June 03, 2014

Telediagnostics aid locomotive performance

Written by  Marco Chiandoni
  • Print
  • Email

In an effort to improve the reliability of its E464 and E405 locomotives, Trenitalia selected Bombardier to supply a telediagnostics system which recognises potential faults before they disturb operations thereby enhancing maintenance. Marco Chiandoni visited Bombardier's plant in Vado Ligure to witness the system in action.

TRENITALIA's E464 locomotives comprise one of the largest single fleets currently operating in Europe and are the backbone of regional and interurban services in 14 Italian regions.

The units were built by AdTranz, later Bombardier, from 1999 with the latest follow on order for 50 locomotives awarded in 2011 as an option on a contract for 100 units secured in 2009.

Bombardier also supplied a telediagnostics system to aid maintainence of the 688 E464 units now in service along with 42 E405 locomotives. These units began operating in Italy in 2003 after initially being procured by PKP, and are now used primarily for freight services and some passenger operations. The telediagnostics system will also be used on the 50 new ETR 1000 Frecciarossa high-speed trains which are being constructed by a consortium of Bombardier and AnsaldoBreda and are due to enter service in 2015.

Mr Guido Del Gobbo, head of the electronic and software department at Bombardier's Vado Ligure plant, says design of the software started in 2010 when Trenitalia requested that Bombardier develop a telediagnostics system that would increase the capability of the locomotives. Trenitalia provided detailed technical information for each of the locomotives to the manufacturer. From this engineers were able to build the diagnostics system, and following a trial period it entered full service in September 2013.

"This software has been designed and realised to support corrective and predictive maintenance with the primary goal of increasing the availability of E464 and E405 locomotives," Gobbo says. "We utilised our engineers' and field technician's 20 years of experience as well as the technical requirements of our customer to develop the telediagnostic tool."

Bombardier-Italy-5There are three stages in the application of the telediagnostics system to the maintenance of the locomotives. Firstly an onboard system communicates via GPRS the locomotive's current diagnostic condition to application servers at Bombardier's operations centre, which process this information and, in instances where faults are recognised, a notification is sent to Trenitalia's Rolling Stock Management System (RSMS).

The telediagnostics system supports interventions in three primary scenarios:

• On locomotives in service, the operations centre monitors the condition of the fleet and supports engineers in the event of a critical situation. For example if a regional train fails, Trenitalia's operations centre can quickly make contact with the train crew during the essential early minutes after the problem emerges to inform them of what the fault might be and to assist with any repairs that can help to restart the unit.

• In instances where a locomotive has reported a serious fault, but is still in operation, service engineers and maintenance crews are provided with a report of the unit's problems ahead of scheduled maintenance at the depot.

• Thirdly, while the train control monitor system (TCMS) software is integrated into the maintenance system, the additional diagnostic events provided by the system allows maintenance operators to adopt a predictive maintenance philosophy. For example, it is possible to verify various components' obsolescence in order to calculate their residual life-cycle and estimate when maintenance or replacement is required. By using the signal data logging feature it is possible to make specific queries about the vehicle, and by comparing the vehicle's design with the diagnostic information, anomalies or deteriorated components are identified before a major problem occurs.

To achieve this, the telediagnostic system translates the maintenance experience into diagnostic algorithms, which are coded into a comprehensive database and reports, which inform engineers when a problem may arise. Del Gobbo says that by analysing thousands of events matched with their suspected outcomes it is easy to identify suspected anomalies.

"The automatic update function of the telediagnostic system avoids the need to manually update every single vehicle," Del Gobbo says. "With telediagnostics it is possible to configure and update the on-board system remotely, allowing functions to be added and managed in the same way as the existing system."

In the case of Trenitalia, the E464 locomotive currently registers up to 3000 diagnostic events from around 500 digital and 20 analogue sensors. The diagnostic data is transmitted continuously via GPRS to the application's servers with a web-based user interface available to easily monitor the real-time condition of the fleet. A GPS system similarly enables an operator to identify precisely where a specific locomotive is at any time.

In addition the user interface provides operators with an overview of the condition of the fleet. Three different colours indicate a specific unit's condition, with green showing the locomotive to be working without a problem, yellow indicating that there is a fault, and red alerting the operator that the locomotive needs replacing because it cannot continue in service.


During a year of testing, 700 diagnostic algorithms for the E464 and E405 generated more than 2800 maintenance warnings and around 700 work orders for the Italian plant. Every day the system processes around 250MB of data, and has been effective at:

• reducing stopping failures by automatically identifying faults and providing clear notifications of when maintenance is required together with the development of specific tools that improve assistance offered to drivers

• reducing waiting times by eliminating the need for the operator to connect a PC to the locomotive's diagnostic equipment

• generating alerts which identify the precise components and maintenance activity required avoiding troubleshooting and investigation

• offering advanced knowledge of the expected problem which allows engineers to acquire and prepare maintenance materials and components thereby saving time at the depot, and

• reducing stopping failures and decreasing the amount of time spent on maintenance activities thereby increasing the locomotives' overall time in service.

Deployment on Trenitalia's new flagship high-speed fleet is clearly a vote of confidence for the system following its early success with the E464 and E405 units. As for the next stage of the development, Del Gobbo says Trenitalia has indicated a willingness to rollout the system on its entire fleet to become a national platform.

"The main outcome of the system for a railway operator is increasing the availability of the fleets, which has economic, social and environmental benefits," Del Gobbo says. "Indeed greater fleet availability means more passengers and more ticket revenues for the operator, and more passengers on trains mean fewer cars on the road and reduced carbon emissions."

Get the latest rail news

IRJ Rail Brief newsletter covers global railway news