When Halsey King started out in the transit field, maintenance on buses was a lot different than what today’s technicians are doing.
King, who is principal of Halsey King & Associates Inc., said 40 years ago, a bus would come into the shop, technicians would tune it up, then send it back out the door. Then lead was taken out of gasoline dropping the need to clean spark plugs, electronic ignition replaced points and other technology moved in and eliminated the term “tune up” from the technician’s lexicon altogether.
As technology continues to change and different buses are added to transit fleets across the country, maintenance facilities are changing dramatically. Each time they change, King said it always happens the same simple way.
“I guess I see just about everything start when that new bus shows up in front of your garage,” he said.
Transit agencies are seeing technology evolve in bus and rail fleets, so finding ways to best accommodate maintenance facilities in order to fix these new items can be a challenge. If it isn’t well planned for, the new technology designed to enhance the fleet could instead cripple service because technicians are ill equipped.
Back shop support needs upgrades
Gregg Losey, manager of training and manuals for Hyundai Rotem, said back shop support for future train maintenance facilities will require special considerations due to the advent of automatic train control systems, new diagnostic equipment and how malfunctioning units are being replaced.
Manufacturers try to make most equipment “plug and play,” where a faulty item is simply replaced in whole, but Losey, said larger agencies try to fix everything themselves, right down to issues with a PC board.
“This sort of has a trickledown effect because now you’re going to have to upgrade the facilities in the back shops and the electric shops so you can have the proper equipment to work on these types of systems,” Losey said. “The carryover effect is you’re also going to need people capable of doing this work and you’re going to have to rethink your whole training program. There’s still a lot of mechanical work like changing brake pads, replacing panels and seats, but this whole new realm really needs a skilled workforce.”
Losey said the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is one agency trying to fix all equipment, but technology changes in vehicles force changes in maintenance facilities. An example he gave was fixing an HVAC unit on a rail car, which now have temperature control and monitoring systems, so if there’s a hot or cold spot, technology upgrades allow for maintenance workers to adjust the equipment to eliminate the issues and keep a consistent temperature.
Fixing equipment in-house, as opposed to sending it back to the vendor, allows agencies to overcome issues with vendors going out of business, which Losey said is a real worry.
“If you don’t have the people trained and you don’t have the back shop in place, you’re going to have to go to another vendor and that’s not very cost effective,” he said.
Eying room for growth
Laurent Fromont, vice president of engineering and platforms for Alstom said two big challenges for maintenance facilities is taking into account environmental health and safety. This includes having the proper testing equipment to keep workers safe along with proper waste disposal to protect the area.
Challenges come along with trying to plan for fleet upgrades as well, Fromont said, because a rail fleet may expand in size, so agencies need to anticipate for future fleet growth to accommodate growth.
“If you’re going to build a facility to maintain six train cars, we may consider having it built to fix six to eight car frames,” he said. “That way you have the flexibility to deal with this upgrade.”
Wi-Fi connections are becoming essential in maintenance shops, Fromont said, because tablets are being used more often in diagnostics. If a connection isn’t there, it can stop a technician from being able to service and diagnose a rail car in a quick fashion, which keeps it out of service longer.