Turnouts of the future 3 minutes spent reading

Turnouts of the future

Volkmar Held
As a freelance writer, Volkmar Held reports for voestalpine on topics that move people. The content of his stories ranges from archaeometallurgy to future technologies.

i-switch, the intelligent turnout, is the digital answer to the challenges of modern and efficient rail transport.

Turnouts play a prominent role in rail networks. As a key factor in rail safety and availability, they are the focus of attention and equipped with the latest technologies. Cutting-edge technical products from the voestalpine companies offer digital solutions for efficient turnout systems with the highest possible degree of availability.

Challenges in the rail network

Turnout failures are the most common reason for disruptions to the rail network. For this reason, particular consideration must be paid to turnouts. However, the intensive use of the rail network noticeably adds to the challenge of on-site maintenance.

"Higher train speeds and axle loads place huge strains on the turnouts. At the same time, high train frequencies and the demands of 24/7 availability limit access for servicing and maintaining the turnout components. This is where intelligent solutions come in."
Heinz Ossberger, Head of Turnout Technology, voestalpine VAE GmbH

The turnout specialists at voestalpine offer their customers worldwide systems which not only offer remote operation and control, but also enable intelligent and predictive self-diagnostics.

Digital turnouts think ahead

i-switch: operating method

i-switch: operating method

The sensors and chips integrated into the turnouts do not require additional cabling or an external source of energy. Their performance ensures that the latest generation of voestalpine turnouts is ready for the future. i-switch is a system which uses mathematical solution models (“deep learning”) to make predictions about the changes in the turnout’s functionality, its expected wear, and other material defects. This allows the network operator to engage in predictive maintenance rather than repairs. Where the turnout reports noticeable changes in its condition, the necessary measures can be planned and executed in good time. This serves to avoid unplanned disruptions to rail traffic.

Digitalized turnouts form the basis for diagnostic and analytical platforms such as the DIANA system operated by the German national railway operator, Deutsche Bahn. 30,000 turnouts in their network will be fitted with sensors by 2020 and should reduce turnout failures by up to 50%.

The clever turnout “calls us”

i-switch demonstrates the convincing advantages offered by the digital combination of diagnostics and comprehensive networking:

"The turnout drive ‘calls us’ in order to send useful data via the cloud to the connected software—this is highly effective machine-to-machine (M2M) communication."
Johannes Kreinbucher, Chief Operating Officer, voestalpine SIGNALING Zeltweg GmbH

Here the turnout not only considers its own measurement results for operating conditions and tensile loads; its predictive function also incorporates data from third parties, such as environmental conditions and the results from test trains. This wealth of measurement and analytical options can open up further business segments for voestalpine in the future, by adding data and service offerings to deliveries of railway components, for example.

The modern turnout in detail

The modern turnout in detail

The turnout ‘calls us’—a short animation

Volkmar Held