Technical Article

Power Supplies for Railway Applications

October 13, 2022 by RECOM

Data is at the heart of modern railway infrastructure. Both freight and passenger trains require robust communications to transfer location data between rolling stock systems, between trains, and between trains and control centers. Furthermore, modern passenger trains are equipped with convenience and entertainment functions such as internet access, information display screens, charging sockets, and vending machines.

Due to the variety of these use cases, railway networks use multiple wired and wireless standards. Wired standards include CAN bus—developed for networks within automobiles—and derivations of industrial fieldbus standards; for instance, ProfiNet and Industrial Ethernet (IE) networks (e.g., Cat 5e, Cat 6, and Cat 7) are becoming common, and Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology is increasingly being adopted.


Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF]


Wireless standards include commercial cellular systems (3G/4G/LTE/5G) or custom systems such as the GSM-R standard used for the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). For medium and short-range communication, low-power radios such as LoRaWAN or WiFi (IEEE802.11a/b/g/n/ac) may also be employed.


Data Communication Systems Must Meet Harsh Requirements

These communication networks play a critical role in the operation of a train and the quality of the passengers’ experience. As rail equipment has a typical 20-year service life, communication systems must be exceptionally reliable and easily updateable.

However, this is a major challenge. The railway environment is a stressful one, with extreme temperature variations (-40°C to +85°C), long-term shock and vibration, and exposure to uncontrolled EMC environments. Thus, power supplies intended for railway data communication systems must meet strict performance standards such as the following:

  • EN 50155 Railways Applications—Electronic equipment used on rolling stock
  • EN 61373 Rolling Stock Equipment—Shock and vibration tests
  • EN 50121-3-2 Electromagnetic Compatibility—Rolling stock—Apparatus
  • EN 50124-1 Isolation Coordination—Rolling stock—Apparatus
  • EN 50125-1 Ambient Conditions—Rolling stock—Apparatus
  • EN 45545-2 Fire Protection on Railway Vehicles

For example, standard EN 61373 defines the levels of shock, vibration, and temperature in the rail environment, depending on the installation category. These levels range from most severe on the bogies to more benign in areas such as body-mounted inside enclosures (Category 1, Class B). Standard EN 50125-1 covers high temperature soak, salt mist, and thermal cycling. This standard conforms to highly accelerated life testing (HALT), a combination of shock/vibration and ambient temperature (not mandatory).

To meet these demanding standards, products from RECOM Power and RECOM Power Control Systems (PCS) are qualified with tests, including full performance characterization with in-house vibration test equipment.


DC/DC Converters Deal With Unpredictable Power Surges and Dips

DC/DC converters are a critical part of the communication system’s power distribution system. Railway rolling stock employs a DC power distribution system so that batteries can be used to maintain electrical power in the event of a generator or pantograph failure.

The latest version of EN 50155 defines seven different standardized DC voltages, although 110 VDC is most used on passenger trains. Nonetheless, the 24V through 72VDC voltages are still very common and worldwide in operation, most often used on light railways, trams, and trolley buses.

To meet these requirements for nominal input voltages, railway application developers opt for 4:1 converters such as the RP20-FR and RP40-FR series from RECOM, as they cover the entire nominal input voltage range with three different converter models only.

The railway DC supply, however, is far from a clean voltage source. Standard EN 50155 allows a variation of +25%/-30% in normal operations with dips to 60% for 100ms with no “deviation of function” allowed and 125% to 140% of nominal for one second without performance degradation. To cover these variations, DC/DC converters for 110V systems must typically operate from 66 to 154VDC.

Furthermore, fast transient over-voltages are also present on the system rail as defined in the EN 61000-4-x series of standards, requiring the power supply’s ability to deal with additional voltages of up to 160 to 200V.

Additionally, complete loss of supply can also occur; in this regard, EN 50155 defines interruptions in the two following classes: the common 10ms (S2) and the worst case of 20ms input short circuit with no degradation in performance (S3). For some equipment, the interruption can be 30 ms during supply change-over (Class C2).

Specifications for rail DC/DC converters sometimes include compliance with the UK RIA 12 standard, which defines higher energy surges up to 385 V for 20 ms in 110 V systems.


