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The rise of the


Photo: Christophe Masse

traction motor

TECHNOLOGY Offering benefits in terms of mass,

size and energy consumption, the permanent-magnet
synchronous machine is increasingly being adopted for
traction drives, despite the need for complex control
systems and potential failure modes.
The V150 test
train which set
the world speed
record in April
2007 (above)
included two
AGV bogies with
permanentmagnet motors

The authors
would like to
thank Dr Dr
Harald Neudorfer and Markus
Neubauer of
Traktionssysteme Austria,
and Dr Colin
Goodman of
BCRRE for their
assistance in
the preparation
of this article.


n the past couple of years, many

of the bids for new rolling stock
placed with major international
suppliers have proposed the use
of permanent-magnet synchronous
traction motors, which are smaller
and lighter than the three-phase induction motors that have dominated
the market in recent times.
Permanent-magnet motors first
came to prominence with the use of
two powered bogies from Alstoms
AGV in the V150 trainset which
broke the world speed record on April
3 2007, but they have subsequently
been used in a variety of applications,
ranging from the Citadis-Dualis tramtrain to SBBs Twindexx double-deck
inter-city trainsets (Table I).
Although railway operators are often
viewed as conservative in the adoption of new technologies, the designers and manufacturers of rail traction
systems tend to capitalise on the latest
drive technologies, which are rapidly

Railway Gazette International | February 2011

Stuart Hillmansen, Felix Schmid

and Thomas Schmid
Birmingham Centre for Railway Research
& Education

deployed in service if they promise

significant performance improvements. This was the case for the early
choppers supplying series-connected
DC traction motors, separately-excited DC motors, synchronous AC
motors and drives (as used on the
first generations of TGVs) and for the
various generations of asynchronous
(squirrel-cage) three-phase drives.
As technology moved forward, traction drives became more efficient and
more controllable, allowing better use
of available adhesion while reducing
energy consumption.
The permanent-magnet synchronous machine, with its associated control electronics, represents the latest
such advance in traction technology.
Millions of small PMSMs are already

being used in the transmissions of hybrid cars, thanks to their low mass and
good controllability. Larger machines
offer a similar potential to enhance
the overall performance of the railway
traction package. The technology is
now beginning to be introduced into
a variety of new rolling stock, but the
integration of PMSMs into traction
packages presents some significant
technical challenges which must be
Fundamental requirements

Petrol and diesel engines for automotive applications generally require

complex gearboxes to allow the prime
mover to operate in the optimum
speed band. By contrast, electric motors for rail traction are expected to
operate effectively and efficiently over
the entire speed range, allowing a
permanent coupling to the axles and
wheels, either directly or via a single-

Left: Fig 1. Basic
characteristics of
a traction motor.

Right: Fig 2.
Machine power in

torque at zero speed and sustain this

torque up to the so-called base speed,
throughout region 1 of the TE curve.
Above this speed, the machine operates at its maximum power output,
and in region 2 the tractive effort is
therefore inversely proportional to
the speed v. In the third region, tractive effort has to reduce in inverse
proportion to v2 because of machine

ratio gearbox. This mechanically

elegant solution results in highly reliable drives which need relatively little
Thus the first requirement placed
on the design of traction motors is the
ability to provide torque or tractive
effort over a wide speed range, such as
from 0 to 320km/h.
Whilst it is essential for the traction motor to operate reliably, it is
equally important from the drivers
and railway operators perspective
that modern traction systems control
the torque accurately and smoothly
throughout the speed range. Excellent
torque control results in optimum use
of available adhesion between wheel
and rail, along with smooth acceleration and the ability to cruise at a
constant speed and to brake the train
electrically (dynamic braking).

Torque control

At low speeds, the motor can in

theory provide a torque that is greater
than that which can be transmitted
by means of the adhesion available
at the wheel-rail interface. However,
this would overload the motor beyond the normally accepted level and
must therefore be avoided either by
driver action or an electronic control
Early DC traction drives were controlled by adjusting the supply voltage using series resistances and by
changing the motor group configuration. Today, both DC commutator motors and classic synchronous
and asynchronous AC motors are
controlled electronically, by varying either the voltage or the voltage
and frequency. Modern power drives
with relatively simple algorithms
achieve very good control of tractive

The torque produced in a traction

motor is translated into a linear force
at the wheel-rail interface. This force,
which causes the train to accelerate
or brake dynamically, is normally referred to as the tractive effort. Fig 1
shows the TE curve of a typical drive
system, together with the associated train or vehicle resistance curve.
The TE curve intersects the resistance curve at the so-called balancing
speed, that is, the theoretical maximum speed. Close to this speed, there
is only a very small amount of tractive
effort available to accelerate the train,
as indicated by the red arrow in Fig 1.
Fig 2 shows the power produced by
the drive and the propulsion power
required, which is the product of
speed and tractive effort.
Traction motors are generally designed to match a particular duty. The
motor must produce the required full

of permanentmagnet traction
motors at
Alstoms Ornans

Photos: Alstom Transport/P Sautelet

Tractive effort, power and speed

effort throughout the speed range.

