Trailblazing: Equipping a Firefighting Super Train

Austrian and Swiss railways will soon using a brand-new, bright-yellow firefighting super train to keep their networks safe – and Akkodis is providing the controls that make it possible.

3 minutes

29th of November, 2023

An Austrian railway operator has commissioned 18 hi-tech Servicejet trains, which are equipped with 40m3 of water and two types of fire-extinguishing foam cannons, to protect its network, which includes parts of Switzerland.

These €230 million trains reach speeds of 160km/h and can evacuate 324 people. Equipped for firefighting in tough tunnel conditions, they feature thermal imaging and protective ventilation. The inaugural train is set for deployment in 2024. Akkodis is crafting a sophisticated control system to enable the operation of high- and low-pressure water cannons by on-board firefighters, in close collaboration with the equipment manufacturer.

Akkodis Shifting Gears from Automotive to Railway

“Mainly, we work in the automotive sector, so switching to rail was a first for us,” says team lead Marc Meise. He and his team of 10 developers at Akkodis’ office in Linz called on colleagues elsewhere in Austria to bolster their competencies and create the ideal team for the project.

“It has been both fun and challenging to work at this scale, and not least to design a control system compliant with the demands of a highly regulated rail sector,” Meise says.

From User Interface to Firefighting

The onboard firefighters operate the water and foam cannons via two screens connected to a pump module located in the middle of the train, underneath huge tanks holding various extinguishing agents.

The firefighters’ commands are executed by complex electronics inside the module, activating an array of sensors, actuators, pumps, and valves that control elements including the pressure, mix of extinguishing agents, and filling – all programmed by Meise’s team.

Pushing Boundaries with Standard Modules

The starting point was standard electronic control modules designed for the rail sector, but these were pushed to their limits, Meise says.

“Choosing those modules ensured that we had equipment with all the necessary certifications for railway use,” Meise says. “We specified the modules we needed to go with the firefighting solution, and then we developed the control software to sit on top of the modules. Our software translates the firefighters’ commands, for instance choosing a specific mix of water and foam, from clicks on a screen to actions performed by the pump module.”

The modules are rarely used in such a complex electronic control environment but with careful design and planning, the Akkodis team made everything work as specified.

Hands-on Testing and Real-time Adjustments

Two Vienna-based Akkodis consultants, Samuel Giger and Clemens Környefalvy, responsible respectively for embedded hardware and software, were instrumental in achieving that result. They carried out extensive research into the characteristics of pump hydraulics (valves, pumps, sensors, and actuators) to ensure they could be controlled via the PLC modules provided by Selectron.

A key challenge was adapting modules intended for simple tasks like controlling doors or air conditioning to complex control systems. The experts programmed and tested the control software onsite at the manufacturer's plant, directly on the pump module. They utilized a 110-kW traction motor to move water and foam, allowing them to integrate and optimize the hardware and software components.

Overcoming Challenges for Rail Safety

The project has been both challenging and rewarding, Meise says. The team used off-the-shelf components, removing significant obstacles, as the modules are already compliant with rail regulations and widely used in the industry.

The project stipulated that Akkodis would build the control systems for the first two pump modules, before handing over assembly of the remaining 16 to the firefighting equipment manufacturer. Such a handover required detailed documentation, together with extensive training of their workforce.

Expanding Horizons for Akkodis

Moving from automotive to rail made for a steep learning curve to begin with, but the team now feels confident and prepared to take on other rail sector development projects, an area that should offer big potential.

“Rail is a huge market, but when you look more closely, there are not that many companies that can do rail. “With the specialist knowledge our team here in Linz has gained in integrating standard electronic control modules, which are widely used in the sector, we feel confident to take on other complex control software assignments.”