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Being smart about the future of rail

06 January 2017

Between the drive towards smart cities, new high speed rail links and increased rail travel across the UK, the pressure is on to make sure our railways can keep up.

Progress is not without its challenges, and as the world struggles to balance being more connected there is a real risk that power quality could be affected. Here, Steve Hughes, managing director of REO UK, explains why monitoring power quality on-board our trains is going to become even more important.

Did you know that Milton Keynes is well on its way to becoming a fully functional smart city? The MK:Smart initiative is partly funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and led by The Open University, and it aims to develop innovative solutions to support economic growth in Milton Keynes. 

One such solution, targeted at supporting transport links within the city, is MotionMap. This tool uses information gathered by a sensor network around the city to feed updates about congestion and car park occupancy to a mobile app. Any smart city will inherently be reliant on smart systems like this, which in turn rely on data and energy transfer.

This all increases the levels of disruptive electromagnetic interference (EMI) that can have a seriously detrimental effect on power quality. Smart cities will live and breathe data and communications through the many devices that will exist on the Internet of Things (IoT) web, but power quality issues could seriously affect the efficacy of these devices if proper precautions are not taken. For instance, prolonged exposure to EMI could cause major disruptions to vital rail signalling or to on-board services, putting passengers at risk.  

Train lovers

There is no doubt that the UK is reliant on rail travel and we’re not slowing down. We’ve seen an increase in rail passengers in recent years, with a reported 1.6bn passenger journeys equating to 62.9bn passenger kilometres in 2015, which was a 4.5 percent rise on the previous year. 

To keep all of these passengers safe it’s vital that operating companies adhere to operational licenses and agreed service levels specified by network authorities. As smart technology takes over and passenger numbers continue to increase there are increasing challenges to overcome obstacles in achieving this goal. The pressure really is going to be on to avoid the hefty fines and penalties associated with non-compliance – especially with the impending launch of the UK's High Speed 2 (HS2) line.

Testing is the key

To help national rail operators, REO developed the REOLAB, which is a range of high voltage variable power supplies designed to test static converters used in the production of auxiliary power supplies for on-board power. High power frequency converters are a vital component in supporting the evolution of rail technology, particularly as we become smarter and power towards higher speed trains. To ensure efficiency and safety, these converters have to be tested so that power quality is not adversely affected.

As REOLAB can simulate three-phase mains power it is the ideal tool to test static converters in research and development (R&D) proving grounds, for regular maintenance, in end-of-line products and during production. The ability to manipulate voltage is the key to any good power supply, especially in countries where national energy grids can be unreliable and sometimes outright dangerous. To combat this, REOLAB is designed with a built in soft-start, capable of slowly and gradually bringing the power up to level.

All change

The world of train travel will have to advance at a phenomenal rate to keep up with the move to smart cities. With increasing connectivity across smart cities and projects such as the UK's high speed HS2 network in the pipeline, it's not difficult to envisage the increasing role testing and safety will play a few years down the line. However, with adequate consideration of a sustainable development infrastructure we can meet and exceed our expectations for the future of rail travel. 


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