Computing, Connectivity and Control
Railway systems keep getting more advanced. On both the control side and passenger entertainment side, embedded computers play critical roles. Railway systems need sophisticated networking, data collection and real-time control—all while meeting safety standards.
There’s no doubt that railway systems represent one of the most dynamic segments of embedded computing design. There’s a lot for embedded systems to do aboard trains—ensuring both safety and precise control for the train, but also for the increasingly sophisticated entertainment systems installed on today’s modern trains.
Meanwhile, trains are evolving into moving Internet-of-Things (IoT) platforms, as system developers strive to leverage the many benefits of data collection and passenger monitoring. Even embedded artificial intelligence (AI) is finding its way into the mindshare of railway system developers.
Exemplifying these trends, MEN Micro is a leading example of an embedded computer vendor deeply immersed in railway system technology development. Among its offerings are its line of EN 50155, ISO 7637-2 and IRIS certified electronics that are embedded into trains (and buses) for control, supervision, communication, passenger information, security and testing. Figure 1 shows an overview of the MEN’s solutions along those lines. EN 50155 is one of a handful of standards targeted specifically for railway systems. Table 1 shows of summary of these standards.
In January, MEN Micro introduced the MC50M, its latest modular computer for DIN rail mounting. To clarify, “rail” in this context is referring not to railroad rails but rather to the metal DIN rail, a standard type of mounting used in industrial control equipment inside equipment racks. MEN’s DIN rail concept is designed for flexible configuration of module combinations and is suitable for embedded IoT applications in various markets. DIN rail mounting (35 mm) is standard. Wall and 19’’ rack mounting are possible using adaption brackets.
The EN 50155-compliant box is based on Intel’s Atom E3900 series with low power dissipation and scalability in performance and memory. The modular expansion concept makes the DIN rail family a cost-effective and flexible solution. For memory, the system provides up to 8 GB of DDR3 SDRAM and an M.2 NVMe slot for mass storage. The box embeds a Trusted Platform Module for security and for I/O the MC50M provides Gbit Ethernet, USB 3.0, RS-232, R-S485/422 and DisplayPort. Input voltage is 24 VDC nominal with ignition and it supports a full-range of PSUs from 9 VDC to 60 VDC. Operating temperature is -55°C to +70°C.
According to MEN Micro, the MC50M is well suited for transportation functions such as security gateways, predictive maintenance, CCTV, ticketing systems or as a diagnostic server. The MC50M can be used as a stand-alone product or in combination with a range of pre-fabricated extension modules, providing additional features and short delivery times.
Extension modules can provide application-specific functions such as wireless communication (LTE advanced, WLAN, GNSS), MVB, CAN bus or other I/Os. A removable storage shuttle supports the integration of one or two 2.5” SATA hard disks/SSDs. The wide range PSU allows isolated power supply from 24 VDC to 110 VDC nominal and extends the entire system to EN 50155 compliance.
The board management controller provides increased reliability and reduces downtime. The Trusted Platform Module supports security and encryption features. With an ignition switch for remote startup and shutdown control, the platform provides additional energy saving features. The aluminum housing with cooling fins ensures conductive cooling and fanless operation. The MC50M has no moving parts, so it can be operated maintenance-free. The long-term availability of 15 years from product launch minimizes life cycle management by making the MC50M available for at least that period.
SECURITY AND SAFETY
Security and safety go hand-in-hand when it comes to railway computing systems. With that in mind, in April Kontron and SYSGO jointly started the development of an integrated platform for safety-critical railway solutions based on Kontron’s SAFe-VX hardware. Their aim was to provide system integrators with a solid and flexible basis for certifiable applications in trains and signaling.
Kontron’s hardware is already used in many railway systems and has been certified up to SIL-4, the highest level of the IEC 61508 standard for functional safety of electronic systems. The SAFe-VX Kontron hardware platform will run under SYSGO’s real-time operating system PikeOS, which is already used in EN 50128/SIL-4 certified systems, on both single and multi-core architectures. Additionally, PikeOS is the only real-time operating system with separation kernel certified to EAL 3+ Common Criteria security standard to fulfill functional safety as well as security requirements on the same system.
According to Kontron, several railway application developers are already using PikeOS on the Kontron hardware. Kontron and SYSGO have identified several opportunities for autonomous train driving and rail signaling applications, where SAFe-VX vital processing platform is a good match. The common platform is expected to provide developers a solution that meets the most stringent functional safety and embedded security requirements.
CONTROL SYSTEM SOLUTION
On the control side, among Kontron’s latest offerings is its TRACe-RM404-TR, a fanless railway computer announced in January. EN50155-certified, it is specifically designed for train control and communication applications (Figure 2). Designed as a robust and compact 19″, 1.5U box computer (compliant to EN60297-3-100), it can easily fit any existing railway equipment. Kontron says the system has already been chosen for a train retrofit by a large rail system solutions provider in Asia, supporting the train control in an automated metro system.
The TRACe-RM404-TR’s 10 year product lifetime combined with the long-term support services ensure long service life, up to 25 years and more. The first TRACe-RM404-TR variant features the Intel Atom x5-E3940 quad-core 1.6 GHz high performance-per -watt processor, with 2 GB DDR3L memory up to 1,866 MHz (optional up to 8GB DDR3L) and 64 GB Industrial MLC SSD memory.
The box computer provides multiple communication ports, making it well suited for train control applications. It features three independent Gbit Ethernet network ports (on M12 connectors), 2x RS-232/422/485 isolated ports with galvanic isolation, 8 isolated digital inputs and 8 isolated digital outputs for operation plus 2x USB, 1x GbE RJ45, 1x RS-232 and DisplayPort interfaces for maintenance purposes. It comes with an EN50155 class S2-C1 ultra-wide range power supply (from 24 VDC to 110 VDC nominal input voltage range) adapted to all types of railway vehicles from light rail vehicles to high-speed trains. Its rugged EN50155 fanless and low-power design ensures high performance and high reliability, operating within a temperature range of -25°C to +70°C.
The TRACe-RM404-TR product can accommodate several optional wireless (4G LTE, Wi-Fi) interfaces, field buses (CAN 2.0, MVB) and/or additional optional I/Os (Audio, USB) to match any other railway applications such as onboard CCTV, entertainment/infotainment PIS or train-to-ground communications.
Power-over-Ethernet is catching on in a variety of applications, and railway systems are no exception. Axiomtek has leveraged the technology in its latest transportation-focused box-level system. In May, the company announced its tBOX400-510-FL, a two-in-one transportation-certified box PC with built-in layer 2 managed PoE switch for IP surveillance applications (Figure 3). The tBOX400-510-FL is certified with CE (Class A) and FCC and is in compliance with E-Mark, ISO 7637-2, EN 50155, EN 50121-3-2 and EN 45545-2, IEC 60945 and DNV 2.4.
This high-performance transportation box PC is powered by the 7th generation Intel Core (Kaby Lake) or Intel Celeron 3965U processors, along with dual DDR4 SO-DIMM slots for up to 32 GB of memory. The built-in 10-port managed switch is powered by Qualcomm’s chip. With its high performance, industrial-grade design and full-strict certifications, the tBOX400-510-FL is suited for transportation-related applications such as onboard security surveillance and video management by managed switch function.
Axiomtek’s tBOX400-510-FL has a built-in 10-port managed switch with 8-port 10/100 Mbps PoE and 2-port Gbit LANs, featuring VLAN, QoS and PoE scheduling for the more secure and smooth network. For reliable operation in severe environments, the rugged fanless transportation box computer is designed to withstand a wide temperature range from -40°C to +60°C and vibration of up to 3 Grms. It also supports 24 VDC to 110 VDC for railway applications, and other voltage configurations for other applications.
The all-in-one tBOX400-510-FL has two M12 A-coded Gigabit LANs and eight M12-type D-coded PoE ports with a total power budget of 120 W in the rear panel. Four USB 3.0 ports, two audio ports, one Gbit LAN with Intel i210-IT, one DVI-I and one RS-232/422/485 are in front of the system, while isolated DIO is reserved for request.
The IP30-rated embedded system supports two swappable 2.5″ SATA HHD drives with Intel RAID 0/1 function. There are three full-size PCI Express Mini Card and two SIM card slots for 3G/4G, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections. The DC power input is available in M12 connector for railway applications or terminal block for marine and vehicle applications. One PoE power input is available for external PoE power supply.
Also providing a PoE-based solution, Neousys Technology has its Nuvo-7100VTC Series listed as “Coming Soon” on its website. The system is an Intel 8th-Gen Core i7/i5/i3 in-vehicle fanless embedded computer that is EN50155 certified and provides 4× M12 PoE+ ports, DIO, CAN bus and RAID. With 64 GB DDR4 memory, and Intel’s 8th-Gen Core processors with up to 6-core/ 12-thread architecture, the system offers a significant performance increase over previous generation Neousys solutions for versatile in-vehicle applications.
The Nuvo-7100VTC offers four or eight 802.3at PoE+ ports to supply 25 W power to connected devices such as IP cameras with M12 (x-coded connectors) and connector screw-lock mechanisms on computer I/Os like Gbit Ethernet, USB3.0 and USB3.1 to guarantee extreme rugged connectivity in shock/ vibration environments.
Wireless connectivity is essential for modern day in-vehicle applications. System developers can simultaneously utilize two M.2 and three mini-PCIe sockets with corresponding wireless modules for 3G/ 4G, WIFI, GPS and CAN module for communication. Additionally, there is a 4G cellular module option that is certified to work with renowned US telecommunications company which can save developers implementation time and cost. Nuvo-7100VTC also features isolated CAN bus for in-vehicle communication, isolated DIO for sensor/ actuator control, 8~35 V wide-range DC input with ignition power control and is in compliance with E-Mark and EN 50155.
SMART PUBLIC TRANSIT
For its part, NEXCOM sees its family of railway-focused electronic systems as key pieces within Smart Public Transit railway implementations—as depicted in Figure 4. With global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), wireless data communication and computerized processing of sensor-generated data, railway telematics can collect, process and share vital information such as positioning, vehicle health and railway line data. Operators can leverage that data as a tool to accurately track rolling stock positions, identify traffic events and measure railway performance to improve the safety and efficiency of the entire railway operation.
As an example, part of NEXCOM’s offerings for such applications is its nROK 1020-A system. The box-level system is equipped with vehicle data acquisition, GPS and wireless communication and data processing capabilities. By bridging the gap between on-duty vehicles and central dispatchers, these vehicle terminals can help fleet, bus, and rail transport introduce telematics applications such as in-transit monitoring, usage-based insurance, preventive maintenance and more.
The EN50155-compliant nROK 1020-A addresses the special needs of rail transport. As a vehicle terminal, the nROK 1020-A can monitor passenger cars for doors being ajar, attempts to open emergency exits and rising temperature. To allow actions to be taken, the nROK 1020-A can communicate the unusual conditions to an operator’s console over a closed-loop train network or report to a control center over 3G/LTE networks. At the same time the nROK 1020-A can run passenger signage applications, showing passenger information on two displays.
Like IoT, AI is finding its way into a wide variety of embedded computing applications these days. And, according to ADLINK Technology, the rail industry is no exception. Fueled by intelligence from AI-driven systems and applications, railway operations are becoming safer, smarter and more reliable, significantly enhancing passenger travel experience and freight logistics services. These AI-driven applications only function with proper data input that is collected by massive numbers of IoT devices installed in stations, on trains and along tracks.
The company says that a successful implementation of such rail applications requires a seamless integration of AI and IoT technologies. Serving those needs, in May ADLINK announced its EN50155 certified PIS-5500 “AIoT” (AI plus IoT) platform (Figure 5). Powered by an Intel Core i7 processor and integrated NVIDIA Quadro GPGPU module, the system is ruggedized for both wayside and onboard deployment with its wide range DC input and isolated I/O design. It is well suited as an edge solution for real-time video/graphic analysis applications that are vital to today’s increasingly complex railroad operations. To meet varying application requirements, the PIS-5500 is also available in variants featuring an additional two USB 2.0 via M12 connectors and two 2.5” SATA 6 Gb/s drive bays, as well as a version supporting +12 VDC power input only.
The target applications include—but are not limited to—passenger information systems, railroad intrusion detection, train station surveillance, onboard video security and railroad hazard detection. According to ADLINK, the PIS-5500 is being tested and deployed commercially by leading rail system integrators worldwide. In one application, the intelligent platform is installed on special rail inspection trains to process captured images of key wayside equipment in real-time.
With a sophisticated algorithm driven by parallel computing and deep learning, the application can effectively identify potential equipment faults at a train speed of 120 km/h, and raise the alarm to notify maintenance crews. In another application, the PIS-5500 is used in a train station control office to analyze the real-time video stream received from the platform, says ADLINK. The application is able to not only detect suspicious behaviors and trigger alerts, but also conduct post-event analysis.
TOUCH PANEL PCS FOR TRAINS
Several vendors that make embedded computing systems for trains, also offer purpose-built touchscreen panel computers specifically designed for trains. Within the past several months, two such examples are Axiomtek’s P6125, a 12.1″ EN 50155-compliant touchscreen display and ADLINK’s DMI-1210 driver machine interface (DMI) touch panel computer.
Another more recent example is Advantech’s ITA-8000 series of fanless touch panel computers with a DMI. Providing real-time information and a touch panel design, locomotive operators can enjoy improved safety control and optimized decision making based on the collection and analysis of all relevant data (Figure 6). The ITA-8000 series is EN50155 certified, compliant with the EN45545 standard for railway operations and performs under the harshest of temperatures and environmental conditions.
Mounted in the locomotive and acting as “the brain” of the train infrastructure, the ITA-8000 series is a fanless, industrial-grade touch panel PC utilizing the latest Intel Atom x7-E3950 quad-core processor. It allows drivers to seamlessly monitor and adjust settings based on platform and carriage conditions from the driver’s cab. This DMI product is designed for easy operation and displays a vast range of real-time information. Lockable front hotkeys seamlessly link the driver to the rolling stock control system.
The ITA-8000 series offers wide input power range—from 24 VDC to 110 VDC— that fulfills the diverse needs of different manufacturers. In order to further increase flexibility, the ITA-8100 series reserves a PCIe slot and a USB 3.0 slot on board. By adding a different optional module, the ITA-8000 series supports a variety of transportation communication protocols, such as MVB, and CAN bus.
A customized interface can also be implemented upon request. The series features two panel sizes with 1024 x 768 display resolution and highly sensitivity capacitive touch: 10.4” for the ITA-8100 and 12.1” for the ITA-8120. The high-brightness anti-glare LCD panels ensure readability in both dark environments and under intensive sunlight. Both the ITA-8100 and ITA-8120 offer the option of UIC612-01-compliant keypads for control or display purposes.
The ITA-8000 series is specially designed for performance under tough of conditions, meeting the EN50155 and IEC61373 certification for rolling stocks applications and adhering to the strictest safety standards. The series can operate under temperatures ranging from -40°C to 70°C (class TX), and ±40% of selected input voltage. It can tolerate 20 ms interruption (class S3) and 30 ms supply break (class C2). The front panel is IP65-rated for maximum protection.
Ibase Technology makes several products aimed at railway systems, some targeted at train-based digital signage. Last October, the company announced that its new Atom E3845 based MPT-3000RP—an EN50155-TX certified, IP67-protected railway PC—won a Taiwan Excellence Award along with a “DRD-037PC” railway signage PC and two recent Ibase embedded systems.
The MPT-3000RP is an EN50155 and EN45545 compliant transportation computer optimized for railway applications (Figure 7). However, instead of acting as a signage player, this is a more general-purpose computer designed to control a variety of onboard systems. Protected from water and other ingress per IP67, the 270 mm x 210 mm x 63 mm MPT-3000RP is equipped with a quad-core Intel Atom E3845 clocked at 1.91 GHz. No OS support is listed.
Users can load up to 4 GB DDR3L-1333 via dual slots, and store data with a CFast slot and a 2.5″ SATA bay. In addition, one of the three M.2 sockets is designed for 2280-form factor SATA cards. A second M.2 is designed for wireless 3042 cards, and a third M.2 slot is for a variety of 2230 cards (USB 2.0/PCIe). The system also provides half- and full-size mini-PCIe slots with USB 2.0 and USB 2.0/PCIe support, respectively. Dual SIM card slots and 4x antenna connectors are also available.
All the external interfaces use rugged M12 connectors. Provided are 2x GbE, 2x USB 2.0 and 3x serial ports, as well as single VGA, CAN and wide-range voltage GPIO ports. There’s also an M12 connector for the “DC 9 V ~ 36 V / 72 V / 110 V” input. The company says, the system provides “interchangeable modular power supplies supporting a variety of inputs” and “full vehicle battery power control.” The MPT-3000RP OS is wall-mountable and supports -40°C to 70°C operation with an SSD. It also offers EN61373 compliant shock and vibration resistance. Other certifications include EN50153:2014, EN50121-3-2:2015, CE Class A and FCC Class A.
Like many embedded systems, railway systems must be designed with upgrades in mind. Systems that can easily add new features or performance with modular expansion form factors can really help stakeholders save costs over the long run. Along just such lines, last October Cincoze introduced its latest rugged embedded computer, the DS-1200 series with PCI/PCI Express expansion.
The DS-1200 system is equipped with the Intel Q370 chipset and supports the 8th Gen Intel Core/Pentium/Celeron 35 W / 65 W LGA 1151 processors (Figure 8). The new 8th generation Intel Core processor (Coffee Lake) for the first time offers up to 6 cores, 12 threads and 1.4 times computing performance improvement comparing to the previous generation (Kaby Lake). The integrated Intel UHD Graphics can drive up to 3 independent display outputs and support 4K UHD resolution. DS-1200 series also supports DDR4-2666 SO-DIMM memory, USB 3.1 (Gen2) ports and ultra-fast PCIex4 NVMe SSD.
DS-1200 series comes with rich I/O connectors, including 2× GbE ports, 8× USB ports, 1× DVI-I, 2× DisplayPort, 1× PS/2, 1× Line-out, 1× Mic-in, 2× RS-232/422/485 ports and a remote power/reset connector. The system also has 2× front accessible SIM card slots for redundant 3G/4G connections. In addition, DS-1200 series provides friendly features, including instant reboot, replaceable fuse and integrated SuperCap for easy maintenance.
The system allows users to expand I/O and functionalities through ready-to-use modules, such as GbE/PoE ports, serial ports, optical isolated digital I/O and power ignition function. Additionally, the system provides 3× full-size Mini PCI Express slots and up to 2× PCI/PCIe expansion slots for more I/O expansions. DS-1200 series is available in three different models: DS-1200 without PCI(e) expansion slot, DS-1201 with one PCI(e) expansion slot, and DS-1202 with two PCI(e) expansion slots. By choosing optional riser cards, users can install versatile add-on cards for their specific applications.
DS-1200 features fanless/cableless design, wide operating temperature (-40°C to 70°C), wide range DC power input (from 9 V to 48 V), high tolerance of vibration/shock (5G/50G), and industrial-grade protections (OVP, OCP, ESD Surge and so on). The DS-1200 has passed various rigorous tests, as well as EN50155 (EN50121-3-2) and EN60950-1 certifications for operations in harsh environments.
It’s clear that railway systems have become “power users” of the latest and greatest embedded computing technologies. To keep pace, the embedded computing vendors mentioned in this article continue to evolve their purpose-built, box-level systems to meet the demands of today’s advanced railroad system implementations, both for on-board trains and for the infrastructure surrounding railroads.
ADLINK Technology | www.adlinktech.com
Advantech | www.advantech.com
Axiomtek | us.axiomtek.com
Cincoze | www.cincoze.com
Ibase Technology | www.ibase.com.tw
Kontron | www.kontron.com
MEN Micro | www.menmicro.com
Neousys Technology | www.neousys-tech.com
SYSGO | www.sysgo.com
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • JULY 2019 #348 – Get a PDF of the IssueSponsor this Article
Jeff served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxGizmos.com and its sister publication, Circuit Cellar magazine 6/2017—3/2022. In nearly three decades of covering the embedded electronics and computing industry, Jeff has also held senior editorial positions at EE Times, Computer Design, Electronic Design, Embedded Systems Development, and COTS Journal. His knowledge spans a broad range of electronics and computing topics, including CPUs, MCUs, memory, storage, graphics, power supplies, software development, and real-time OSes.