RECOM’s DC/DC Converters for Railway Data Networking Applications

A power supply for data communications can range from a low power DC/DC converter supplying a module that contains both sensors and a WLAN node to a high-power trackside installation that must handle the needs of a depot rolling stock system.

A low-power WLAN system as described above can be supplied by a DC/DC converter such as the RP08-AW series, which can supply regulated power of up to 8 W. This functionally EN 50155 certified family features a 4:1 input voltage range and 1.6kVDC isolation. Furthermore, it demonstrates an efficiency of up to 88%, plus overload protection (OLP), over-voltage protection (OVP), and shortcircuit protection (SCP).

“Brick” format DC/DC converters are popular for higher-power railway applications. Examples include the RPxxx-RW and RPxxxRUW series, which has parts operating over a 12:1 input range with nominal values covering all the rail standards from 24 to 110VDC, including surges and brownouts. RECOM supports this with its design recommendations for external circuits.

It is important to calculate the power budget based on the expected use case. The typical power consumption of a PoE node such as an IP camera is about 7–8W. For a carriage with six such nodes, a total PoE output budget of 60W is indicated.

Be sure to choose proper DC/DC converters to provide sufficient output power for normal operations while factoring in system power requirements and output power budget. Remember to factor in the output power derating of the DC/DC converters for high operating temperature conditions.

Additionally, the system voltage also differs depending on the network chosen. For instance, the CAN-bus is a 5-volt system; accordingly, the IEEE 802.3at PoE standard can use from 42.5 to 57VDC.


RECOM and PCS Meet a Range of Railway Requirements

RECOM and PCS have an extensive portfolio of rugged EN 50155-compliant DC/DC converter products and provide turn-key solutions for rail applications from low-power (8–240W) modules up to 10kW power supplies, with customization available.

The chassis mounting format is also common; in this regard, RECOM/PCS provides Plug&Play solutions from 40W up to 1kW. These “on the machine solutions” are fully railway-compliant system power solutions without compromises. RECOM’s RMD 500W and RMSD 1kW classes are perfect solutions for redundant n+1 power units for safe and reliable rolling stock applications.

Another example is the (40/75 W) 150–300W ruggedized RMD series with its 12:1 range 24V–110VDC input, fully compliant with EN 50155 and all the sub-related standards listed above. These “readyto-use” units do not need any external circuit and are equipped with features such as ultra-wide range input 14,4–154V/170V, boost power, EMC/disturbance protection, active inrush current limitation, active input reverse polarity protection, hold-up time (S2), reinforced isolation based on OVC3 and PD2, trimmable output, and output ORing diode.

Based on the outstanding overall efficiency of typ. 95% and sophisticated thermal design, these units run with natural convection under OT4+ST1&ST2 conditions from -40 up to +85°C without derating and allow for any mounting position. The eco-friendly RMD product family is designed without encapsulation; thus, the weight is considerably reduced against potted products.

Furthermore, the PCS portfolio also includes rack-mounted AC/DC and DC/DC converters for rolling stock and trackside applications from low power up to 18 kW with DC, single-phase, or three-phase AC inputs. The battery charger families are designed as modular concepts. In the 1.5kW, 5kW, or 18kW classes, all units are cascadable and can operate in parallel to increase availability and reliability; additionally, they are the ideal solutions for redundant n+1 power units for safe and reliable rolling stock applications. The battery chargers feature excellent efficiency and functionality features such as temperature-regulated output voltages and analog or digital interfaces. An EN 50155-compliant 300W AC/AC inverter is also available with adjustable output frequency between 30 and 600Hz.

Off-the-shelf DC/DC converters and power supplies qualified to railway standards offer a cost-efficient and easy route for the provision of power for sensors, data communication systems, and centralized systems from watts to kilowatts.

For customized designs, both RECOM and PCS have a long history of rail applications offering comprehensive engineering support, detailed environmental compliance reports, and EMC evaluation. Reference designs are available, including features such as the EMI filtering needed for EN 50121-3-2 compliance with 24–48V or 72–110VDC nominal input voltage converters.


This article originally appeared in Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF] magazine.