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Rail tech focus: the compressed air innovations keeping our trains running.

Posted by Luke Upton on Feb 18, 2016

IMI_More_2_SnippedSince the 19th century, much has changed within the rail industry, but one area that retains its importance is compressed air technology. Modern trains still rely on a fail-safe air brake system based on a design patented by George Westinghouse in 1868, whose name also lives on with the direct descendants of his original company, Wabtec and WABCO.  These days the use of compressed air technology goes beyond just braking systems and is an integral part of a variety of rail vehicle applications, including pneumatically operated doors, self-levelling air suspension, pantographs and even the train’s horn.

Whlist passengers may be oblivious to the role compressed air plays, many operational problems stem from what happens when applications don’t receive the constant supply of clean, dry compressed air they require. Today SmartRail World looks into how rail operators can overcome this challenge, talks to an expert from IMI Precision Engineering and learns how New York City Transit have overcome the problems their hot and humid Summers cause.

With so many critical functions now dependent on compressed air, the issue of reliability has been bought to the fore and the industry has had to seek new ways of improving the lifecycle and effectiveness of compressed air driven applications.

IMI_More_2a_SnippedI spoke to Richard Knowles of leaders in this area, IMI Precision Engineering, about what the dangers are for rail operators if their applications don’t receive the clean dry compress air they need; “It can cause a number of problems, from rust and corrosion to reduced vehicle performance and even potentially problems with braking systems. Whatever the problem, it will require repair and time off the tracks and in the maintenance yard, all of which can lower service levels for passengers and raise costs for the operators. With the challenges from compressed air causing problems with such critical applications, our rail clients spoke to us and asked for a more effective and durable alternative.”

IMI Precision Engineering identified that the best way to make sure that such critical applications run efficiently is to ensure that the compressed air used to power them is free from moisture and contaminants, and so their breakthrough Adsorbent Media Tube (AMT) technology was born. 

And one of the operators already enjoying the benefits of the technology is New York City Transit. The implementation of AMT helped resolve a raft of mechanical problems linked with moisture in the compressed air systems.  Engineers found that the OEM pressure swing dryers on the compressor skids declined substantially over time, largely due to New York’s long hot, humid summers.

IMI Precision Engineering White Paper (SmartRail World)Following the replacement of the conventional pressure swing dryers with AMT technology, New York Transit monitored performance over the course of 12 months and found that during this period, there had been zero decline in the dryer’s water removal capabilities.

Compressed air-based technology is so widely used within the rail industry, robust mechanisms ensuring that these technologies continue to run smoothly are absolutely essential.

Failure to address the underlying causes of a decline in these systems, namely, the presence of moisture and airborne pollution particles, can have considerable cost and performance implications and, accordingly, should be avoided where possible.

Knowledge Zone: Find out more about this crucial area and what can be done to improve performance by downloading this exclusive SmartRail World White Paper delivered in partnership with the experts at IMI Precision Engineering.

Find out more about clean and dry compressed air – the  lifeblood of applications across the rail industry by  downloading this exclusive and free White Paper. 

Topics: Rolling Stock

Luke Upton

Written by Luke Upton

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