Siemens Chargers in Context of Cascade Wreck 18 December 17

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Siemens Chargers in Context of Cascade Wreck 18 December 17

Postby EricL » Fri Nov 02, 2018 4:12 pm

People were commenting above in the thread about the different experience of running Chargers vs running older diesels. I just wanted to comment about that.

The chargers had (and still have) a LOT of software problems. I don't think they necessarily played into this accident at all, because the automatic brake is one of the components which ISN'T defective, and that seems to be the most likely tool an engineer would use at this location.
But just to be clear, the dynamic and independent are both defective from a good-train-handling standpoint. Dynamic notch 1 just doesn't exist at all, and going straight from zero to 2 on these engines is enough to give a decent unwanted bump to the train. Manual dynamic is to be avoided for that reason. The independent has been proven to occasionally and randomly apply itself at dangerously high levels - anywhere from 1/2 to full - just from moving the handle a centimeter up into the absolute minimum position. That occurrence alone could actually pop a train off the rails under the right circumstances - probably not a short passenger, but certainly a longer freight, with multiple units.
There are other quirks, such as a 99% power-braking restriction - it just automatically cuts out any traction whenever you set any air - which a guy has to learn to work around as much as possible, as it pertains to the certain locations on his territory, in order to run smoothly.
Separately, they have a glitch where sometimes they just totally drop the load in the middle of you trying to accelerate from a stop. Again, no fault message, no feedback, and no reason - traction just spikes down to zero and then comes back up. It can be enough to knock down people standing in the aisles, under the right circumstances.
A professional engineer who is seeking to handle as smoothly as possible, while getting over the road as quickly as possible, is 100% guaranteed to have a bad experience with these engines, especially in the early stages of learning.
So far as the troubleshooting/fault messsage/crew message methodology, the Siemens system works completely differently than anything previous. Fault messages only appear when the fault is active - then once the offending condition is corrected, they disappear from the engineer forever. There's no fault log to go back and look at, in order to gain context on what previous underlying factors might have been in play. (Well, I think there is, but it's only accessible to the Siemens service personnel.)
They do a lot of weird things on the MU trainline, and they don't get along well with other engines (they do work together with their own brethren fairly flawlessly...)
They regularly beep fault messages to the engineer for very minor conditions which don't affect operation. Loose or faulty sensors monitoring any given component on the locomotive are a prime cause of this. The engineer can clear the message out, then natural vibration makes whatever sensor reconnect and disconnect again, and the fault pops up again. And again, and again, and again, etc. Quite distracting.
Basically these locomotives are extremely finicky and over-engineered, for no real good reason. The OEM-supplied documentation is a nightmare to read - horribly laid out - and even if you do manage to parse through it, it doesn't contain much useful information anyways. Most parts of the loco are not user-serviceable or troubleshoot-able. Siemens also seems loath to leak any "internal secrets" out to partner organizations to assist in training/troubleshooting/enhancing reliability/whatever. They're trying to handle everything in-house, and after almost two years of revenue service, they really haven't done or fixed very much at all

OH! and one other thing. The 30-style brake valve fitted in the cab is not of a good design. (This isn't Siemens's fault; it was a dropped-in part from the air brake co. OEM.) The middle section, between the automatic and independent handles, has a prominently raised profile. On top of this mini-shelf are the two switches for the brake pipe feed valve, and for the cutin/cutout of the brake stand. The bail/actuating feature of the independent is done in the older style of physically pushing the handle over toward the right. Turns out, because of the elevated position, it's actually very easy to accidentally bump that cutout switch with one's hand, as said hand is reaching over to bail the independent. I've accidentally switched it from "passenger" into "freight" many times, without even feeling it or realizing it until after the fact. After these two aforementioned positions on the rotary switch lay "test" and "cutout".

