A nationwide improvement in railroad safety is a challenging order — and finding reliable power to operate these command and control systems is at the heart of it. Obstacles to implementation include spotty power (at best) along rural and small metropolitan routes and the lack of control at passive rail crossings. In addition, there are 250,000 passive rail crossings on roadways that are unmanned and marked only with the RXR crossing signs. And there’s often no power for track control or surveillance.
As if congestion issues weren’t enough, the convergence of safety requirements with new and aggressive enlargement of higher speed rail requires resilient, tolerant systems to accommodate loss of grid power due to a hurricane, flood, tornado or other unforeseen acts. As rail operators address (or analyze) these infrastructure issues and legislative requirements, they are realizing that solar and other battery-based solutions can provide the answer for delivering effective, reliable power for wireless communications systems in order to deploy mission-critical command, control and surveillance devices.
Rail operators are now sitting down to analyze the current situation and make the necessary plans to design and deploy these improvements. Some of the issues include how to:
- Set up a ubiquitous solution to collect real-time data from all points on the rail network.
- Secure cross-walks and other “interference” points along the rail route by adjusting speed and track usage of individual trains to accommodate weather conditions and issues at railway crossings.
- Prevent railroad trespasser accidents, incidents, injuries, and fatalities.
- Eliminate dead-spots along the rail lines by offering complete visibility of power, data and network equipment.
- Engage in real-time monitoring of all trains on parallel and similar train routes.
- Proactively manipulate the schedules and speed of individual trains to help eliminate congestion and improve the overall efficiency of the multi-city train route.
- Determine what monitoring and control technology will provide the best solution.
- Decide how to supply reliable power to the chosen solutions.
Using the power of the sun was often not a consideration for rail operators, even as recently as five years ago. While they recognized the benefits, operators were deterred by the perceived high costs, network security and reliability issues of solar and wireless technologies. The solar, security and wireless industry players were often their own worst enemies in that the technologies didn’t have standards of interoperability. For solar in particular, design considerations often lead to under-sized systems which failed prematurely or experienced regular downtime.
But reliability issues exist even for areas with access to the power grid. As an example, American Electric Power (AEP), owner of the nation’s largest electricity transmission system, discloses on its Web site that over the last five years, the amount of time on average that a customer is without power has trended in a slightly negative direction, and the number of outages has increased. The company states its long-term goal is to move to the next generation of smart grid technology to bring about significant improvements.
While future enhancements to the grid will be welcome and can solve some of the command/control system needs for railways, the need for power alternatives in the rail industry has not only endured but could well increase as more and more trackside communication systems are rolled out. “It can be cost-prohibitive or sometimes even impossible to go with cabled power as the power supply for trackside radio deployments,” says Nick Edouard, business development director at Nomad Digital Limited. “It’s often problematic to get grid power to remote trackside locations, directionally drill under right of ways or cross existing infrastructure.”
Today, rail personnel are looking for the earliest possible detection of potential issues. Device intelligence (analytics) will be required in urban areas as well as remote locations to monitor train status, reduce congestion and errors, enhance communications and execute protocols. Having these technologies where they are most needed will require communications with sensing and reporting devices wherever they are used. The improved reliability, reduced costs and adoption of IP-based standards will make solar and wireless technologies an even more attractive option.