Power control of permanent-magnet synchronous machines can easily deliver good performance in the
constant-torque region, but this needs
complex algorithms to control the machine in the constant power region.
AC and DC motors, as well as
PMSMs, fundamentally rely on the
same physics to generate accelerating and braking torques. Hence the
control strategies are similar to some
extent. In all types of machines, the
torque is created through the interaction between two magnetic fields.
To generate a torque, there must be an
appropriate electrical angle (ideally
90) between the two magnetic fields.
These fields can be generated by currents flowing through windings or by
permanent magnets.
Although todays traction applications mostly use three-phase induction motors, it is important to understand the nature and behaviour of the
magnetic fields in the stator and rotor
of the different types of machine.
In a conventional DC traction motor, the north and south poles of the

Railway Gazette International | February 2011


Left: Fig 3.
Conventional DC
Right: Fig 4.
Separatelyexcited DC
traction motor.

Photo: Traktionssysteme Austria GmbH

permanentmagnet traction
alternator with
aluminium casing
for diesel-electric

stator field are always oriented in the

same direction while the rotor field
is maintained at a 90 (electrical) angle by the action of the commutator.
In a series-connected machine, the
same current flows through the stator and rotor windings (Fig 3), while a
separately-excited machine allows the
armature and stator fields to be controlled independently (Fig 4).
In a classic synchronous threephase machine,
the rotor field
is produced
by a

Below: Fig 5.
Synchronous AC
Centre: Fig 6.
asynchronous AC
induction motor.
Right: Fig 7.
synchronous AC


rent supplied via

slip rings, and the
orientation of the field
is determined by the physical position of the rotor winding
(Fig 5). The stator field is created by
currents flowing in the stator windings and rotates at the speed determined by the inverter frequency. The
angle between stator and rotor fields
increases as more torque is produced,
but the rotor speed is the same as that
of the stator field. A braking action develops if the angle becomes negative.

Railway Gazette International | February 2011

In an asynchronous three-phase
machine, the magnetic field rotating
in the stator induces currents in the
rotor cage (Fig 6) that, in turn, generate a magnetic field which interacts
with the stator field to produce either
motoring or braking torque. In motoring, the rotor speed is lower than
the rotating stator field speed set by
the inverter, and in braking it is faster. No torque is produced if the two
speeds are the same. This difference
can be expressed as slip frequency or
percentage slip.
In a PMSM, the rotor field is created
by magnets that are either distributed
on the surface of the rotor or buried in openings in the rotor laminations (Fig 7). The latter arrangement
offers greater mechanical strength
and much lower eddy-current losses
in the rotor. The material with the
strongest magnetic properties is Neodymium Iron Boron (Nd2Fe14B). The
stator field is generated by means of a
relatively standard three-phase multipole winding on a laminated core.
In all electric machines, the rotating magnetic field leads to the generation of voltages that oppose the supply
voltage(s), the so-called back EMF. At
zero speed this is zero, but it grows
linearly with speed. Thus the supply
voltage must be increased to maintain
a constant torque in region 1.
The torque supplied or absorbed
by an electric machine is given by
the product of the magnetic flux and
current. It is the role of the electronic
power converter to condition the
DC or single-phase AC supply voltage such that a suitable current or

currents flow in the motor. Many different types of converters are available,
but most modern traction systems
use insulated gate bipolar transistors
(IGBTs) and some form of pulsewidth modulation.
In the region of constant tractive effort, the voltage (and frequency in the
case of induction machines) applied to
the terminals needs to increase linearly with motor speed so as to maintain
the product of flux and current, that is
the torque, at a constant level. Beyond
the base speed, the applied voltage
cannot be increased further due to
the limitations of the power electronics and the insulation capability of the
machine. However, mechanically, the
machine can go faster.
So region 2 is entered by field weakening, thereby reducing the level of
back EMF or, in the case of a PMSM,
counteracting its influence. In DC
machines this is achieved by reducing
the current flowing through the field
windings (see the resistance RFW in Fig
3) and in a conventional synchronous
machine it is achieved by reducing
the current supplied to the rotor. In
an induction machine, field weakening happens automatically as the supply frequency is increased while the
supply voltage is kept constant. In a
PMSM, field weakening is more difficult to implement because the rotor
field is created by permanent magnets.
In region 3, the flux and current
are reduced at a greater rate than in
the constant power region to avoid
exceeding the machines electrical or
mechanical limits. In the separatelyexcited DC motor, for example, the
armature current is also reduced as a
function of speed.
Advantages and drawbacks

The main reason why permanentmagnet machines are being more

and more widely adopted for railway
traction drives is that they offer very
significant advantages compared with
equivalent three-phase induction motors. The level of efficiency is 1% to

