INTRO: ’Killer applications’ of information technology are being sought by North America’s railways in the battle to win freight business from road. TTCI is honing the latest IT developments for the benefit of AAR members, including two Positive Train Control projects

BYLINE: Robert E Gallamore

Assistant Vice President, Communications Technology,Transportation Technology Center, Inc.

WE STAND on the cusp of a revolution in railroad technology. Not because of some momentous change in public policy, but rather because of the requirements of managing vast railroad networks under competitive pressures for service improvements. At times like this in the past, railroads were able to reap the harvest of outside developments in cheaper steel making, in electricity, in diesel engines, and in mainframe computers. Today the opportunities present themselves, more subtly and obscurely, perhaps, in the form of what Bill Gates calls ’killer applications’ of client-server computer and wireless communications technologies.

The industry that faces such a revolution is quite different from its predecessors awaiting innovations in steel rail, air brakes, electric signals, diesel-electric motive power, microwave communications, or mainframe management information systems. In America, in the last two decades, railroads have undergone a renaissance without precedent in their business history. In many other countries, railroads are undergoing similar transitions from national enterprises into a wide range of organisations, some of which are all or partly in the private sector.

This process of transformation is inseparable from the technology revolution at hand, and it is quite clear that in the future railroad competitiveness will rest on the industry’s ability to turn new technologies to its advantage.

I believe railroad business strategies in the first half of the new century will feature genuine improvements aimed at enhancing customer value and revenue growth, deployment of large scale technology-intensive investments to handle operating functions more efficiently, and innovative approaches to capacity management. These will be based on an explosion of computerised communications technologies of all kinds. Applications will feature knowledge of train and freight car position, optimised network capacity management techniques, faster transit times, and reduction of quality failures. Railroads that are able to develop ’killer applications’ to improve their reliability, customer satisfaction, decision-making intelligence, and asset performance will win in the competitive transport and financial marketplace.

Wireless communications now

In the USA, the Federal Communications Commission is responsible for managing, allocating and, where permitted, auctioning commercially available radio frequency (RF) spectrum. A substantial portion of the natural electromagnetic spectrum is reserved for use by federal government, which needs it for military functions and air traffic control, for example. The broadcast media and commercial wireless telecommunications industries such as cellular phone networks make use of other large segments of the RF spectrum. The remainder is available for the FCC to allocate to private and public organisations, such as the Association of American Railroads and its members.

American railroads operate a voice analogue FM network at 160MHz, often referred to as VHF band radios. These networks are managed by each railroad, but are interoperable for run-through trains and joint operations. Individual railroads are the licensees for the 91 channels in the 160MHz band. Under an agreement with the FCC, the AAR provides frequency management for these channels through its subsidiary, Transportation Technology Center, Inc. Railroads also have access to three RF channel pairs at 450MHz used for two-way end of train (EOT) devices and distributed power (DP) communication, and six channel pairs at 900MHz authorised by the FCC in anticipation of new communications-based train control applications. The AAR is the licensee for these ultra-high-frequency RF spectrum allocations. Railroads have made significant investments to develop the 900MHz network, initially using it to support digital applications in work order reporting and data communications to/from signal systems and dispatching centres.

In recent years, the FCC has sought more efficient use of RF spectrum allocations, in particular by narrowing the bandwidth for existing channels to increase the number of channels available. In this narrow-banding process, called ’refarming’ of spectrum, the FCC requires that new type-certified radios meet narrower channel width requirements after a specified date. For the VHF bands used by railroads, FCC type acceptance-certified radios purchased after August 1996 must be able to operate on 12·5KHz channel bandwidths, with half of the current 25KHz standard, and half of the current channel separation (7·5 or 15KHz). The railroads can continue to use the 25KHz radios as long as they are being made and repaired, but the market for older radios will slowly wither, and only interoperable (narrowband, probably digital) units will remain.

In the FCC’s refarming Report and Order, railroads were afforded extra protection because of their safety-related use of RF spectrum. Essentially, this ruling allows the rail industry to continue to manage the frequencies they have been allocated, and it avoids forcing railroads to give up the RF management function to a third party.

Put in its best light, refarming not only doubles the number of channels eventually available, but it also offers the railroads an opportunity to consider how best to use the 160MHz spectrum in the future. As a result of narrow-banding, the number of channels has been increased from 91 to 182, but there will be a difficult transition period for migration to the new technology. To facilitate the process and provide some data communications capability along with narrowband voice channels, the AAR’s Wireless Communications Task Force (WCTF), chaired by Ed Kemp of Union Pacific Railroad, has developed a channel refarming plan that has been accepted by the FCC. Under the plan, new narrowband channels will not be available all at once, as the AAR/TTCI Frequency Co-ordinator will have to clear existing channels before new 12·5KHz assignments can be made.

