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The demand placed on onboard electronics in trains is constantly increasing. The SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) is responding by comprehensively updating its regional trains. A new onboard computer by Syslogic plays a key role in these efforts.
A railway operator as system integrator? Nobody would really expect that. In 2014, SBB made the decision to no longer purchase a complete package of train electronics and peripherals for its customer information system (KIS) from one supplier. Instead, SBB decided to purchase individual components and integrate them on their own. Luis Martínez Méndez, Senior Project Manager at SBB Passenger Transport, says: "Improving system reliability and reducing procurement costs were key factors influencing this decision."
The project team determined to take on this task. By 2023, the regional transport fleets will be upgraded with new train electronics. A total of 260 trains will be upgraded to meet the future needs of mobility, since the introduction of new technologies constantly increases demands on onboard systems.
The decision is already paying off today. The first 80 trains have already been equipped with modern onboard electronics. With SBB’s own test laboratory, the new train electronics can now be tested in their environment. This helps prevent technical issues in the field.
Onboard computer as the core element of the new control system
The onboard computer plays a key role in the modernization of the trains. This system controls the customer information system (CIS), the entire convenience system including air-conditioning, the video surveillance, train announcements, emergency brake alerting (EBA), the passenger intercom, and the automatic passenger counting system (APCS). Software updates for all peripheral devices are transmitted to the onboard computer via the designated router. The onboard computer handles the software distribution for the individual peripheral devices.
As Switzerland’s national railway operator, SBB was required to issue a public invitation to tender for the purchase of onboard computers. The specifications for computers in railway applications are very demanding. Not only must SBB onboard computers be extremely durable and highly reliable. They must also comply with the EN50155, Class OT4, railway standard as well as the EN45545 fire protection standard. These standards cover important criteria for railway applications, including shock and vibration resistance. They must also be designed to withstand extreme temperatures from -40 to +85 degrees Celsius (-40 °F to 185 °F).
Multiple international companies submitted their offers, but ultimately two companies won the bid. One of them was embedded specialist Syslogic. Project manager Luis Martínez Méndez has a pragmatic answer to the question as to why Syslogic was able to assert itself in this competitive environment. He says: "We aspire to implement our technical visions and stay within our budget."
Capacity reserves for future applications
One of SBB’s technical aspects to consider was to select an onboard computer with sufficient capacity reserves for future applications. Syslogic was one of the first manufacturers during the sign-up process in 2016 to feature a working prototype of a railway computer with an Intel Atom E3900 processor (Apollo Lake). Syslogic’s Railway Computer Compact 81, which SBB is now using, features the x7-E3950 version with quad-core processor. In addition to the powerful platform, the Syslogic railway computer also scored high with its robust electronics design.
Syslogic protects the CPU cards against condensation through conformal coating and avoids using moving parts by passively cooling the devices. Flash memory technology by industrial specialist Cactus Technologies is used as storage media. They have established themselves worldwide in demanding industrial, automotive, and railway applications. As with all Syslogic railway computers, screw-on connectors are built-in. The configuration for the railway market is also reflected in the galvanically isolated supply input. In addition, the railway computer, including the ignition controller, can be configured via wide-range power inputs for DC voltage between 16.8 and 110 volts.
Long service life and long-term availability
Thanks to their consistent design, the railway computers are not only extremely robust, but also very durable – a key criterion for all electronics used in railway vehicle vehicles. The same goes for long-term availability. Railway vehicles are often used for 30 years or longer. Accordingly, it is very important for components to be available for a long time. Longevity that Syslogic readily offers. Syslogic is one of few European companies that designs and manufactures its own embedded systems. Therefore, the company is in complete control of availability of its equipment. Martínez Méndez confirms: "Syslogic’s long-term approach is very important to us in the railway industry."
When we visited the SBB test laboratory in Berne, Switzerland, control systems of various train types were installed. Martin Brügger, who played a key role in designing the test laboratory and now manages it, explains the various systems to us. Syslogic railway computers are used in two types of multiple-unit trains.
All train electronics are tested in the laboratory, from display monitors and panels to announcement and seat reservation systems. After the laboratory tests, SBB is performing a series of additional tests with the electronic components installed in trains. Static tests, followed by dynamic tests, are carried out while the trains are in motion. The final test stage is an operational trial run in regularly used vehicles.
Syslogic continues to expand its portfolio of railway computers. The company recently presented an AI-enabled railway computer that is suitable for future machine vision applications. Florian Egger, Sales Manager at Syslogic, says: "The railway industry is one of our most important markets." Accordingly, the company intends to further expand its market position with its broad portfolio of railway products, Egger adds.
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