2013.
"We have completed development of an optional module for the HY-100 Automater that detects the rotation of the spindle driving the switch target," explained Ken Ouelette, vice president technology, hytronics. "This provides an electrical indication of the target position in cases where yard operations do not demand an independent point detector rod and switch circuit controller."
Meanwhile, voestalpine Nortrak has been looking at rounding out its switch drive product line and expect to have news regarding this in 2014.
As for business, voestalpine Nortrak says it has experienced an increase in transit orders, while Class 1 demand remains very strong and on the transit side, there has been strong interest in Buy America machines.
"We are constantly striving to improve our safety performance, both as an employer and as a supplier of safety critical products," Oulette said. "The tragedy at Lac Mégantic this summer reminded us of the importance for critical processes to be regularly reviewed and explained to employees so that there can be no misunderstandings created or shortcuts taken. We have begun a review of the critical processes related to our switch machine manufacturing unit and will be issuing standardized documentation that should simplify procedures and clearly identify the safety implications of each task. We expect that this approach will also improve product reliability."
Oulette says that customers seem to be increasingly interested in open architectures that don't tie them to individual suppliers and points to the company's MiniLogger, since it is a railway approved logging device that monitors every throw of a switch machine and generates alerts or alarms as plant conditions deteriorate over time. This allows railroads to predict and prevent failures before they cause train delays. The MiniLogger works across all brands and types of switch machines (electro-mechanical, electro-hydraulic, etc,) and also works with other types of signal equipment, such as track circuits (to prevent block failures or identify shunting issues), or switch heating devices.
Western-Cullen-Hayes, Inc., continues to manufacture the Model WCHT-72 electro-hydraulic switch machine and sells the machine to all segments of the railroad market.
When it comes to PTC, WCH says that it doubts that it will have an impact on its switch machine business since the company's machine is strictly a yard machine and not suitable for mainline application.
"The industry seems to be trending towards more wireless communication and this applies to switch machines, as well, noted Carl Pambianco, sales manager. "We have sold radio controlled machines to industries for years, but now that seems to be the control of choice across the market."