The WCTF has selected the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials’ Project 25 (APCO P-25) technology for use by the railroads as interoperable integrated voice-plus-data radios in the 160MHz band. The data capabilities of the APCO P-25 protocol give railroads a further opportunity to ’work smart’ - to use digital messages for communication of status and instructions between trains or track staff and dispatchers, instead of conventional voice or written reports.

The APCO P-25 platform is being tested in a pilot funded by the FRA through the Oregon Department of Transportation. The purposes of the ODOT pilot are to ensure compatibility between current voice radios and APCO P-25 units in voice mode, to demonstrate APCO P-25 trunking and talk-group capabilities in Portland, and to evaluate the technology as a potential VHF data link for train control and other data-intensive operations, using data-only channels in a duplex configuration.

While refarming will mainly affect railroad radio operations in the current VHF ’voice band’ - which is where APCO P-25 would be used - the WCTF is looking at other RF bands and protocols as well. An important example is that the WCTF was asked to help choose a datalink platform for the North American Joint Positive Train Control development programme in Illinois. WCTF recommended use of the ATCS Specification 200 protocol for (duplex) digital data communications, using the 900MHz channels the FCC had authorised for that purpose. The WCTF also has under consideration a proposal to sponsor an upgrade of ATCS Spec 200, which would enable a doubling of its throughput rate.

Although American railroads do not have spectrum allocations that would support deployment and use of Global system for mobile Communications network such as those chosen for European railways, the WCTF has looked into GSM-R. In the USA, use of GSM-R would require contracts with commercial telecommunications firms that have acquired access to suitable frequencies in recent FCC spectrum auctions.

American railroads do not enjoy the reserved ’greenfield’ spectrum allocation European railways have obtained for GSM-R. Discussions among railroads, suppliers, and TTCI could lead to a field test of GSM-R’s potential for operation with high speed trains and interoperation to RF networks using other frequencies and protocols. One issue is how well GSM-R’s time division multiple access format will work in railway applications.

TTCI’s role

Apart from developing wireless communications and related applications, TTCI is involved in drawing up standards for and testing new technologies such as ECP brakes, train and wayside defect monitoring and reporting, grade crossing activation and status reporting, and Positive Train Control. Part of TTCI’s strategic vision is that it will become a principal site and source for both development and acceptance testing of various advanced railway electronic applications. This would include evaluation of vendor supplied RF equipment and train control components to determine if a product meets industry standards and will perform as specified. The following are examples of electronics and communications functions being conducted by TTCI.

n Frequency Management. Within the past two years, AAR and TTCI have prepared for the refarming challenge over the coming decade. TTCI has under development a Frequency Application & Management System which will allow the Frequency Co-ordinator to handle the sharply increasing volume of spectrum co-ordination and assignment requests, while saving considerable administrative costs for both applicants and the AAR/TTCI. The system is Internet-enabled, which means that potential licensees can request services and file FCC applications electronically, as will soon be required.

n Spectrum Analysis. In other work related to frequency management, TTCI and its contractors have begun building the software and hardware capability to perform sophisticated radio propagation analysis in the railroad radio use spectra. This is a critical requirement for managing the refarming task successfully and assuring cost-effective spectrum availability in the future. Radio signal propagation (coverage) depends on many factors, including transmitter power, antenna height and direction, geographical terrain, weather, and interfering RF or other electromagnetic emissions.

The RF ’Management Toolset’ will consist of a geographical information system holding nationwide topography data, detailed information on location of track and RF facilities, and knowledge-based logical features for interpretation of the base data and its use in forecasting requirements for non-interfering coverage. These tools will be available to participating railroads through TTCI. Such information will enable railroads to optimise base station investments, helping to ensure adequate and reliable radio coverage for any subsequent data-intensive applications.

n Positive Train Control. TTCI is the prime contractor responsible for management of the North American Joint Positive Train Control (NAJPTC) Program, best known for its sponsorship of high speed PTC development, testing and demonstration on a 193 km section of UP route in Illinois. The NAJPTC Management Committee has recently agreed to bring the so-called Eastern Railroads’ PTC project under its umbrella and to have it managed in parallel with the Illinois project. The Eastern Project is an effort begun by Conrail, NS, and CSX to develop interoperable PTC modules for connection to a standard locomotive electronics platform. TTCI will have contracting, support, and reporting responsibilities for both the IDOT and Eastern projects.

