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DC Traction Power Systems

R.W. Benjamin Stell

his article reviews the current American and European standards and codes for maximum permissible rail voltage on dc traction power systems. The principles of negative grounding device (NGD) operation and its corresponding voltage settings are also briefly discussed. The negative return portion of a modern dc railway power system, which includes the running rails (tracks), is normally isolated from earth to the maximum extent practical. The purpose of this isolation is to prevent stray dc currents from flowing through the earth and potentially causing corrosion of nearby metallic infrastructure. The isolation of the tracks from the earth is not perfect. Each track tie and insulated running rail fastener assembly can be electrically represented as a resistor of highohmic value connected between the rails and the earth. With many of these resistors in

Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MVT.2011.942537 Date of publication: 30 August 2011




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voltage-limiting devices. IEC 62128-1 includes voltagetime curves that dictate the maximum permissible magnitudes and durations for ac and dc voltages, and the equipment built to EN 50122-1 must clamp (limit) the highest voltages in no more than 20 ms.

Rail Potential
Effects of an electric current passing through the vital parts of the human body depend on the duration, magnitude, and frequency of this current. The most dangerous consequence of such an exposure is a heart condition known as ventricular fibrillation, resulting in immediate arrest of blood circulation [1]. Although it is a current flow that causes this condition, the current flow through a persons body is in response to a voltage difference between two locations on the body. The resulting current flow is proportional to the equivalent resistance of the human body and the magnitude of the voltage difference across the body, or shock voltage, in accordance with Ohms law (body current = voltage difference/body resistance). For this reason, standards for the design of electrical facilities specify maximum permissible voltages, usually referred to as touch, step, or accessible voltages. Rail potential is the difference in voltage between the tracks (steel running rails) and ground. In this instance, ground means remote earth and earth in the terminologies of the IEEE Standard 80 [1] and IEC 62128-1 [6]. respectively (a zero potential reference). Rail potential is therefore a hypothetical quantity that is difficult to measure with precision since a direct connection to remote earth is difficult to achieve in practice. Rail potential is most often caused by a current flow through the tracks. The current flow through the electrical resistance of the rails creates a voltage drop along the rails. This results in a higher voltage at the location where the current is injected into the rails, which is why this phenomenon is sometimes referred to as rail voltage rise. Rail voltage rise regularly occurs due to the passage of trains, the higher values typically corresponding to periods of peak train acceleration and therefore lasting on the order of tens of seconds at most. The resulting peak rail potentials may or may not be significant, being primarily dependent on the magnitude of the train load currents, the resistance of the rail return circuit, and the degree of electrical isolation of the tracks from earth. Rail voltage rise also occurs as a result of short circuits between the positive dc supply network [overhead contact system (OCS) or contact rail] and the tracks. These lowresistance, higher magnitude faults are typically cleared rapidly since they are easily detected by substation protective devices. The resulting short-time rail potentials can be significant, depending on the location of the fault. Short circuits from the positive dc supply network to poorly conducting surfaces (high-resistance ground faults) can cause voltage in the fault vicinity to rise well

parallel over miles of track, a distributed leakage resistance is established between the rails and earth. However, for modern dc traction power systems, in particular, this resistance is high enough for the rails to be considered essentially ungrounded with respect to local electrical ground (earth). The lack of an intentional electrical connection between the tracks and earth allows voltage differences to occur along the rails, and between the rails and nearby structures. These voltage differences are caused by the flow of current through the running rails back to the substations. Since the shells of rail vehicles are typically at the same voltage as the wheels and rails, this voltage difference could be impressed on a passenger entering or exiting a train from a grounded platform. In the United States, these voltage differences have generally been limited through system design; the North American standards for substation grounding are typically referenced for design purposes, in particular, IEEE Standard 80, IEEE Guide for Safety in Substation Grounding [1]. In Europe, a standard has been developed specifically to address the control of voltages between rails and structures, International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 62128-1 (BS EN 50122-1), Railway ApplicationsFixed InstallationsPart 1: Protective Provisions Relating to Electrical Safety and Earthing [6]. Voltage-limiting equipment that can be installed in passenger stations and other accessible locations has been developed in response to the requirements of IEC 62128-1. These devices quickly connect running rails to the station structure to eliminate unsafe voltage differences. If an earth fault occurs (e.g., a broken catenary conductor falling on the ground), there may not be a low-resistance circuit back to the substation because of the electrical isolation between running rails and earth ground. Without a low-resistance path back to the substation, the resulting low-level short-circuit current flow is insufficient to operate the substation protective systems. As a result, the area in the vicinity of the fault may potentially be elevated to unsafe voltage levels. The equipment intended to detect this condition and connect the substation negative dc bus to the substation grounding grid is gradually being incorporated into modern North American dc traction power substation designs. These devices are known by several names, such as substation grounding contactors, automatic grounding switches, and NGDs. Devices built to comply with IEC 62128-1 are termed

