May 2016 – New Train Signaling Technology Arriving on Subways

Are you one of the 5.6 million people that commute daily on the subway? Then you know the congestion and long wait times that have plagued the subway. Due to the ever increasing population in the world, more and more pressure is being put on our public transportation systems. You may think the solution is in the train cars but actually the solution is in the old antiquated signaling system.

New train signaling technology allows train cars to run closer together by using accurate train location tracking systems. Train cars can run more efficiently by reducing the delays from train traffic while still maintaining the required safe distance between train cars.

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Train districts are limited by the amount of trains that can run on the tracks and by the speed of the trains before it becomes a safety hazard. Rail industries have maxed out the organizational fixes such as lengthening trains and rearranging schedules to handle the congestion. In addition, many places have already laid out the maximum amount of train lines. The only current option train manufacturers have is to increase technology, improve signaling and increase train car reliability.

Most New York City subways operate with a Fixed Block Signal System. Fixed block signaling divides the track into small blocks which determine how far apart the trains are for safety and how frequently the stations will be serviced. The challenge in a Fixed Block System is for Signal/Safety Engineers to size these blocks for optimum headway and safety regulations. Train “headway” is the space in-between each train. Adjusting the blocks for safety and headway is a juggling act. Not enough headway leads to unsafe trains and an increased potential for accidents while having too much headway leads to longer waiting times on the platform and increased congestion. Fixed Block Systems are very inefficient, by not using the tracks to their full ability.

Train Signaling Technology
The only way to combat congestion is to add advanced signaling technologies called Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC).  The main improvement with CBTC is that it allows for smoother and more frequent operations of trains. With CBTC systems, the trains continuously calculate and communicate their status via radio or GPS. This status includes the exact position, speed, travel direction and braking distance of the train. This information allows the most accurate calculation of headway between trains. Trains continuously communicate with nearby trains to adjust their speed and distance accordingly depending on the information that is received in order to maintain safety and traveler comfort. This allows trains to travel closer together while still maintaining enough distance to brake safely, in turn, allowing lines to host more trains per hour.

Train Signaling Technology
Trains and computerized dispatching systems communicate directly, eliminating maintenance requirements for unreliable signaling equipment alongside the tracks. Using CBTC systems, the exact position of a train is precisely known, as opposed to the old traditional signaling systems, making them more accurate. This results in a safer and more efficient way to manage the railway traffic. Railway systems are able to shorten headway while maintaining and improving safety.

New train signaling technology (CBTC) is a much more flexible system and allows for higher levels of accuracy and automation. This will dramatically improve pubic railway transportation in the upcoming years by allowing more trains to travel quicker while also reducing the number of accidents. Considering that the public train system has not changed in the past 100 years this will have a major positive effect on transportation for years to come.

The Omnicon Group engineers are currently working on the reliability, availability and maintainability for the new signaling system. Additional work is being conducted on software and hardware development. Omnicon is excited to be a part of this major train signaling technology transition.

Tags: reliability, safety, technology, trains, transportation

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