What's the point of a train? To connect distant locations. So, naturally, railways sprawl. Some cover millions of miles of track, trains, stations, telecommunications equipment, and more. A million miles is a lot to follow. So, it's easy to start losing track, and monitoring all of it can become challenging.
Those dozens, thousands, or millions of miles of track and infrastructure travel through the real world where there are complicated, dangerous, and ever-changing circumstances. The real world isn't interested in maintaining the integrity of your railway system, which means that things are going to cause problems, frequently. The bigger the system, the more that can go wrong. If too much goes wrong, you won't have a railway anymore.
That's why railroads invest in remote alarm monitoring for railway systems - to keep an eye on the stretches of track and supporting telecom towers that you can't see. This way, if problems develop, you'll quickly know about it in time to proactively make it right.
You already understand that railways are too big for people to watch all at once. Fortunately, railways can use remote alarm monitoring systems to digitize the status of real-world infrastructure in order to view it on a computer screen.
Here's how it works: Everywhere that needs monitoring, railways will install remote terminal units or RTUs. These RTUs are small electronic boxes with attached sensors and some kind of communication method. RTUs sense the conditions of their location they are programmed to sense - then they decide if conditions are outside of safe programmed parameters. If conditions merit, the RTU will transmit an alarm to a location where it will be seen. Typically, this is on a computer screen, but you can program RTUs to send alerts via email or text message or even to call phones with a pre-recorded message.
If you're operating a very small railroad, with ten sites or less that need remote monitoring (like some small metro systems), a set of RTUs may be all you need to see everything. But, it's likely, you'll have many more, too numerous to monitor all at once. If so, the next step is to invest in a master station.
Master stations are intermediary devices, used to collect information from your RTUs, compile it, and then display it (often via a web browser), where it can all be viewed in a single place. Instead of having to watch a hundred RTUs, you and your technicians will only need to view information on a single screen.
Instead of having to watch a hundred RTUs, you and your technicians will only need to view information on a single screen.
By monitoring your entire railway network from a centralized point, you'll be able to make informed and timely decisions. You'll know exactly when it's truly necessary to send a truck out on a 4-hour trip to your remote radio tower, and exactly what repair equipment you'll need to carry. This saves money by saving your employees' time. It also helps prevent costly asset damage, communications failures, and operations under unsafe conditions.
What exactly do RTUs monitor? Well, anything you need them to. Each unit has several inputs, which either collect discrete (yes/no) information, or analog information, which comes in a range. Here is a sample of the possible details railway RTUs can collect and transmit:
Train tracks must remain within a certain temperature range for safe operation. RTUs can measure track temperature as an analog input across a railway network, preventing trains from running on tracks that are too hot or too cold. Heat presents a particular danger, as expansion-induced track deflection can trigger lethal train derailment.
Generators provide back-up power for important communications equipment for railways. Yet if managers aren't aware that a generator has turned on, it will just run out of fuel within a few hours or days, and the comms system will go down anyway. RTUs can prevent this by tracking generator diesel or propane (LPG) levels as analog inputs.
Like generators, battery banks are often used as backup power for important railway systems. RTUs can monitor battery energy levels as analog inputs, alerting managers before any batteries run out of energy. This ensures that the generator can be activated before the batteries are exhausted.
Important, expensive equipment is often kept in remote locations, behind locked doors. These locations can be targets for thieves and saboteurs as well as simple vandals. To prevent unwanted intrusions in unmanned and distant areas, use an RTU to monitor whether a door is open or closed as a discrete input. This even protects against an employee propping a door open and forgetting to close it after leaving the site.
Weather conditions like wind, heat, cold, snow, hail, or rain can prevent technicians from completing a repair or maintenance project. By connecting an RTU to weather monitoring devices, managers can know if weather conditions on-site will stop work - before dispatching employees on a wasted 8-hour round trip.
These are only some of the demonstrated uses of RTUs for remote alarm monitoring of railways. You know your system best and will be able to find the most appropriate uses for remote monitoring.
The next time something goes wrong, just ask yourself a few questions, such as: "Could an alarm from an RTU have prevented this - and "Did this problem cost more to fix than the price of an RTU - If the answer is yes, you know what to do.
At DPS Telecom, we're proud of our work with more than a dozen of the major light and heavy rail companies in the United States. Our knowledgeable experts are on hand to answer any questions you have about the benefits of remote alarm monitoring for railways. To learn more, get a quote today!
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