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above that of the rails. This can result in a rail potential but with a polarity opposite to that of the rail voltage rises described earlier. Without a low-resistance pathway back to the substation negative dc bus, these ground faults can persist for significant lengths of time. Causes of high-resistance ground faults include broken OCS conductors, positive cable insulation failures, contact rail insulator failures, and debris touching the contact rail, including snow that has been treated with snow melting salts.



foot is conservatively represented as an equivalent conducting metallic disc. Etouch IB (RB 1:5q), (1)

U.S. Standards for Rail Potential

The IEEE Standard 80, IEEE Guide for Safety in Substation Grounding [1], is the standard commonly referenced in the United States for the design of safe electrical facility grounding. Although other U.S. standards and codes address grounding methods and requirements, IEEE Standard 80 is unique among them in establishing safe limits of potential differences (tolerable voltages) between points that can be contacted by the human body. The tolerable voltage equations provided in IEEE Standard 80 are derived from the research work of C.F. Dalziel, although the works of other authors are also discussed, including a comparison with the more recent tolerable body current curve of Biegelmeier and Lee on p. 15. IEEE Standard 80 provides simplified formulas for calculating the 50- and 60-Hz ac voltages that can be tolerated by 99.5% of the population. IEEE Standard 80 provides these formulas for two body weights, 110 lb (50 kg) and 155 lb (70 kg), and for touch contact (hand to hand or hand to feet) and step contact (foot to foot). Persons weighing 155 lb can tolerate approximately 35% higher voltage than persons weighing 110 lb, and tolerable step voltages are generally much higher than touch voltages for similar conditions. For these reasons, the most conservative case of touch voltages for persons weighing 110 lb will be addressed below. A simplified formula for tolerable rms ac touch voltage as a function of exposure duration t is provided in (17) on p. 20 of the IEEE Standard 80, which is also shown below. This formula is based on an equivalent human body resistance from hand to feet and hand to hand of 1,000 X. The resistance to remote earth of the human where RB 1,000 X (equivalent resistance of the human body), q is the electrical resistivity in ohm meters for the material on which the person is standing (assumed here to be a homogeneous material), and IB is the tolerable body current in amperes for a person weighing 110 lb p (equal to 116= t ). It is important to note that the tolerable current in (1) is based on tests limited to the time range t 0:03 3:0 s. The results for touch voltage are therefore only valid for this time range; the IEEE Standard 80 does not provide tolerable voltages for continuous exposure. Values of touch voltage for some representative low values of material resistivity q taken from Tables 7 and 8 of Standard 80 are provided below for several arbitrary exposure durations. The touch voltages in the metal-to-metal contact column are highly conservative, intended for application to hand-to-hand shock situations only. In order for the metal-to-metal contact values to apply to a hand-to-foot shock situation, the persons feet would need to be in direct contact with remote earth, which may not be physically possible in dc substation or passenger station environments. The ac touch voltages calculated in Table 1 conservatively assume that hand-and-foot contact resistances are equal to zero and that glove and shoe resistances are also equal to zero. In addition, they do not include the beneficial effects of a thin layer of high-resistivity material added between the above-listed homogenous materials and the feet of persons to increase their contact resistance, such as track ballast, asphalt, or platform-insulating materials. The latter technique, which is addressed in section 7.4 of

TABLE 1 Tolerable ac touch voltages in volts (rms) per (1).

Metal-to-Metal Contact q0 670 519 367 164 116 67 Wet Organic Soil q 10 680 527 372 167 118 68 Wet Concrete Low-Range q 21 691 535 378 169 120 69 Wet Concrete High-Range q 100 770 597 422 189 133 77 Dry Soil q 1; 000 1,674 1,297 917 410 290 167

Time (s) 0.03 0.05 0.10 0.5 1.0 3.0


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the IEEE Standard 80, can significantly increase the tolerable touch voltage. The IEEE Standard 80 makes some qualifying statements that are important for engineers involved with the grounding of dc traction power systems to be aware of, two of which are provided below. n This guide is primarily concerned with outdoor ac substations. . . (Scope, p. 1) n This guide is primarily concerned with safe grounding practices for power frequencies in the range of 50 60 Hz. The problems peculiar to dc substations. . . are beyond the scope of this guide (Purpose, p. 2). The tolerable voltages that can be derived from Standard 80 are therefore applicable for 5060 Hz frequencies only and for exposure durations between 0.3 and 3.0 s. The only substantial reference to application at other frequencies can be found on p. 11: Research indicates that the human body can tolerate a slightly higher 25 Hz current and approximately five times higher direct current.