AGAIN - I'm not saying this is related at all to 501 - but I had to get it off my chest. The original SC-44 thread was very "rah rah yeah" and I'd felt for months that I'd've been boo'ed out of there for dumping all over this supposed amazing new machine. I held off because I wanted to give it time, to adapt myself, and to wait-and-see if Siemens improved anything. I didn't want it to be an unsubstantiated whine-fest and witch-hunt. But now, after almost two years of revenue service - plenty of time to make things right - take it from me. These engines have junk for software; the manufacturer is a scammer; and the various purchasing states were sold a lemon which they are too embarrassed to acknowledge. Period.
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Siemens Chargers in Context of Cascade Wreck 18 December 17

Postby ApproachMedium » Sat Nov 03, 2018 12:23 am

The exact problems you have with the brakes on the SC-44 exists on the ACS-64. The independent when you try to nudge it on to supplement blended brake, since it drops blended as soon as zero speed and then slams the loco brake on. This then causes the engine to roll back into the train and then boat anchor so we do that to try and keep it from rolling back, but once in a while it bites you. Cycling the independent lever usually clears the dust out and stops this from happening again. They really should have it set so at least 5-10psi of brake cyl is applied during any blended application. Because of this and the tread scrubber turning on and off even with the bail off actuated the entire time it bumps in and out on the train sometimes. All of this is programmable via the Knorr software and not hard for them to change. What you are experiencing with the independent flying on and off during an application though is a fail safe if the system fails to see the micro switch for full release closed, and then does not also see the potentiometer for the independent brake it just goes on fully. The power knock out feature can be changed in the software too, they just refuse to do it. If you dont want power knock out when you apply, leave the switch in freight when you apply and then power will stay on for X amount of time over 30mph or consistently under 30 and under X amount of power I dont know.

The fault history is obtainable by any engineer loco must be stopped with reverser in, farthest right button and then theres a button for TCU/CCU logs or fault history I forget what it says but that will provide the history of faults. The way I see it, if the fault doesnt stay it isnt worth worrying about. The Siemens Internet of Trains is watching these things all the time so let them figure it out. Dont be so quick to blame the manufacture for the problems. Siemens took every step possible to make us happy with the ACS-64, as we had the problems with the axle sensor wire harness on the trucks, they ended up being too short and unplugging during use. Thats since been corrected among many other things. The software issues seem to have to do with agreements between the owner/operators and Siemens. I dont know how it works with the states out there owning these locos etc, but with Amtrak it took us (the BLET) over two years to finally get the company to agree to have Siemens set the ditch lights to be overriden from flashing at any time by the engineer. Siemens was able to do this right from delivery but Amtrak did not want this happening. They wanted them to stay flashing, blinding other engineers.
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Siemens Chargers in Context of Cascade Wreck 18 December 17

Postby 8th Notch » Sat Nov 03, 2018 6:38 am

EricL I could not agree more with the brake stand issues! Speaking from the ACS64 side of things since they both have the same brake stands, I have knocked that switch over to frieght several times to the point where I frequently check to make sure it still is in passenger when I go to make a station stop. I do switch with the units a lot in the yard and I’ve probably would say that the brake cylinder pressure spiking with the IBV happens about 2 out of 10 times or even when you try to feather it on you get nothing. The E-Brake stands have come a long way but still will never be as good as an old 26.
Last edited by 8th Notch on Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby EricL » Sat Nov 03, 2018 4:45 pm

Two very good posts, guys - thank you for the insight and I'm glad I'm not just crazy for being one of the Siemens critics out here. I don't want to derail this particular thread any further on the subject, but I do respond to a few things here. Mods please feel free to shift this derail over to the SC44 thread if it gets too out of hand

ApproachMedium wrote:What you are experiencing with the independent flying on and off during an application though is a fail safe if the system fails to see the micro switch for full release closed, and then does not also see the potentiometer for the independent brake it just goes on fully. The power knock out feature can be changed in the software too, they just refuse to do it. If you dont want power knock out when you apply, leave the switch in freight when you apply and then power will stay on for X amount of time over 30mph or consistently under 30 and under X amount of power I dont know.

