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Positive Train Control: Asset management for safety-critical systems.

Posted by Dave Songer on Nov 21, 2018

Are you ready for PTCSafety. It’s more than a word. It’s a foundation of a successful and reliable public transit agency. Unfortunately, incidents still occur, but, in North America, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has put rules in place to assist in lowering the number of incidents that occur due to speed or over-tired operators. The Rail Safety Improvement Act requires all railroads that are passenger intercity or commuter lines to implement positive train control (PTC).

PTC is a safety system to assure compliance with rail speed limits and signal adherence. It can take control of the train by slowing or stopping the train if needed to help avoid collisions, derailments, running through misaligned switches, or entering established work zones. Think of it as an automatic braking system for railroads. Many operators are already hard at work making sure that PTC is implemented and operational on their network by the FRA deadline of January 2019. And, as the deadline approaches, operators need to ask themselves a critical question: ‘Once PTC is live, then what?’

In this article,  Brett Koenig and Marcelo Bravo ask: Is your agency prepared to manage these safety-critical assets throughout their lifecycle?

These PTC systems require a lot of new infrastructure. Many large railroads are installing tens of thousands of new assets, such as transponders, on vehicles and along the right of way. That’s a lot of new data to track – including PTC assets, attributes, part numbers, software revisions and document files – whether dealing with onboard systems or wayside infrastructure. A single PTC asset can have 40-50 different attributes that need to be tracked. Adding to this complexity is the messy reality of dealing with multiple equipment manufacturers and engineering firms, who are tracking this data in a variety of formats, such as paper and spreadsheets, which makes consolidating and standardising PTC data a significant challenge.

PTC attributes to track - TrapezeOnce PTC has been successfully installed, validated, and ‘live’, your task effectively becomes managing the lifecycle of this critical infrastructure. This typically involves managing the following workflows:

1. Onboarding (installing, prepping for service, and testing)
2. Commission (asset in active service)
3. Inspection regime
4. Asset Configuration Management
5. Remove and replace defective assets
6. Decommission assets at the end of their lifecycle
     [Enlarge image]

From the Gantt Chart below
, you can see how to: carry out inspections according to manufacturer recommended intervals; manage engineering changes such as software/firmware updates (configuration management) and the eventual decline; fix and replace aspects that happen at the end of an asset’s life.

PTC Lifecycle Workflows

These steps are not optional. The FRA is very clear that asset configuration management is a must-have: “given the importance of proper configuration management in safety-critical systems, [the FRA] believes it is essential that railroads learn of and take appropriate configuration control of hardware and software… [and that the] railroads identify the associated configuration management process they will use to identify safety-critical failures and mitigations.”

What this means: Tracking safety-critical PTC assets (or any assets for that matter) via paper or spreadsheet just doesn’t cut it anymore. There are too many assets, too many sub-components and, simply, too much data. Surprisingly, some railroads still rely on paper forms and logs far too often. With the advent of mobile technology and enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions, however, there is no excuse for utilising those types of unreliable approaches.

Asset configuration management is a challenge that a rail-focused EAM system can help solve. Leading systems create campaigns that generate work orders automatically, enabling operators to follow the entire progression of updating their infrastructures’ new configuration – such as firmware/software – to make sure it is compliant with new standards, fixes, and patches. Using a campaign automates some of the administrative work so your team can focus on making sure all updates are complete.

Times are changing. The most important aspect of these PTC requirements is ensuring that these systems get successfully deployed, but also properly managed over time. These EAM systems can track assets, work orders, and materials management. But they are much more than that. EAM is the mission-critical tool that successful railroads are using to manage vital PTC workflows: what needs to be changed and updated, all while making sure it gets done correctly and on schedule.

If you want more information about your positive train control asset management next steps, check out this webinar. The webinar goes into more detail on the items addressed in this article – the data elements, key asset lifecycle workflows, and tools that will help.

Brett Koenig and Marcelo BravoBrett Koenig is Industry Solutions Manager, EAM, and
Marcelo Bravo is Industry Solutions Manager, Rail, at Trapeze.




Also from Trapeze:

White paper: Who owns your software and data in a public-private partnership? A deeper look at the technological aspects of a P3.

White Paper: Are you effectively leveraging emerging technologies to better manage your rail network?

PTC will be covered in detail at SmartRail World's SafeRail show. Taking place on April 2nd - 3rd 2019 in Washington D.C., the two-day event will host a series of talks to help overcome the challenges of successfully implementing PTC.


Topics: Signalling

Dave Songer

Written by Dave Songer

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