Planned site improvements to the Transport Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado, will include installation of hardware to allow compliance and interoperability testing of PTC equipment. TTCI will also continue assisting the AAR in configuration management of industry train control and other electronic systems standards. These standards include the Automatic Equipment Identification (AEI) and End of Train Device (EOTD) standards.

Research opportunities

We have drawn up a preliminary catalogue of Research, Test & Development opportunities in the area of communications, signals, and train control that we see maturing during the 2000-04 strategic plan period. Some of these will involve capital improvements to the TTC site, and some will both require and feed development of TTCI staff expertise in communications, signalling and train control. Some of the work will be required to carry out AAR-assigned responsibilities such as RF co-ordination and standards development or testing.

n Industry Train Control and Railway Electronics Standards. In addition to PTC development and initial implementation, the NAJPTC Management Committee has set up a project for adoption and maintenance of industry train control standards of all kinds. In a related development, the AAR has recently formed a Railway Electronics Standards Task Force. Working with the WCTF and other groups, RETF will be responsible for developing, evaluating, issuing, and maintaining railway electronics and communications standards in North America.

Integration of positive train control systems with other technologies such as railroad RF data networks, Intelligent Transportation Systems, and Global Positioning is within the scope of this responsibility. The AAR has asked TTCI to be the prime contractor to provide all administrative and technical support needed by RETF. The PTC System Engineer (a consortium led by ARINC Inc.) will also support the effort under contract to TTCI.

n Locomotive System Integration. With respect to standards for the on-board locomotive electronics platform, in addition to the current Locomotive System Integration standards and efforts at the AAR to develop the next generation standard for LSI, the NAJPTC Management Committee has agreed to combine the ’Eastern Roads’ project with the NAJPTC program and broaden its technical team participation. This will cut costs and provide for a more comprehensive set of PTC interoperability standards and options, including coverage of cab signals and dark territory.

n Assisted Train Control. TTCI has under development systems for detecting, and delivering to the personnel in need of it, critical information on car bearing health, locomotive health, rail break warnings, and train status. To promote the development of assisted train control systems, TTCI has installed a wireless communication network based on the IEEE 802.11 standard. This network will allow TTC to serve as a testbed for applications that require a wireless data link between locomotives, wayside equipment, railroad vehicles, and ’home office’ control and dispatch systems. The IEEE 802.11 standard uses Internet Protocol for data transfer, which is the same protocol as the wireless data radios being considered for use by the railroad industry. This allows the IEEE 802.11 physical layer radio to be used for testing and developing assisted train control applications related to other new applications such as Positive Train Control.

PTC may require substantial amounts of base data, and the ability to transfer such data from the wayside to the locomotive, using dedicated short range data radio technology such as IEEE 802.11, is an important capability. TTCI is currently planning to invest in the expansion of the IEEE 802.11 wireless data network to provide coverage for the entire site.

n Positive End of Train Position Determination. In PTC systems or other operating applications today, train length must be estimated from consist data, usually reported from a management information system, and then (in signalled territory) confirmed with track circuit occupancy sensing indications. Using estimated train length in this manner yields a workable method for approximating EOT position, but it is not a positive system in which the accuracy of the EOT location can be readily verified. Therefore, a ’safety buffer’ forming a circle of location uncertainty must be provided around the end of the train.

TTCI’s facilities lend themselves to design and testing of a positive EOT position determination system. Similarly, a key element in estimating train stopping distance is the mass of the train. TTC is able to test weigh-in-motion, accelerometer, or other strategies for estimating train weight independently from MIS data.

Success for the railroad industry in the next century, perhaps even the next decade, will hinge on its skill in using advanced computer and communications technology in the operation and management of the business. TTCI is preparing to help the railroads everywhere enter this brave new world.

Trends in US telecommunications technologies, standards and applications

TABLE: Technologies Industry standards Sample applications and federal rules

Copper Wire

Telegraph Morse code Long-distance messaging

Telephone [47CFR] Local / long-distance communications

Signal pole line AREMA Signal Manual of Automatic block signalling, CTC Recommended Practice

Track Circuits

Robinson DC circuits [49CFR, Part 236, Subpart A] Signalling, broken rail protection

Coded track circuits [49CFR, Part 236, Subpart A] Advanced signalling, speed signalling

Impedance-based algorithms Supplier-developed Constant warning time crossing activation

Inductive Loop

Track-located for locomotives [49CFR, Part 236, Subpart E] Cab signals

Crossing-located for motor vehicles ITS User Service 30 (projected) Intrusion detection

