The Master Controller is a safety device that controls and conveys the main commands of the train: traction and braking.
Its function can therefore be defined in a simple way: the driver moves one or more levers to determine the movement or stop of the train, as well as the possible setting, by means of specific levers or buttons, of the direction and speed.
Although its function is very simple, the object inside is really complex; How to transmit the command to the train control unit, i.e. the vehicle logic, is essential to ensure high safety standards.
The Master Controller, in fact, is a constantly changing device: the position of the buttons and the number of levers, the presence or absence of encoders, the number of cams and microswitches, there are many variables to consider when designing a Master Controller. Therefore, even the movements, angles and combinations of unlocking functions may vary from project to project, a bit like a car reverse gear.
Like it happens for the automotive sector, also trains driver desks and Master Controllers themselves continue to change and companies in the railway sector are always looking for improvements and use of the most advanced technologies.
There are various reasons why Master Controllers can be so different from each other; let’s give a look at them together:
Train drivers all over the world spend a great deal of time on board the train and it is essential to ensure them high ergonomic standards. In fact, in recent decades, studies on the relationship of the body with the objects that surround us have been deepened.
The movements, the geometries and the functions of the controls themselves are constantly evolving.
The context has a strong impact on the perception of ergonomics: although there are sector regulations that determine the standards to be respected, often the subjective and contextual component is the one that prevails. For example, the comfort of the wrist angles, or how much force you need to use in order to move a lever, and so on.
In fact, the traditions, habits and customs of individual countries weigh on the decisions of the various car builders around the world.
Depending on the continent, country and pre-existing rail vehicles, the preferences and requirements of train drivers and builders change.
Last but not least, the differences are not limited only to the interface with the driver. A lot of variability is also found in the way in which the Master Controller must communicate with the train: electrical contacts, angle sensors, touch sensors, different supply voltages, etc.
As a Mechanical Engineer, I have been developing MCs for projects on all continents for several years, and I would hardly be able to define what the standard is, if questioned.
However, precisely this heterogeneity gives us the opportunity to explore new solutions, to give space to our creativity and to help customers define and satisfy, with them, the particular needs of each project. The customer himself, in fact, contributes to the development of the device with suggestions, details and wishes that pass from paper to physical realization.
For the reasons described above, the Master Controller is absolutely a custom device par excellence. Thanks to our experience we meet all the requests of the train manufacturer, of the company that will carry out the service and of the driver himself. But let’s not forget the over 500 Master Controllers, all different from each other, already produced and appreciated all over the world! In the absence of a technical specification or in the case of very tight deadlines, it is not possible to start from scratch and our product portfolio plays a fundamental role in this.
To conclude, whether it is a custom Master controller or an existing object, we must never forget that this device has an inestimable intrinsic value. Although the economic weight of a master controller is only 0.01% on an entire train, safety, availability and performance can depend on it.
See you next time,