European Standards for Rail Potential

The IEC 62128-1:2003 Standard, Railway Applications Fixed InstallationsPart 1: Protective Provisions Relating to Electrical Safety and Earthing [6], is the standard predominantly referenced in Europe for the design of electrified railway facility grounding. This standard is identical to the European Standard EN 50122-1:1997 [8] except for page numbering and formatting, hence all references made to IEC 62128-1 in this article apply to both standards. The Scope section of this standard begins with the following statement: This standard specifies the requirements for the protective provisions relating to electrical safety in fixed installations associated with ac and dc traction systems and to any installations that may be endangered by the traction supply system. It also applies to all fixed installations that are necessary to ensure electrical safety during maintenance work within electric traction systems. The IEC 62128-1 provides tables of maximum tolerable (permissible) ac and dc voltages versus exposure duration rather than equations. The substantial technical basis for these tables is contained in IEC 60479-1:2005, Effects of Current on Human Being and LivestockPart 1: General Aspects [7]. The introduction to the current (fourth) edition of IEC 60479-1 contains the following informational statements: IEC 60479-1 contains information about body impedance and body current thresholds for various physiological effects. This information can be combined to derive estimates of ac and dc touch voltage thresholds for

certain body current pathways, contact moisture conditions, and skin contact areas, and On the evidence available, mostly from animal research, the values are so conservative that the standard applies to persons of normal physiological conditions including children, irrespective of age and weight. The extensive research on which IEC 60479-1 is based concludes that the impedance of the human body varies with touch voltage magnitude as well as with current frequency and duration. For dc current, the fibrillation threshold is also significantly higher for currents flowing downward through the body than for currents flowing upward. This results in a more complex electrical model of the human body than the one incorporated into the IEEE Standard 80. The research includes investigations with dc as evidenced by the following statement in the Scope section: Accidents with dc are much less frequent than would be expected from the number of dc applications, and fatal accidents occur only under very unfavorable conditions, for example, in mines. This is partly due to the fact that with dc, the let-go of parts gripped is less difficult and that for shock durations longer than the period of the cardiac cycle, the threshold of ventricular fibrillation is considerably higher than for alternating current. The tables of permissible voltages in IEC 62128-1 refer to several key technical terms that reflect the dynamic nature of an electrified railway environment. An understanding of these terms is necessary for the correct application of this standard, and verbatim definitions of these terms from section 3 of IEC 62128-1 provided for reference are: n Rail potential: voltage between running rails and earth occurring under operating conditions when the running rails are used for carrying the traction return or under fault conditions n Touch voltage: the voltage under fault conditions between live parts when touched simultaneously n Accessible voltage: that part of the rail potential under operating conditions that can be bridged by persons, the conductive path being conventionally from hand to both feet through the body or from hand to hand (horizontal distance of 1 m to a touchable part) n Short time conditions: 0.5 s (for short circuits) n Temporary conditions: 0.5 < t  300 s n Permanent conditions: >300 s n Voltage-limiting device: protective device against permanent existence of an inadmissible high touch/ accessible voltage. The values of permissible ac and dc voltages contained in IEC 62128-1 are provided in Tables 2 and 3. These voltages are based on the following assumptions contained in IEC 60479-1: n Current path: from one hand to both feet n Total body impedance: 50% of the population (50th percentile rank) n Probability of ventricular fibrillation: 0% (curve c1 on Figure 22 of 60479-1)

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Direction of current flow: upward (feet positive to hand negative) Hand and foot contact resistance: zero for temporary and permanent conditions Body impedance: it includes an additional 1,000 X for short time conditions (the equivalent resistance of old wet shoes) Surface layer resistance is not included: for temporary and permanent conditions, these voltages represent the metal-to-metal contact scenario in IEEE Standard 80 (in other words, these voltages are highly conservative for hand-to-feet contact situations since they assume direct contact of the feet with remote earth).

as open traction system earthing: the connection of conductive parts to the traction system earth (running rails) by a voltage-limiting device or by circuit breakers, which make a conductive connection either temporarily or permanently if the limited value of the voltage is exceeded. They can also be connected to individual conductive structures if deemed necessary (IEC 62128-1 defines an overhead contact line zone and a pantograph zone within which wholly or partially conductive structures must be protected from impermissible touch voltages). When an impermissible voltage between the rails and the platform ground is sensed by the voltage-limiting device, it shorts the platform ground to the rails within the time requirements of IEC 62128-1, equalizing the voltage between them. This voltage could be the result of an operational current (a rail voltage rise) or a positive-to-earth ground fault (local earth voltage rise). If the voltage-limiting device is to operate for both conditions, it must have bidirectional capability. It reopens after a time delay if the conducted current is below an acceptability threshold.

