Electronics technology to bring speed, comfort and reliability

4 mins read

The UK brought railways to the world and was traditionally a major exporter of locomotives and railway rolling stock, but times have changed and the UK’s domestic train industry is now dominated by overseas companies like Bombardier, Siemens and Hitachi.

These companies have, however, brought significant investment to the UK and Hitachi recently opened an £82million Rail Vehicle Manufacturing facility in Newton Aycliffe.

The factory, which will employ around 750 people and house Hitachi’s European research and development facility, was built to produce Hitachi’s 800/801 InterCity Express (IEP) trains for the UK’s East Coast and Great Western Main Lines, with production scheduled to begin in 2016.

Hitachi has a long association with high speed trains, such as the Shinkansen (bullet train) in Japan, while in the UK it has supplied the Ashford based Class 395, a 140mph commuter train which runs from Kent to St. Pancras.

According to Koji Agatsuma, head of technical at Hitachi: “The rail industry has to work with a large number of component suppliers from across Europe (among those supplying components for the 800/801 Series are Harting, Siemens, Huber+Suhner and BMAC) and many components for cost reasons are off the shelf. It is crucial that we can integrate these components into specific systems.”

Obsolescence is a key issue for the industry and, as a result, Hitachi has decided to supply many of the components for the 800/801 Series itself. “It’s one way of managing obsolescence,” suggests Agatsuma.

Recent developments in the rail industry have focused on increased speed, comfort, and reliability, but new rolling stock also needs to be more energy efficient.

Consuming less energy

“The 800/801 Series needs to consume less energy, while carrying more passengers in greater comfort. While we are supplying the rolling stock, we have also signed a long-term maintenance deal so our focus has to also be on reducing whole life industry costs,” explains Agatsuma.

Hitachi’s decision to bring train manufacturing back to the North East came after the Government awarded it a £5.7billion Intercity Express contract, but that also included a 27 year maintenance deal.

“The 800 series will be in service for 35 years, so we need to be able to deliver carriages that are significantly more efficient, so we need to reduce the weight of each carriage. Lower weight means reduced levels of wear and tear of the track and that will help to reduce maintenance costs in the longer term.”

Standards play an important part in the rail industry and these cars have been designed to comply with European railway standards, such as the Technical Specifications for Interoperability and the UK’s Railway Group Standard.

“Customer safety regulations change every year. We need to be able to not only meet all EU and UK regulations but also address the needs of different business models.”

The IEP project involves replacing 40 year old rolling stock with 866 high speed cars. Each train-set will consist of five or nine cars, but a 12 car configuration is also planned.

Designed to be as streamlined as possible, the cars are intended for high speed operation, so a number of environmental measures have been employed to reduce noise and air resistance.

On train technology

Hitachi is deploying an on-board information system that uses the Ethernet-Autonomous Decentralised Train Integration System (E-ATI). Developed by Hitachi, E-ATI – a backbone communication system intended to improve the system’s reliability – uses a fully independent dual routing system.

The system’s displays have been designed to meet European and UK standards and the rolling stock has been fitted with onboard servers that can exchange information with trackside systems using 3G and Wi-Fi communications. However, in line with the brief to future proof these trains, they can also support 4G and WiMAX communications.

“When it comes to the passenger experience, whether we provide onboard entertainment systems will be determined by the operator’s business model. There are no technical issues preventing us from doing so, but as passengers tend to use their personal devices to access entertainment, it is more important that we provide a secure and effective Wi-Fi service,” explains Agatsuma.

Onboard technology will also enable train operators to receive live rolling stock information and to access the train’s on-train data recorder. Other onboard devices will enable operators to transmit and update schedule information and seat allocation data, as well as update onboard software.

GPS is used to provide location information, to update and control internal and external display panels and to manage door interlock controls. It is also used to instruct drivers on how to minimise power consumption, based on the timetable, the location of trains and the correct power supply, depending on the type of track the train is using. An EN compliant energy meter records energy consumption.

The series is fitted with the Train Protection and Warning System, widely used in UK trains, while the Great Western service will also use the British Rail-Automatic Train Protection system. All units will feature an ETCS (Level 2) system developed by Hitachi.

Together, these various safety systems will enable the rolling stock to employ more sophisticated control systems capable of operating with different ground side signalling systems; simplifying train data entry procedures for rail crew and on-board equipment control functions.

Bimodal power

“Key to their successful deployment will be the carriage’s ability to run on different infrastructure (for example, non-electrified sections of the UK’s infrastructure). As a result, we have had to develop a bimodal power solution,” says Agatsuma. “These trains can operate with a dual power source. While power can be taken from overhead wires, we have also installed a diesel engine under the floor. These units need to be able to run across the entirety of the UK’s rail network.”

According to Agatsuma, the bimodal power unit is capable of selecting the right power source from either the main transformer or the GU. Weight is an issue, so the power supply converter – designed using fewer components – is lighter.

To help further reduce the weight of the carriages, aluminium was used for the body while composite materials were employed in the carriages and in the train’s front end.

The provision of air conditioning in these trains was considered a crucial requirement, according to Agatsuma.

“If the power to these units was to fail, temperatures can soar in summer and plummet in winter. While accuracy is important, reliability is crucial,” he suggests. “The UK rail network is old, so power interruptions can and do occur. These trains have been developed so that each car has its own power unit; should power be lost, it will be possible to maintain conditions in each carriage and there is enough power to drive the train, at reduced speed, to the next station.”

Commercial operation is scheduled to begin in 2017 and operation trials have already started.