Critical SCADA Applications for Efficient Railway Systems

By June 18, 2019 August 19th, 2019 Blog, Master Stations, RTUs, SCADA
Railroad SCADA

Railway systems are large and complex networks of networks. Many different component systems, including human, mechanical, electrical, and telecommunications infrastructure, must operate reliably and simultaneously. When errors occur in any of these areas—a defect in the track, an overheated generator, or a damaged microwave transmitter—the entire composite railway network is affected.

A single, small problem can multiply into serious service interruptions or accidents. This potentially results in endangered lives and millions in downtime costs, repairs, fines, and lawsuits. SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) networks allow remote monitoring of failure conditions in complex systems. As such, SCADA applications in railways are a critical component of your efficient operation.

SCADA applications in railways are a critical component of your efficient operation.

SCADA networks are comprised of physical remote units, which collect details about locations throughout a railway’s network. These remote terminal units (RTUs) are equipped with alarm points or inputs. When an input returns information containing a value outside of safe established parameters, the RTU sends an alert to a central unit, known as a master station.

The master station collects alarms from multiple units, sorts and prioritizes them, and sends an appropriate alert. This alert is communicated either directly via text or email to a designated responder or to a network monitoring browser. Informed instantly about the problem within the system, dispatchers or managers can assign appropriate response resources to problems. This proactive approach offers quick and efficient correction while preventing costly mishaps.

So, how can railways make good use of SCADA systems? Here are 10 essential uses:

1. Dispatcher Telecoms with Crews

Dispatchers rely on telecommunications networks to communicate critical information to and from train crews. SCADA monitoring lets response teams know of impending communications failures before a call for help goes unanswered.

2. Dispatcher Telecoms with Signals

Dispatchers control rail traffic signals using telecommunications networks. Remote monitoring helps dispatchers know if they’re able to maintain signal control before two trains on the track receive the message to proceed.

3. Signals and Switchgear

Rail traffic signals and track switching gear must function as intended, or safe rail transit is not possible. SCADA systems provide real-time information on each switch and signal, so dispatchers know their commands aren’t just received—they’re followed. This helps prevent bottlenecks and unnecessary train delays.

4. Detailed Maintenance Information

The cause of a downed mountaintop repeater tower—and the regional telecommunications network necessary for safe operations—could be as simple as a blown 50-amp fuse. But if the repair technicians don’t know this, they could take the 4-hour drive up the mountain. And they might not be carrying the correct replacement fuse. Then, as they discover this, they have to drive back to their cache and back to the mountain again.

A SCADA system could have told them what was wrong before they ever left. This insight into the problem can save repair technicians from tedious windshield time.

5. Power Generators

Backup generators are used throughout rail networks to power telecommunications systems when commercial power goes down. Generators can be used for various aspects of the train itself including power systems and electricity.

SCADA systems can inform you when generators turn on and when they turn off. You can examine fuel and oil pressure levels, and learn other important functional measurements. This information helps keep generators running, ensuring streamlined rail network operations.

6. Track Temperature Sensors

The properties of metals change with temperature (most expand significantly with heat). Trains can only run safely on rails that are within a certain temperature range. SCADA systems can track rail temperature across an entire network, helping prevent track damage or derailments.

7. Telecom Room Temperature Sensors

Telecommunications equipment can only operate effectively within certain temperature ranges. SCADA networks can monitor the internal temperatures of remote telecommunications locations. This allows managers to adjust HVAC equipment settings or dispatch technicians as needed to maintain telecom operations.

8. CCTV Video

Closed-circuit television is currently and increasingly used for security and documentation purposes in rail yards, train cars, and in remote locations. SCADA infrastructure helps inform managers of problems with recording, data storage, or data transmission equipment before valuable information is lost.

9. Emergency Telephones

Emergency telephones are used underground and in some remote rail locations to provide stranded crews and passengers a means of communication. These phones need to be operational when other methods fail. So, if emergency telephones are out of order and nobody knows about it, they are useless. Monitoring emergency telephones with SCADA equipment makes certain phones are ready if and when they’re needed.

10. Door Access and Physical Security

Many remote or underground unmanned locations contain sensitive equipment. This equipment can be a target for thieves, saboteurs, or vandals, and the locations themselves can be tempting for vagrants. Simple door alarms and other passive security measures can be monitored with SCADA equipment. This ensures timely and appropriate responses to damage or intruders.

While these are ten of the most critical applications for SCADA infrastructure in railway operations, there are many others as well. Applications range from third-rail connection monitoring to water level sensors in underground or low-lying rail passages.

Each operation is different, of course, which presents additional various uses for SCADA applications in railways. Once a system is in place, you can add to, adapt, and customize continually to improve your railway efficiency.

Ultimately, SCADA provides the computing capabilities to empower smooth operations and streamlined performance of your railroads.

SCADA helps you prevent and eliminate problems and bottlenecks through advanced monitoring and control. Ultimately, SCADA provides the computing capabilities to empower smooth operations and streamlined performance of your railroads. SCADA applications, in turn, save you both time and money.

DPS Telecom has the experience and expertise to help companies monitor what matters most—including railway costs and operations. Our experts can help you find the best and most efficient SCADA applications for your railway. Reach out and get a quote today!


Image courtesy Pixabay

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson has been building remote monitoring systems for his clients since 2006, both in the United States and internationally. He has been a featured speaker at a variety of national telco, utility, radio, and rail conferences.

Leave a Reply