Travel by rail is fast, efficient, and eco-friendly. Rail systems comprise of rolling stock like locomotives, coaches, and wagons, and signaling equipment like track-side switches, and base stations.  Trains are either hauled by a locomotive or run as independent multiple units, both with either diesel or electric propulsion. Today, developed and developing economies have mature as well as fast-growing rail networks running on the latest propulsion and signaling technologies, including high speed rail. Private and public rail operators purchase equipment from rail vendors and carry out supervision, operation, monitoring, and maintenance of trains and routes through their dispatch centers. 

The Rise of Electronics

Trains, once a byproduct of the industrial revolution, have evolved over 150 years to meet the fourth generation of industrial requirements known as Industry 4.0, aided by electronics and computerized automation. 

Locomotives with built-in computers and advanced displays allow the engineer to monitor critical parameters like speed, temperature, and brake/oil pressure.  A high performance microprocessor can predict as well as detect wheel slip and cut down the power to variable frequency AC motors during harsh weather or when on steep grades under heavy load.  It also collects data to forward wirelessly to contract based maintenance centers employed by the locomotive manufacturer for further analysis and upgrades. 

On the coach side, train servers use Ethernet to control passenger infotainment like public address system, displays, WiFi, charger ports, and video entertainment.  These servers also manage lighting, HVAC, surveillance cameras, video recorders, conductor ZYPADs, and auxiliary services like automated doors, passenger counters, and GPS.  They also pass locomotive-related parameters like regenerative braking and hotel power, which is about providing power for heating, lighting, and electrical needs of the train. 

Track-side signaling cabinets and on-track interlock switches communicate with the train using GSM-R, a wireless protocol having a rail-specific spectrum.  GSM-R also allows signals to clearly pass from locomotive to end coach and back, regardless of travel speed. 5G is expected to replace GSM-R in the coming years. Combined with IoT it will offer better collision avoidance and predictive maintenance capabilities. 

The rail industry is characterized by a low-volume high-mix business model, along with a long operational life span for rolling stock. Standards like EN50155, NFF 16-101/102, and UIC 558/552 have been put up to ensure safety and fail-safe performance in a constant harsh and high vibration environment.   This has attracted a dedicated and committed value chain of component suppliers, cabinet makers, tier-1 / tier-2 providers, and system integrators, focused on quality and durability in their products and services. 

Amphenol ICC recognizes this commitment and provides specialized connectors for rail applications:

  • The DIN 41612 high temperature backplane connector meets the fire safety standards of the locomotive control cabinet (NFF F1, I2 and EN 45545 certified).  Rugged and harsh environment USB 2.0, Modular Jacks, D-Subs, and circular connectors bring seamless connectivity to vibration-prone loco computers, event recorders, and digital cameras.
  • Inside coaches, passenger access modules contain micro-SIM cards, Network Video Recorders have SATA 3.0 SSDs, infotainment displays and HMI contain FPC, board-to-board, and wire-to-board connectors, and mobile charging ports are mainly USB 3.0 Type C.
  • Dispatch centers running the high speed Ethernet 10GBase-T use input-output connectors like USB 3.1, DisplayPort, and HDMI, as well as backplane and mezzanine connectors like AirMax®, Lynx, and Lynx QD

Rail equipment undergoes extended design cycles, with a guaranteed life of about 60 to 70+ years.  With increasing ridership and a positive economic outlook, the thriving rail business presents an opportunity as well as a challenge for technology providers to play their part and offer their best.

Check out the quick slide summary below.