Successful trials in North America prove the benefits of axle counters
When a newer technology or idea is introduced, there is often reluctance among users to deviate from the methods familiar to them. For example, the widespread acceptance and use of email eventually reduced the popularity of fax machines, and newer messenger services led to a decreased use of SMS. These changes occurred gradually because users were reluctant to make a change, even if the newer options provided improvements and advantages over the old. Although these examples are not directly related to railroad signalling, the concept of a less familiar technology being available that can offer improvements over the established technology can be applied to axle counters and commonly used train detection technologies.
When an operator is considering a technology that is new to the railroad, there will undoubtedly be some concerns as to whether or not the new technology will work, and if it will actually perform better than the more familiar conventional systems.
When Frauscher entered the North American marketplace in 2015, axle counters had been widely deployed globally for over 30 years; however, in North America they were considered a “new” technology. Frauscher needed to convey to the marketplace that axle counters were actually a proven technology offering significantly more features, benefits and a higher level of performance than conventional systems.
Trial installations utilized to prove axle counter performance
Over the past six years, Frauscher has conducted many successful trial installations in North America to demonstrate the benefits of axle counters and increase confidence in the technology. Our goal for these trials is to raise awareness of our products, and to be given the opportunity to prove their reliability, effectiveness, and ability to enhance and improve signalling operations. General goals of a typical Frauscher trial would include:
- Establish proof of concept
- Obtain buy-in from the operator
- Demonstrate ease of installation
- Train the operator’s personnel on installation, operation and maintenance
- Obtain acceptance of the successful trial results
- Work with operator to design and implement permanent, full scale installation and new applications as needed
Trial duration times vary, depending on the requirements of the operator. Regardless of the trial length (ranging from a few days to several seasons), Frauscher engineers are in regular contact with the customer as they monitor the trial. Some of the services provided during this time would include:
- Close collaboration with the operator, including remote monitoring of the system
- Investigate, mitigate and report any errors or miscounts that occur
- Provide a detailed report to the operator at the trial’s conclusion, highlighting system performance
- Support in obtaining regulatory approvals of “new” technologies as needed (e.g. FRA, FTA, and others)
Let’s explore two trial installations conducted for operators who needed upgrades and improvements to existing technology, but required assurance that Frauscher axle counters were the answer. The first was conducted for MTA Baltimore at North Avenue Yard, and the second for the Toronto Transit Commission. In Toronto, the actual trial was conducted in one of TTC’s local yards along Line 1. Both trials resulted in the operator being convinced of the benefits of axle counters, leading to permanent installations.
Baltimore MTA North Avenue Yard Trial
MTA’s North Avenue yard is a storage and maintenance facility for light rail vehicles, where train drivers were required to exit their vehicle and manually enter the assigned route code into the switch machine control panel. The driver would get back onto the train and the system would throw the switches based on the driver’s input, and route the train to the assigned location. The process was inefficient, time-consuming, prone to errors, and jeopardized driver safety.
A solution was needed to automate the yard and provide switch point protection. Additional MTA criteria included the ability to provide an Ethernet based interface, reduce installation and maintenance costs, and increase safety for drivers and yard personnel. This active yard also required a system that could provide real-time data as to the number of cars present in each storage track, to determine space availability. The project contractor MC Dean was familiar with the various options for yard automation. Based on their experience, the Frauscher axle counting system was recommended for its advanced capabilities that would meet MTA’s requirements.
MTA was open to the Frauscher axle counter due to its advanced capabilities, but lacked experience with the technology. To verify performance and instill confidence in the axle counting system with MTA, a trial installation was arranged to establish its suitability for the project.
Designing the trial installation
The Frauscher Advanced Counter FAdCi, in combination with Wheel Sensors RSR180, was chosen to be tested in the yard. The FAdCi is a CENELEC SIL 3 safety-rated axle counter that would provide track vacancy detection and switch point protection.
In order to demonstrate it’s ability to detect all MTA trains, a short track in the yard was chosen for the trial. Four wheel sensors were installed to create two track sections. The distance between the wheel sensors was 164 feet (50 meters).
Although the main purpose of the trial was to verify that all vehicles were properly detected, additional criteria were also evaluated. The system was intentionally exposed to factors that are known in the industry to cause issues with other types of axle counters – in this example, magnetic brakes and slow moving trains. Throughout the trial period, neither the FAdCi nor any of the edge cases tested resulted in miscounts.
This information was verified, recorded, and meticulously analysed by Frauscher engineers using a custom measurement system. Throughout the trial period, every passing train triggered the creation of a measurement file. These files included all system outputs, as well as internal information.
Another important facet of the Frauscher trial was to ensure the local installers and maintainers were familiar and comfortable with the “new” technology. Proper training of railroad personnel on installation, operation, maintenance and troubleshooting were all part of the trial process. Frauscher engineers were available to assist as needed throughout the trial.
Customer acceptance and project installation
After the successful trial period, MTA Baltimore opted to utilize the Frauscher axle counter solution to automate and supply switch point protection to the entire North Avenue Yard. The completed project consisted of 13 track sections and 31 Wheel Sensors RSR180.
MTA also chose the FAdCi for its ability to connect to MTA’s Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) using Frauscher Safe Ethernet FSE protocol. By using this Ethernet-based interface, real-time information such as the number of axles present in a given track section became available. This feature provides crucial information for yard management, by enhancing storage capacity control capabilities.
You can access the full project details for North Avenue Yard here:
Toronto Transit Commission Line 1 Yonge University Trial
In 2015, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was looking for a new signalling solution for Line 1 Yonge University, Toronto's longest subway line. The existing signalling technology was showing limitations in its ability to handle the increasing number of passengers that had occurred gradually over the years. A significant upgrade was needed.
The Frauscher axle counting system was being considered for Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) secondary functionalities, providing track vacancy detection in the event of an interference or failure of the primary communication system. Additional TTC requirements were that the new signalling system would not interfere with ongoing operations, and should function independently of the existing system. Although TTC was open to using axle counters, they needed to verify the system’s compatibility with its fleet and environment.
Frauscher proposed a trial installation utilizing the axle counter ACS2000 and Wheel Sensors RSR180. The goal of the trial was to provide TTC with a high level of comfort with the technology, and assurance that the axle counter system and existing track circuits would not interfere with one another.
Trial set up highlights ease of installation
For the trial, the ACS2000 axle counter was deployed along with two Wheel Sensors RSR180 that were quickly installed using the Frauscher rail claw. The use of rail claws results in minimal installation time without drilling, wiring or bonds, which impressed TTC. This quick installation of the trial equipment showed that the Frauscher system could meet TTC’s initial requirement that installation would not have a negative impact on operations. The trial was also able to show how the heavy track wear that is allowed on the line posed no issues - condition of the rail does not affect the installation or performance of Frauscher wheel sensors.
The final results showed that during the trial period of approximately one year, zero miscounts were recorded, with the system available 100% of the time.
Successful trial results in moving forward with axle counter project
Due to the success of the trial, TTC moved forward designating the Frauscher system for the full project. The final design implemented additional functionalities such as Counting Head Control CHC, designed to increase uptime and availability in bypassing certain external disturbances without requiring a system reset. The system also utilizes the Frauscher Diagnostic System FDS, which provides TTC with tools needed to conduct focused preventive maintenance by enabling remote access to diagnostics.
This large project was divided into several phases beginning in 2016, with the final phase completed in 2021. Trains on Line 1 Yonge University are detected by 603 wheel sensors that form 469 track sections. The indoor equipment of the ACS2000 evaluates wheel sensor data in 31 cubicles located along the line.
You can access the full project details for Line 1 Yonge University here: