Train control via GPS

In many parts of the world, most people use trains as the preferred mode of transportation to and from places of work and pleasure. Oftentimes, VMEbus technology is used in this application. However, Ganesh Okade, Technical Director of Sunlux Technologies, Bangalore, whom I met during a VMEbus training course in India some time ago, recently informed me about an interesting railway application based on PC/104 technology, not VME.

In many parts of the world, most people use trains as the preferred mode of transportation to and from places of work and pleasure. Oftentimes, VMEbus technology is used in this application. However, Ganesh Okade, Technical Director of Sunlux Technologies, Bangalore, whom I met during a VMEbus training course in India some time ago, recently informed me about an interesting railway application based on PC/104 technology, not VME.

WAH-9H (Dr. Silver) and PC/104 control system specifications
WAH-9H Dr. Silver specifications
Power: 6,000 HP
Motor: Three-phase electrical Speed: 100 km/h (60 mph)
Axle load: 22 tons
Braking: Regenerative (feeds electrical energy back into the grid)

PC/104 control specifications CPU board using Intel 80486 (commercial product)
GSM/GPS board (commercial product)
MVB board developed by Sunlux

Why do you need GPS in a cellular railway application? Trains normally run on tracks, and switches are set at intersections to guide them in the right direction on the right tracks. In fact, GPS and GSM considerably help streamline operations, reduce costs, maintain the safety of people and goods they transport, and provide real-time status on the health of the train’s locomotive and cars.

Indian Railways is launching its fully indigenized version of the three-phase electric locomotive (WAG-7 and -9 series), fitted with software-controlled diagnostic tools and christened as Dr. Silver, pictured in Figure 1, courtesy of Sunlux. Dr. Silver aims to significantly improve locomotive performance and provide better asset utilization, as well as contribute value-added services in the train movement, besides avoiding line failures. The engineers at Indian Railways and Sunlux, in collaboration with the Bangalore-based Advanced Rail Controls Pvt. Ltd. (a part of Sunlux Technologies), have developed a compact diagnostic tool for these Dr. Silver locomotives. The tools can be fitted to electric and diesel locomotives, both freight and passenger versions. Indian Railways demands a six-month period of supervised real operation before accepting any new equipment.

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Figure 1

The onboard PC/104-based advanced electronics, through interfaces on the Multifunction Vehicle Bus (MVB) board developed by Sunlux, will monitor the status and log the occurrences of faults/abnormalities, then relay these back to the home sheds in real time. The system has an LCD display and a ruggedized keyboard for withstanding the harsh environment of a locomotive. All this plus a traction grade power supply is packaged into a robust metal enclosure to withstand vibrations, heat/dust, and EMI within the locomotive. The software for the system, which is developed in C++, runs on the DOS operating system. A solid-state IDE flash disk is used as a secondary storage with a provision for connecting a CF-CARD for extracting data recorded within the device.

Real-time control using GPS for position information and GSM for communication and signaling thousands of kilometers away opens a new era of traction units, which integrate rolling stock with central monitoring facilities. Real-time tracking of trains, which carry up to 800 passengers in 5 to 12 wagons, is now possible without any manual intervention, even though the engineer would be present to carry out other spot tasks while manning the train. The system can fulfill the following tasks:

  • Prevent premature withdrawal for service
  • Reduce speed before motor overheating becomes a danger
  • Quickly measure estimated repair time and failure urgency
  • Identify whether it will be an on-train/service track repair or require movement to a nearby repair facility

The experts in a central location are virtually onboard the train 24 x 7. The encrypted onboard diagnostic information will be transmitted through the GSM/GPS channel to the control room, which upon analysis, will assist the driver to handle the situation. The system can also monitor how the locomotive was performing, whether it needs assistance, or if the crew needs any help. Initially these control systems will be fitted on the WAG-9H and WAP-7 versions, the workhorses of Indian Railways. The position information is also available on a website location to passengers and friends to see if the train is on schedule. Future plans include using embedded Linux and smaller electronics in forthcoming systems.