Reliability on two rails

1Railway technology has stringent requirements for reliability, longevity, and robustness. In densely populated areas in Europe and Asia, billions of passenger miles are traveled each year. Many makers of railway equipment, both rolling stock and wayside/supervisory control equipment, use VMEbus boards and systems in their products. Typically, these systems will be in continuous operation for 30 years or more.

Bombardier Transportation has its global headquarters in Berlin. It has an installed base of more than 100,000 vehicles worldwide. Bombardier is recognized as a leader in the global rail sector. The parent company, Bombardier Inc. headquartered in Canada, is a global corporation making transportation solutions such as commercial aircraft, business jets, and rail transportation equipment, systems, and services. Several years ago I completed VMEbus courses at Bombardier locations in Sweden and Germany. The company had already been using VMEbus in many projects.

Kontron and Bombardier have had an ongoing relationship since 1996. Kontron provides engineering, development, certification and manufacture of real-time embedded systems meeting stringent customer and government authority requirements. Meanwhile, Bombardier train systems use such technology on many transportation and rail control systems in Dallas, London, Madrid, Miami, Singapore, and Taipei.

This technology is also integrated into one of Bombardier's rail systems made for China's Capital Airports Holding Company (CAH), which holds assets of 67 billion yuan (U.S. $8.3 billion). CAH is China's largest airport company, controlling 16 Chinese airports including Beijing's international airport and having a total passenger-handling capacity of 82 million. The CAH project is a people mover serving small areas, such as airports or theme parks (Figure 1). The trains are equipped with two sets of computing systems for redundant operation and for parallel calculations requiring large amounts of communication. They must meet the performance and cost constraints of transportation companies such as CAH.

Figure 1
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Kontron first provided the Intelligent Serial I/O (ISO) VME card, customized to meet Bombardier's specific needs, and the CPU440 and CPU540 VME processor cards were also integrated for onboard control and positive train separation in Bombardier's automated train applications. Figure 2 shows the typical command center of a CFD train (photo courtesy of Ian Boyle, UK).

Figure 2
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Then Bombardier commissioned the development of the customized CPU541 VME card, integrating dual processors to manage critical safety. The VCE405 processor card was optimized for Bombardier to replace the CPU541. The VCE405 is a 6U VME conduction-cooled SBC. The ultra-low power consumption of the IBM PowerPC 405GP/GPr and the ALMA2e PCI-to-VME bridge, developed by Thales Computers (now part of Kontron), make the VCE405 a highly suitable choice for critical environments.

Other rail applications

Chemins de Fer Departmenteaux (CFD) in France has decided to equip their new generation of trains with a fully electronic command control instead of relays or industrial PLCs. This electronic equipment includes the Train Management System (TMS), the Human Machine Interface (HMI), and remote I/O. It allows the realization of a passenger information system, tightly coupled with a local system of a specific region. This system is based on open standards such as VME for the hardware and ISaGRAF (IEC61131-3 open to C language) for the software tools.

The very complex task to brake a moving train in a controlled manner on a long, multiple-car train with different loads without skidding, brake locking, or derailing requires reliable, precise control in real time from VMEbus systems.

Railway fair

Innotrans, held in even years in Berlin, Germany, is the world's largest railway fair. This year (Sept. 23-28), more than 88,000 experts (30 percent more than in 2006) from 100 countries visited on the first four days, and an additional 25,000 came on the weekend (Sept. 27-28) when the fair was open to the general public. More than half of the 1,900 exhibitors came from 41 foreign countries to a 50 percent larger exhibition area. Contracts worth over € 2 billion (U.S. $2.7 billion) were signed or already delivered directly at the fair.

For more information, e-mail Hermann at