Train condition-monitoring on track

12th November 1999 By: System Author

A multimillion-rand project to install an integrated train condition-monitoring system (ITCMS) on Spoornet/ Coallink’s railway network, linking Mpumalanga coal mines to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal, is on track and will be commissioned later this month.

The ITCMS is a modular information collection, transfer and processing system used to provide information about the physical condition of rolling stock, initiate emergency procedures when hazardous conditions are detected and provide maintenance instructions.

Pretoria engineering company Ansys Integrated Systems is the main contractor for the monitoring system, which allows Coallink to operate more efficiently by optimising maintenance activities and by reducing the probability of incidents and accidents resulting from hazardous conditions, for example derailment due to wheel-bearing failure.

Ansys MD Mark Gafner reveals that the system also functions as a health-monitoring system as well as a logistics optimisation system for rolling stock.

“The ITCMS collects information received from sophisticated trackside sensors when trains pass by and determines actions accordingly.

“If a hazardous condition is detected the system will immediately raise alarms and operators can then take appropriate action,” he explains.

Data is received on a continual basis and recorded by the ITCMS to be used to optimise maintenance and repair activities on the Coallink rail fleet.

In addition, the Coallink automatic vehicle identification (AVI) system, which provides on-line reporting of train composition and location information in order to improve fleet management and tracking of coal (see Engineering News August 1, 1998), is an integral part of the ITCMS, with rail-track identification being linked to condition data.

Field measurement systems (FMSs), which are computer systems located at critical locations where groups of sensor systems monitor trains as they pass by, collect data from the specialised trackside sensor systems for transmission to the associated data concentrator system (DCS).

The following trackside sensor systems are in use: weigh-in-motion and wheel impact monitor sensors, as well as hot-box detectors for sensing of wheel-bearing temperatures. “At a later date cracked-wheel detectors, assized weighbridge systems, brake temperature measurement systems, trackside acoustic roller bearing monitoring systems and video imaging for measuring various parameters on wagon and locomotive wheels are planned,” reveals Gafner.

Data is collected by the FMSs in two forms – train alarm tables, which consist of a wagon (rail-truck) position and defect entry for all dangerous conditions detected, and train condition tables consisting of wagon positions and measurements for the complete train.

The DCSs are computer systems located in the Spoornet central traffic control (CTC) offices in Ermelo, Vryheid and Richards Bay.

They receive the train alarm tables and train condition tables transmitted from FMSs in the traffic-control area through direct telephone lines.

This data is received from measurement systems through the FMSs after each train has passed by.

Train alarms are communicated to the train-control officer on duty at the CTC office, while train-condition tables are transmitted to the main processing system (MPS).

The DCSs also poll the FMSs continually to check that the data link is working correctly.

The MPS located at the Richards Bay CTC office receives train-condition tables from the DCS and stores these tables in a database internal to the MPS.

Furthermore it communicates train maintenance information and requests to management and operational personnel as well as receiving specific commands from authorised personnel.

“With the inclusion of AVI capability the applications are expanded to include optimisation of supply-chain management.

“Accurate tracking of consignments from source to point of delivery allows for more certain delivery and improved delivery-time estimation.

“Where similar consignments of commodities are loaded into different veh icles the chance of cross-contamination is substantially reduced,” advises Gafner.

He adds that the application of ITCMS including AVI can also be effectively extended to other rail transport sectors, such as general freight and iron-ore transportation with the expansion of the user base to include rail operators in other countries a definite possibility.

Ansys Integrated Systems was established in 1987, and specialises in electronic and software systems for monitoring and control applications in the aerospace, manufacturing and transport industries.

The company has two main divisions: an industrial division, in which it is involved in projects around rolling stock and modification projects, and a defence division involved with defence electronic systems for specialised monitoring and control applications.

The company was involved with the Rooivalk helicopter project and is expecting to benefit from direct and indirect defence industrial participation as well as non-defence industrial participation as a result of the proposed defence contracts.