Wireless analogue voice

Simplex VHF (FM) [49CFR, Parts 90 & 220; Train Crew two-way broadcast FRA Radio Rules] communications

Cellular UHF ITU-T AMPS Train Crew two-way private communications

Trunkline (Distant Point to Point)

High-speed (Dedicated) wire T1, T3, HDSL } Centralised operations,

Microwave [FCC licensing] } Interline service management

Optic fibre OC1, OC3, OC12, SONET }

Satellite [FCC licensing] Asset management


RF Backscatter (Passive) AAR AEI Standards Automatic Equipment Identification

Other (dynamic) Health status reporting, Fuel level monitoring

Satellite Positioning

Global Positioning System (GPS) } Location Determination for Dispatching, Glonast } Asset management, pacing, MaintenanceGalileo (Projected) European Union } of way productivity, and train control

Nationwide Differential GPS [US coastguard] Precise location, surveying

Trainline communications

Brakeline air pressure Brake application, train handling, emergencies

EOTD wireless, one-way [FRA Rule], AAR EOTD Standards End of train brake pipe & movement monitoring

EOTD wireless, two-way [FRA Rule], AAR EOTD Standards EOTD functions, remote emergency braking

Wireline ECP AAR Standards ECP brake support, improved train handling

Wireless ECP AAR Standards (proposed) ECP brake support, improved train handling

Distributed Power Proprietary Train handling, productivity

Wireless voice - digital

Trunkable narrowband APCO P-25 } Talk groups, caller ID, remote operations,

Time Division Multiple Access ITU-T IS-54 & IS-136; GSM-R } call prioritisation, voice + low-speed data

Code Division Multiple Access ITU-T IS-95 }

Wireless Data - digital (distant)

Data channel narrowband (VHF) APCO P-25 } Train position and health reporting, train pacing, Data channel narrowband (UHF) ATCS Spec 200 } work order reporting, maintenance-of-way GSM-R } management, Positive Train Control, } electronic track warrants

Dedicated short-range RF data

Spread spectrum } On/off board data transfer such as event

DSRD IEEE 802.11 } recorder, PTC track data base

RF ranging Transit location determination

Locomotive electronics bus

LonWorks, VME, and similar AAR - Locomotive Systems } Integration (M-590) } Interline and inter-territory interoperability,

NAJPTC (forthcoming) } cost-effective Positive Train Control

IEEE P1473-L (LonWorks) }

Internet/Intranet Internet Activities Board } [IP Addressing] } Customer service improvement,

EDIFACT } asset reporting and management

RF Band management

Database management TTCI -Frequency Analysis Improved RF licensing administration & Management System

Electronic filing [FCC -Form 601] Efficient compliance with FCC rules

Propagation analysis ITS/Boulder, TTCI Spectrum Efficient telecom facilities investment Management Tools

Emerging wireless/related technologies

Auto-frequency selecting radio ITU-R Spectrum optimisation

Advanced defect detection Predictive maintenance/replacement

Remote operations Productivity and safety applications

Advanced information reduction Forecasting - yield management

Advanced learning algorithms Expert systems - operational Improvement

CAPTION: Advanced computer systems will help railroads to make the best use of their investment in modern locomotives and high capacity wagons

CAPTION: The 900 MHz frequencies allocated for communications-based train control will also support digital links between dispatchers and trains

CAPTION: ATCS specification 200 protocols have been selected for the Illinois Positive Train Control development programme, which will use 900 MHz digital data communications

CAPTION: Assisted train control systems will enable railroads to monitor more effectively the condition of locomotives, wagons and infrastructure, enabling more effective deployment and minimising the costs of rectification

Summary in French, German and Spanish:

Advanced IT can buy commercial success

’Killer applications’ of information technology are being sought by North America’s railways in the battle to win freight business from road. The Association of American Railroads’ subsidiary, Transportation Technology Center Inc, has an instrumental role to play in honing the latest IT developments for the benefit of AAR members, and work includes managing two Positive Train Control projects. Other developments include ’spectrum farming’ of radio frequencies to increase the number of channels, so permitting development of data-intensive communications between track and train. The AAR has also set up a Railway Electronics Standards Task Force to develop, issue and maintain railway electronics and communications standards across North America

L’informatique du futur pour acquérir le succès commercial

Des applications informatiques dignes de prédateurs sont recherchées par les réseaux ferroviaires nord-américains, lancés dans la bataille avec la route pour regagner du trafic fret. Le Transportation Technology Center, Inc. filiale de l’Association of American Railroads (AAR), joue le r