Control of Rail Potential

IEC 62128-1 provides maximum permissible rail potential dc voltages versus exposure time for short-time, temporary, and permanent conditions. These maximum voltages are based on safety-related considerations only. Clearly, stray current mitigation considerations must also factor into the selection of the maximum rail potential levels for a dc traction power system. Maximum rail potentials are ideally controlled through careful system design, involving parameters such as substation spacing, rail return circuit longitudinal and shunt (leakage) resistances, and the use of electrical insulating materials at safety-critical locations. However, in many cases, this ideal approach is not always practical and may even be cost prohibitive, particularly when abnormal service conditions such as substation outages and train bunching (catch-up service) are addressed. In these situations, rail potential control devices (RPCDs) can be employed. An RPCD is in essence a modern, electronic version of the venerable spark gap, which temporarily shorts out (clamps) the protected circuit when a voltage time current threshold is exceeded. These devices are frequently used in European dc traction power systems, where they are termed voltage-limiting devices in accordance with the definitions and technical requirements of IEC 62128-1. Voltage-limiting devices range from simple thyristor-equipped voltage clamping devices to large thyristor/contactor hybrid assemblies employing numerical control. However, to qualify as an IEC-compliant voltagelimiting device, all must provide voltage limiting in accordance with the maximum permissible short-time, temporary, and permanent voltage tables in IEC-62128-1 (equivalent to Tables 2 and 3). In other words, these time current curves must be incorporated into compliant voltage-limiting devices. When they are needed, voltage-limiting devices are typically installed at safety-critical locations such as station platforms and train storage/maintenance and shop areas. At station platforms, they are connected between the station platform grounding system and the running rails in accordance with a practice that is defined in IEC 62128-1

TABLE 2 Maximum permissible touch voltages.

Time (s) 0.02 0.05 0.10 0.20 0.30 0.40 0.50 Volts rms ac 940 935 842 670 497 305 225 Volts rms dc 940 770 660 535 480 435 395

TABLE 3 Maximum permissible accessible voltages.

Time (s) 0.60 0.70 0.80 0.90 1.00 300 >300*

Volts rms ac 160 130 110 90 80 65 60

Volts rms dc 310 270 240 200 170 150 120

IEC 62128 1 notes that accessible voltages in workshops shall not exceed 25 Vac or 60 Vdc. These lower values are intended to lessen the chance that a nonlethal shock to a worker using shop equipment could result in the worker being injured by the equipment, rather than by the shock itself.


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The need for and location of dc RPCDs are best determined by a traction power load flow simulation. A dc railway traction power simulation program that correctly models the electrical interaction (leakage resistance) between the negative return system, remote earth, and the substation grounding system under peak service conditions can determine maximum rail potentials with and without the use of RPCDs [2]. It can also be used to determine the most appropriate locations of these devices (their zones of influence on the right of way) and the impacts of different voltage threshold triggering settings on nearby accessible voltages and the potential stray dc currents that may result during device closure.

Negative Grounding Devices

In the United States, at present, the use of RPCDs has been primarily limited to dc traction substation locations. When installed in substations, RPCDs are connected between the dc negative bus and the substation grounding grid. For this reason, RPCDs located in traction substations are commonly referred to as NGDs, a term which will be used herein.

In addition to limiting the rail potential in the vicinity of the substation, NGDs can assist in the detection and clearing of positive-to-earth ground faults external to the dc switchgear. A very simplified circuit diagram illustrating a typical NGD arrangement for a 750 Vdc nominal system is shown in Figure 1. Figure 1 illustrates the result of a OCSto-ground fault, although the result will be the same for any form of dc ground fault. The NGD is normally in an open state (nonconducting). As long as it remains open, significant fault currents cannot flow back to the substation dc negative bus since there is only a very high-resistance return path available to it. A small amount of fault current will flow into the rails near the fault via the leakage/shunt resistance of the rails in proportion to how well they are insulated from earth. Some fault current may also return to the negative bus through stray current drainage circuits, but drainage circuits are typically avoided on modern dc traction systems. After the NGD senses a triggering voltage difference across it and closes, the fault current will flow through the earth into the substation grounding grid. The fault current will be limited by the resistance of the grounding grid to remote earth, Rg . For example, if the grid resistance is 1 X and the other typically smaller circuit resistances are neglected, the ground fault current will be 750 V/1 X or 750 Adc or 750 Amperes dc. This is a low value of current for purposes of protective relaying; it is clear from this example that the substation grounding grid resistance Rg must be made as low as practicable for the NGD to work effectively.

