A Smart Solution to an Old Problem? Axle Counters within Single Line Sections

Are conventional track circuits still the best answer for single line sections or is it time to investigate if axle counter technology is a smarter solution?

A ground level view of rail tracks

"Conventional track circuit technology has widely been adopted however axle counters offer some unique advantages over conventional track circuits."

There are two key considerations with single line railways, first and foremost is safety. Safe working is essential to prevent two opposing trains from being authorised into a section at the same time, which would obviously result in a head-on collision. 

To avoid collisions you require a form of communication system between each crossing loop station, which leads us to an issue – geographical location. Australian railways (like many others) are vast and the distance between crossing loops can be long. Yet by nature, single line railways are typically located outside metropolitan areas and are often in remote rural areas. 

The geography can be challenging and cumbersome. Ranging from dessert, coastal, or even mountainous.  Add to this, these lines generally see low volumes of traffic and typically don’t generate a significant amount of revenue, resulting in minimal capital investment. Given this and their remoteness, cost effective safe working solutions are typically implemented. 

Conventional track circuit technology has widely been adopted however axle counters offer some unique advantages over conventional track circuits, particularly over the coded track circuit. Axle counter technology is a proven, reliable method of track vacancy detection, suited for a number of installations. Though despite the many advantages this technology can offer, in Australia, it has not rivalled conventional track circuits as a form of track vacancy detection within single line sections. 

But why? We can perhaps attribute it to a number of inherent issues that impede the effectiveness of axle counter systems when configured to transmit data over long distances. Though in recent years we have seen a number of advancements in both axle counter and telecommunications technology which has helped us overcome some of these issues. 

What’s the solution? Good question. For an in-depth understanding into this question you can download my whitepaper, Axle Counters within Single Line Sections which was presented at the IRSE Conference earlier in 2016. 

Thomas McPeake

Senior Signal Engineer & Innovation Lead Ask me a question
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