Fascinating about the failsafe. We seem to have noticed a possible correlation with the glitch occurring at a higher rate if a sufficient amount of time hasn't occurred between shutting off the throttle, and the attempt to feather the independent on. It's just a theory, and I haven't pinned down what the required amount of time is (or whether it's even a static amount), but the idea does seem to hold true. Why is this a thing at all, though? There's no good reason.
We do know about the put-it-in-direct-release trick, but unfortunately that's of no use to us while running in push service. The only thing to do to bunch the train back up before stopping is to try and apply power during the only window when the software allows it - when the speed is 4mph or less. It can be tricky to time it right in such a small window, but if you can pull it off, it does work

The fault history is obtainable by any engineer loco must be stopped with reverser in, farthest right button and then theres a button for TCU/CCU logs or fault history I forget what it says but that will provide the history of faults. The way I see it, if the fault doesnt stay it isnt worth worrying about.

Yeah, I know about that screen, and fair enough on your last comment there. I don't think it should be set up that way though. I'll give an example of something that probably should be saved in there, but isn't. We had multiple instances of disabled trains where a Charger was on one end, and a GE was on the other. The Charger was somehow picking up a false signal from the MU t/l that a trailing unit's parking brake wasn't released. This caused an immediate blockage of traction, along with a red band fault which flashed on and off in a second or less, which wasn't saved. It was so fast that sometimes you never even saw it - but after each occurrence it triggered a "controller not in neutral position" condition, preventing loading again. After a few fairly extensive troubleshooting processes and delays, we finally found that it wasn't even enough to isolate the GE on the other end - the only fix was to pull out the forward MU cable and freewheel it. Transportation and mechanical both had a hell of a time figuring out that one, because it was almost impossible to reproduce that parking brake fault message on the TOD, for a long enough time so that everyone could see it.
I don't like that Siemens arbitrarily determines which crew messages are worthy of saving, and which aren't. (Also, as I said in the original post, there are just too many of them to begin with, for too many little situations that just don't matter. If the loco is so smart, it should handle the small stuff on its own and not even bother the engineer.)

The Siemens Internet of Trains is watching these things all the time so let them figure it out. Dont be so quick to blame the manufacture for the problems. Siemens took every step possible to make us happy with the ACS-64, as we had the problems with the axle sensor wire harness on the trucks, they ended up being too short and unplugging during use. Thats since been corrected among many other things. The software issues seem to have to do with agreements between the owner/operators and Siemens. I dont know how it works with the states out there owning these locos etc, but with Amtrak it took us (the BLET) over two years to finally get the company to agree to have Siemens set the ditch lights to be overriden from flashing at any time by the engineer. Siemens was able to do this right from delivery but Amtrak did not want this happening. They wanted them to stay flashing, blinding other engineers.


I'm glad for you guys that Siemens played ball on some of this stuff. They are absolutely not doing it out here. We both understand that software fixes are a cinch to implement. They are purposefully not doing it. They are trying to play a game of rolling all of their own self-responsible bugfixes in with requested/optional mods. "well, these mods (e.g. the power braking and the ditch light) are customer-requested, and so the customer should have to pay for it." They're holding the IDOT group hostage, essentially - and naturally, the bureaucrats don't know or care about any of this stuff. But, hilariously, a few engines have received a few minor software mods in the meantime - proving that it can absolutely be done. The ditch light mod has already been applied to almost all of them, for example. It's extortion, through and through, hence my scammer comment. It isn't appropriate to limit negotiations to be strictly between the purchaser and the OEM in a situation where the operator and the unions are involved - that's bad business. But I'm glad you reported eventual success on involving BLET out there.

