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IRSE ARTICLE Signalling Relays

IRSE ARTICLE Signalling Relays

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Published by: elaine365 on Nov 23, 2009
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08/18/2010

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Signalling relays and their place in the development of modern signallingM.P.WhiteIntroduction
Despite the introduction of Solid State and Computer based interlockings, inthe mid 1980s, over twenty years later vital signalling relays are still inproduction and continue to be an important component of modern signallingschemes. This article will hopefully explain this apparent paradox.
What is a relay?
According to the Oxford English dictionary, a relay is “an electrical device thatopens or closes a circuit in response to a current in another circuit.” It wouldbe more accurate to say that a relay opens or closes several circuits in responseto a current in another circuit. A relay is in essence an electro-mechanicalswitch. By energising/de-energising one relay, several other relay circuits canbe controlled by contacts of that relay. When the relay coil is energised, thiscreates an electromagnetic field that attracts the relay armature to the coil.Attached to this armature is a mechanism for either opening or closing the relaycontacts that are electrically independent from the input voltage to the relaycoil. The relay can in turn control (or switch) other circuits. These othercircuits that are switched, may or may not be at the same voltage as the relaycoil whose contacts are doing the switching. In this way, complex functionssuch as interlocking between points and signals can be performed by a relayinterlocking consisting of perhaps several thousand relays in the largestinstallations. Relay circuitry can be configured to provide all logic functionssuch as AND, OR, NAND, NOR and any combination of these.Most relays have two types of contacts. One set of contacts are “made” orclosed when the relay is energised. These are known as “Front Contacts.”Conversely these contacts are opened or broken when the relay is de-energised.Back contacts of the relay on the other hand are “made” (closed) when therelay is de-energised and broken (open) when the relay is energised.Terms “Front” and “Back” contacts originate from the days of large “shelf”type relays. In these, the terminals for connection to external circuits werelocated on the top of the relay. On these relays the contacts that are closedwhen the relay is energised are located at the front of the relay-Hence the term“Front Contacts”. The contacts that are closed when the relay is de-energisedare located at the back of the relay-Hence the term “Back Contacts.”Note however that physically, the front and back contacts are similar.
 
2On a plug-in relay, such as BR930 series, the original derivation of the terms“Front” and “Back” contacts is no longer relevant.However, by convention, the terms remain to describe the contacts that areclosed when the relay is energised and de-energised respectively.Different types of relays have different combinations of Front (F) and Back (B)contacts, dependent on the main application of the relay. E.g. in the BR 930series of relays, used on Singapore SMRT, the QN1 relay which is the basicneutral relay in the series, is commonly available in either 12F 4B or 8F 8Bconfiguration, dependent on the contact requirements of the circuits in whichthe relays are used. These relays are supplied by Westinghouse Rail Systemsin the UK.
Relay types
The basic signalling relay is known as a Neutral Relay. Variations on thisinclude “Slow to Pick”, “Slow to release”.In these, the operational pick/release times are increased, by the addition of ametallic “slug” at either end of the relay armature.It should be noted that the addition of these “slugs” also make the relays “ACimmune”. That is they will not operate if AC voltage is applied across the coils.This is important on railways that have AC traction supply voltage, to preventrelays incorrectly energising due to voltage induced from AC traction supply.(Not applicable to Singapore).Note that techniques to change the relay operating times, such as addition of diodes or capacitors across the relay coil, are not usually used in vital signallingcircuits, due to potential for wrong side failure. They can be used in non vitalcircuits, where there are no safety implications if the relay timing reverts to thatof a neutral relay.Another type of relay commonly used in interlocking circuitry is themagnetically latched relay. This type of relay has two windings. These areknown as “Pick Up” and “Release” coils. Once the “Pick Up” coil of a latchedrelay has been energised a permanent magnet will maintain the relay in the“latched” state, until the “Release Coil” is energised. The “Release” coil iswound in the opposite direction to “Pick Up” coil, such that when it isenergised, an electromagnetic field is created that is in opposition to thepermanent magnet. When the “Release Coil” is energised, the relay unlatches.By use of latched relays, the state of the signal and point interlocking can bemaintained following a power failure. This is particularly important in the caseof points, to ensure that they remain in their last set position and don’t movefollowing restoration of power, unless legitimately called to, by the signallingsystem.“Biased” relays are similar to neutral relays, except that they will operate onlyif the voltage polarity is correct.
 
3By use of a pair of biased relays, two positive controls or indications can betransmitted over one pair of wires. In this way, the amount of cabling used forlineside relay circuits can be reduced.Because most of the lineside signalling equipment on Singapore NS-EW MRTis fed a relatively short distance, directly from the nearest SignallingEquipment room, there isn’t generally a need for “Biased” relays. Theexceptions are at entrance to Bishan Depot from Ang Mo Kio Direction andentrance to Ulu Pandan Depot from Jurong direction. The point detectioncircuits at these locations are fed back to relevant SER, using biased relaycircuits. In addition the signal aspect repeater circuits also use biased relays atthe respective relay room. At Bishan Depot, biased relays are used on pointcontrol/detection and signal repeater circuits to/from Bishan Depot TowerRelay Room and Bishan Depot East Relay RoomThe above covers the main types of signalling relays. There are others forspecial applications.Photo 1-Westinghouse Q relay (BR 930 series) in use on Singapore MRT

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