Railway systems engineering is a vital, yet underappreciated profession. Each day, tens of millions of people rely on intercity and commuter rails to get them to work on time, yet so few understand the labor and expertise that goes into making it all possible. Today we’re going to explore what makes railway systems engineering such an important and unique discipline, and how these engineers put their knowledge and skills to work every day to get people and freight to their destination safely and on time.
Railway Systems Engineering: A Synthesis of Engineering Fields
Systems engineering is focused on managing and designing the different elements within a system and the relationships between them, ensuring that they function properly on their own, and within a larger system of systems. Being the tech-savvy reader you are, you’re probably already beginning to guess how applicable and valuable systems engineering is to building and maintaining reliable railway networks, and indeed, it really can’t be overstated.
Railways and the trains that run on them are huge, complex and expensive systems. Between designing and constructing the railways themselves, building and operating the trains, and making sure all the subsystems are functioning and working in harmony with other systems, railway systems engineering is considered a simultaneously broad and specialized field of engineering. It combines aspects of many different disciplines, including machine, industrial, and civil engineering— with systems engineering tying it all together.
Of course, much has changed since the first railway networks were built in the early 19th century. As railway systems have become more advanced, newer technologies like computers and safety-critical systems like positive train control have been incorporated to prevent collisions and derailment, and to make sure trains stay on schedule. Modern railway systems engineering encompasses all of these systems as well.
The Many, Many Aspects of Railway Systems Engineering
Think about how many different subsystems there are in a railway system: automatic doors, lighting, heating, air conditioning, braking, onboard computers— and that’s just the locomotive itself. There’s also the tracks which must be switched as needed to guide the train to the right destination, the electrical supply to the tracks, and the communication and safety systems that regulate speed and prevent trains from colliding with one another. A fault or failure in any one of these subsystems can significantly affect the passenger’s experience, and potentially place them in danger.
It’s the job of a railway systems engineer to make sure all these systems are working properly together, meeting performance standards, and to intervene when something goes wrong.
Modern trains consist of different mechanical systems which are electronically controlled. A big part of the job is maintaining a communication bus that integrates all these different systems together and allows these different subsystems to communicate with each other. This may include installing onboard software designed to do just that.
Another core focus of railway system engineering is safety. It is essential to have a complete understanding of system architecture in order to be able to analyze where problems are likely to occur, proactively monitor these systems and components, carry out maintenance, and solve safety issues when they occur.
As you can see, it’s a lot to stay on top of, and as anyone working in railway systems engineering knows, it is an ongoing challenge to keep people and freight on schedule while still meeting industry standards and keeping all systems functioning.
When you need to ensure that you’re meeting safety-critical standards, you want only the best on your side. Luckily the experts at Novel are here to help with a comprehensive range of services for locomotive control systems. Our award-winning team has designed hardware and software solutions ranging from automatic protection and positive train control signaling to computer-based interlocking systems, software design and integration and much more. Learn more about how we can help put our railway system engineering experience to work on your project and help you meet and exceed safety-critical standards.