8th Notch wrote:I do switch with the units a lot in the yard and I’ve probably would say that the brake cylinder pressure spiking with the IBV happens about 2 out of 10 times

One time out of any number is too many. It's a dangerous defect and it's completely unacceptable. In my mind, these units are not service worthy, for this if no other reason
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Siemens Chargers in Context of Cascade Wreck 18 December 17

Postby ApproachMedium » Sat Nov 03, 2018 11:35 pm

Any time i take charge of one of these things, i rapidly cycle that IBV handle multiple times, while its secured of course, to clear it up and make sure it works right. As far as those software things go, Amtrak has (although they did it later than they should have) set up a warranty/service contract with Siemens which includes an extent of software modifications when needed to the propulsion system. Mods to the brake response control is fully capable of mechanical dept separate from propulsion and very simple for them to do such as modifying the power knock out rates, etc. When we did the circus train final run the super tech I used to work with and I went on both engines and shut down all of the nonsense in the air brake controllers on both units as well as the helper unit and i verified with him as the engineer that it was working as it should have in passenger and freight mode with NO power knock outs etc. So as far as the brake behaviors thats not siemens, that your local mech forces should be able to change but likely they will have to get it approved by whoever oversees any mechanical nonsense done to the engines. I dont know why they dont want these new engines power braking, they seem like its going to save something? If anything the slamming around of the draft gear is doing more damage than saving.

The parking brake power knock out is happening most likely because of some kind of noise from cars or the P42 on the MU line. The ACS-64/SC44 uses digital comms overlayed on the MU line to get the parking brake report, i am assuming since there is no dedicated line in 27 point jumpers for parking brakes. We had similar issues with ACS-64s where snow/moisture build up in a unused MU receptacle would cause fake trailing unit faults/parking brake applied traction knock out faults on single units with no trailer/cab car etc. Pushing the fault reset button does nothing. The alarm will ring constantly while the throttle is being used sometimes randomly stopping and starting. Seems rare this happens anymore, but i had a unit with a busted off MU cover packed full of snow that did it non stop. Melted the snow out best i could with a fusee and that helped but didnt completely fix the problem.
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Siemens Chargers in Context of Cascade Wreck 18 December 17

Postby 8th Notch » Sun Nov 04, 2018 7:51 am

EricL did you guys get a dedicated email to report issues with the SC44 out there like we did for the ACS?
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Postby daybeers » Sun Nov 04, 2018 3:51 pm

Do these issues still exist today? I appreciate the reports, as I thought of Siemens as a very advanced German engineering company, which they are, but I didn't know there were so many issues with the handling of their locomotives.
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Postby ApproachMedium » Sun Nov 04, 2018 5:04 pm

Yes, pretty much. The issues again arent so much siemens as more of the carriers and american adaptation. Any time you have stuff come from overseas you will have adaptation issues, and they were far far far worse with the HHP/HST order when you had french canadian Bombardier and then Alstom trying to deliever something to a railroad that designed it 10 years prior and nothing met expectations and needed constant modification, and to this day is still not 100%.
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Postby daybeers » Mon Nov 05, 2018 2:02 am

That's really too bad. Do the issues significantly affect everyday operation? In all the Regionals I've taken, the ACS-64s seem to run well, but I don't know any better :-D
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Postby EricL » Mon Nov 05, 2018 9:51 pm

ApproachMedium wrote:Any time i take charge of one of these things, i rapidly cycle that IBV handle multiple times, while its secured of course, to clear it up and make sure it works right.

Interesting idea - I'll try it.

The parking brake power knock out is happening most likely because of some kind of noise from cars or the P42 on the MU line. The ACS-64/SC44 uses digital comms overlayed on the MU line to get the parking brake report, i am assuming since there is no dedicated line in 27 point jumpers for parking brakes. We had similar issues with ACS-64s where snow/moisture build up in a unused MU receptacle would cause fake trailing unit faults/parking brake applied traction knock out faults on single units with no trailer/cab car etc. Pushing the fault reset button does nothing. The alarm will ring constantly while the throttle is being used sometimes randomly stopping and starting. Seems rare this happens anymore, but i had a unit with a busted off MU cover packed full of snow that did it non stop. Melted the snow out best i could with a fusee and that helped but didnt completely fix the problem.