Image: Traktionssysteme Austria GmbH

2% higher across 80% of the operating range. The specific power is 30%
to 35% greater, resulting in a machine
that is about 25% smaller and lighter
for the same power rating.
Whereas in an asynchronous motor
heating of the rotor is caused by the
inherent slip power, this is virtually
eliminated with a PM drive, avoiding
the need for rotor cooling. Normally,
PM machine stators are completely
sealed and cooled by means of a heat
transfer fluid, thus leading to potentially more reliable drives. PMSMs also
allow dynamic braking down to very
low speeds and, in theory, it should
be possible to produce a self-controlled retarder by electro-mechanically
short-circuiting the stator windings.
Of course, these benefits are not
available without compromise. There
are seven main drawbacks to the use
of permanent-magnet traction motors, although appropriate mitigation
measures have been developed.
Limitations on the size and cost of
the four-quadrant converter and machine do not allow operation across
the whole speed range by the simple
expedient of supplying the machine
with a voltage that is sufficiently higher than the back EMF to permit the
flow of current required to achieve
the desired torque. This constraint is
solved by means of field weakening,
creating the constant torque and constant power regions. Since the field
generated by the permanent magnets
cannot be adjusted, field weakening
is achieved by injecting currents into
the stator windings which set up fields
to oppose those of the rotating permanent magnets.
These extra currents cause copper losses in the stator windings that
negate, to some extent, the efficiency
gains that are achieved by the use of

Image: Texas Instruments


the low-loss permanent-magnet rotor.

In order to be able to control the
currents that create the field weakening effect, it is necessary for the electronics to know the position of the rotor, to an accuracy of between 1 and
2 (the field angle). For a four-pole
machine this requires a mechanical
resolution of better than 15. If a sensor is used, its integrity and reliability must be extremely high to ensure
adequate performance. Sensorless
approaches can be used, such as that
developed by Schrdl1, but these can
lead to a reduction in the accuracy of
The magnetic flux is temperaturedependent in that the field strength
reduces by about 1% per 10K increase
in rotor temperature. With PMSMs
operating over a temperature range of
200K (-40C to a maximum permissible 160C), this can have a significant
impact. Hence it is necessary for the

electronics to monitor the operating

temperature and to take this into account when controlling the electrical
supply to the machine.
Each PMSM requires its own individual highly-dependable electronic
power controller to ensure that currents are injected at the right moment.
However, modern traction systems
increasingly use individual controls
for each motor to optimise performance, so this is less of a consideration.
Irreversible demagnetisation occurs if very high currents flow in the
machine at high temperatures, even
if the rotor does not reach the Curie temperature of between 310C
and 370C. Potentially more critical,
though, a short-circuit in the stator
windings can lead to the destruction
of the machine, because the moving
permanent magnet field will continue
to induce high currents in the stator.
However, demagnetisation helps to
mitigate this problem.
Similarly, in no-load operation,
when the train is coasting, the permanent-magnet rotor continues to
induce currents in the stator core.
These eddy currents, together with
hysteresis effects, result in iron losses,
which reduce the overall efficiency of
the machine.
The rare-earth magnets used in
PMSMs are magnetically strong but
relatively delicate, both mechanically
and thermally. The rotor construction
is thus more complex than in the case
of rotors for induction motors, and
the design processes must be adapted
accordingly. The control of the supply to the stator windings is also more
complex since multiple feedback

Fig 8. Control
loop for a

Fig 9. Optimum
efficiency for
a PMSM is
dependent upon
motor speed and

Railway Gazette International | February 2011



Photo: Christophe Masse

Table I. Selected trains using permanent-magnet motors

SNCFs first
tram-train cars
from Alstom
with PM traction
motors are being
for service on
the Nantes


loops and signal transformations are

required (Fig 8).
Although this list of potential drawbacks may seem extensive, there are
many applications where the benefits of PMSMs greatly outweigh the
disadvantages, which makes these
machines highly attractive to traction designers. The smaller dimensions and lighter weight are beneficial
where space in bogies is limited, such
as where it is desired to integrate the
drive in a stub-axle without a gearbox.
The significantly better efficiency and
much lower rotor losses offer significant benefits in terms of performance
and reduced energy consumption. A
good example is the use of PMSMs
on the V150 trainset mentioned at
the beginning of this article. The

Railway Gazette International | February 2011





25 x AGV high speed trainsets



59 Twindexx double-deck EMUs



31 x Citadis-Dualis tram-train vehicles



Regiolis EMUs - framework contract



Omneo EMUs - framework contract



15T ForCity low-floor tram


Tokyo Metro

Series 16000 EMUs


JR East

Series E331 EMUs for Tokyo suburban services


Prototypes and other test trains

Mnchen U-Bahn

C19 metro trainset with Syntegra bogies



Fuel cell loco prototype

CNR Yongji


Grna Tget research EMU



Citadis X04 low-floor tram



Gauge-Changing Train 2


asynchronous motors in the power

cars had to be suspended from the
body (RG 5.07 p71) while the PMSMs
could be mounted in the articulation
bogies between pairs of intermediate cars, reducing the complexity and
mass of the transmission system.
Hence we can expect to see a much
wider adoption of permanent-magnet
traction motors in the coming years,
in the same way that three-phase

induction motors were taken up with

increasing popularity from the mid1980s onwards. l

1. Schrdl M, Hofer M and Staffler W. Combining
INFORM method, voltage model and mechanical
observer for sensorless control of PM synchronous
motors in the whole speed range including standstill. Elektrotechnik und Informationstechnik 5. 06