A new approach to railway track switch actuation: Dynamic simulation and control of a self-adjusting switch

The track switch is one of the key assets in any railway network. It is essential to allow trains to change route; however, when it fails significant delays are almost inevitable. A relatively common fault is ‘loss of detection’, which can happen when gradual track movement occurs and the switch machines (actuators) no longer close the gap between the switch rail and stock rail to within safe tolerances. Currently, such misalignment is mitigated by a preventative programme of inspection and manual re-adjustment. In contrast to many other industries, the actuators are exclusively operated in open-loop with sensors (often limit switches) mainly being used for detection. Hence, an opportunity exists to investigate closed-loop control concepts for improving the operation of the switch. This paper proposes two advances; first, a novel approach is taken to modelling the dynamic performance of track switch actuators and the moving permanent-way components of the switch. The model is validated against real data from an operational switch. Secondly, the resulting dynamic model is then used to examine the implementation of closed-loop feedback control as an integral part of track-switch actuation. The proposed controller is found to provide suitable performance and to offer the potential of ‘self-adjustment’ i.e., re-adjust itself to close any gap (within a predefined range) between the stock and switch rails; thereby completing the switching operation.