Yes, I think you are exactly right on this. It happens most often in very rainy or snow-melt conditions where just a bit of moisture leaks in to those MU cable receptacles. I think that it is not a thing that should happen at all, and that should have been designed for. The extra comm overlays you describe should have been sent thru a second cable. (Yes, I'm aware of the futuristic Siemens DTL - at least if the inappropriate-to-our-service coach stock ever gets made and delivered out here, it might be compatible with that standard?) In absence of digital or a second analog - i.e. absence of 100% of the passenger rolling stock - those extra functionalities should have been simply dropped and ignored. There was never a need for them before and there isn't now. Simple old warning of "Alarm from other unit" and/or notice of an unusually hard pull should be enough for any qualified engineer to put two and two together in the mind.
Did you know that a Siemens loco which experiences a total loss of power - batteries and all - for any reason - has a failsafe of automatically dumping the train air - regardless of its placement in consist? That's completely inappropriate and dangerous. The failsafe should have a conditional lead/trail detection, and if it's in trail, it should automatically go "dead engine" and just comply with whatever the rest of the train does. If it's lead, it should enforce a full service trainline penalty with PCS, but not an emergency. Ridiculous.
I don't want to hear the excuse that it's a foreign company unfamiliar American operating practices. If they want to get all this money from the US taxpayers for their efforts, they'd damn well better get familiar before they deliver the product. (not because ~we're america and we have an ego~, but because of important technical differences.) And if they get it wrong, they'd damn well better do something about it. Some goes with your comments about BBD. Inexcusable.

8th Notch wrote:EricL did you guys get a dedicated email to report issues with the SC44 out there like we did for the ACS?

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Postby ApproachMedium » Tue Nov 06, 2018 3:07 am

EricL wrote:Yes, I think you are exactly right on this. It happens most often in very rainy or snow-melt conditions where just a bit of moisture leaks in to those MU cable receptacles. I think that it is not a thing that should happen at all, and that should have been designed for. The extra comm overlays you describe should have been sent thru a second cable. (Yes, I'm aware of the futuristic Siemens DTL - at least if the inappropriate-to-our-service coach stock ever gets made and delivered out here, it might be compatible with that standard?) In absence of digital or a second analog - i.e. absence of 100% of the passenger rolling stock - those extra functionalities should have been simply dropped and ignored. There was never a need for them before and there isn't now. Simple old warning of "Alarm from other unit" and/or notice of an unusually hard pull should be enough for any qualified engineer to put two and two together in the mind.
Did you know that a Siemens loco which experiences a total loss of power - batteries and all - for any reason - has a failsafe of automatically dumping the train air - regardless of its placement in consist? That's completely inappropriate and dangerous. The failsafe should have a conditional lead/trail detection, and if it's in trail, it should automatically go "dead engine" and just comply with whatever the rest of the train does. If it's lead, it should enforce a full service trainline penalty with PCS, but not an emergency. Ridiculous.
I don't want to hear the excuse that it's a foreign company unfamiliar American operating practices. If they want to get all this money from the US taxpayers for their efforts, they'd damn well better get familiar before they deliver the product. (not because ~we're america and we have an ego~, but because of important technical differences.) And if they get it wrong, they'd damn well better do something about it. Some goes with your comments about BBD. Inexcusable.


Okay a few more things here. Using a Modulator/Demodulator (Modem) for running digital comms over the analog 27 point jumper line is not really anything new. NJ Transit has been successfully running digital over analog for more than 20 years. It had its problems at first but it was worked out. They run all of their automated announcements/displays over the door comms cable. I dont know what pins they use, but they do.
The problem here with the engines dumping when power is lost is not a siemens thing, thats PTC thing. These new locos have a cutout for the emergency brake penalty. If you dont want one thats going to die dumping your train either make sure the battery charger is set up to charge via HEP line properly or cut the emergency penalty valve out, if thats allowed per local operating rules on a trailing unit. As far as I know this problem will exist with any loco with PTC installed as its part of the requirements. The NEC guys haven't had any issues with this as we are used to these valves from the Acela power cars and HHP-8s. The HHPs you could not have as a trailing unit in any capacity unless fully dead without cutting that valve out. The ACS thankfully they did a software fix so that we could use them with the cab cars (as long as it sees proper brake pipe charge and release it wont dump thinking its a rollaway).
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