Negative Grounding Device Application

750 Vdc OCS or Contact Rail Fault Current + Ground Fault Running Rails DC Negative Bus 750 Vdc Positive Bus 750 Vdc Rectifier + Any Fault Current Returning Through Rails Bypasses the NGD Vf

Voltage Threshold Settings

When safety is the primary consideration, NGD voltage threshold settings in accordance with IEC 62128-1 appear most appropriate since the U.S. standards do not address dc traction power system rail potential at present. Reference [2] indicates that NGD settings that are too low (on the order of 50 Vdc) will result in no decrease in rail potential as well as increased stray dc currents. Reference [2] also notes that the effectiveness of NGDs in controlling accessible voltages is greatly improved by a low grounding grid resistance Rg ; a maximum Rg of 0.5 X is recommended by these authors for NGD effectiveness, and they also note that a dramatic improvement occurs with an Rg of 0.10 X or less. Reference [2] describes a threshold criterion termed rail voltage limit, which can be determined by the load flow simulation of a dc traction power system; this is the setting below which NGDs will offer no reduction in accessible voltage. As noted above, the voltage sensing and device operation should be bidirectional to accommodate the various modalities of rail potential. The design criteria for several transit agencies in the United States that use NGDs specify triggering thresholds as low as 50 Vdc. With respect to the information given

Negative Grounding Device Substation Grounding Grid Vg + Rg (Grounding Grid Resistance to Remote Earth) Ground Fault Current Returning to Substation Through Grounding Grid Encounters Typical Grounding Grid Resistance of 0.52 .

FIGURE 1 NGD response to a ground fault.

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Ground Fault Current lf


earlier, this low of a threshold may not be necessary for safety reasons, may not actually reduce rail potential, and may be contributing to excessive stray current flow due to sustained and/or frequent operation.

serve as an indicator of gradual breakdowns in positive or negative return system insulation or as an indicator that the triggering thresholds may be too low.

Short-Circuit Current Rating

The NGD temporarily connects the substation negative bus to the substation grounding grid when in operation. For this reason, it must be able to close into, and withstand (but not interrupt), the worst-case ground fault current; ground fault current interruption is performed by the substation feeder breakers rather than the NGD. The highest ground fault current through an NGD will normally occur when the fault is near a substation, with approximately 100% of the resulting fault current returning to the substation grounding grid through the earth (any fault current returning through the rails would not pass through a closed NGD, as can be seen in Figure 1). If the source, feeder, OCS and fault (arc) resistances are neglected, the resulting worst-case ground fault current through the NGD would be approximately equal to the dc bus voltage divided by the grounding grid resistance Rg . This assumes that there are no alternate lower resistance paths back to the substation ground grid, such as structure rebar or stray current drainage circuits. If these exist, then the magnitude of ground fault current through the NGD could be higher. Calculation of Rg for new substations, and the measurement of Rg for existing substations, is addressed in IEEE Standards 80 [1], [3].

Presently, the U.S. standards do not address the electrical safety and grounding aspects of rail potential specific to dc traction power systems. This lack of standardization may be contributing to uncertainty in the United States about acceptable levels of rail potential, as well as the need for, and the application of NGDs. International Standard IEC 62128-1:2003, Railway ApplicationsFixed InstallationsPart 1: Protective Provisions Relating to Electrical Safety and Earthing, is a comprehensive, mature standard that provides the necessary guidance specific to dc traction power systems. Until then, as the U.S. standard is developed for this application, it is suggested that IEC 62128-1 be referenced.

Author Information
R.W. Benjamin Stell (benjamin.stell@STVinc.com) received his bachelors and masters degrees in electrical power engineering from Northeastern University in 1985 and 1994, respectively. He is a specialist in the planning, design, and construction of railway electrical systems for STV, Inc. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is currently the chair of IEEE Traction Power Substation Subcommittee Working Group 22, Traction Power Rectifiers. His professional experiences include the development of load flow analysis programs and the performance of system planning studies for light- and heavy-rail traction power systems.

Continuous Current Rating

The NGD requires a continuous current rating, at least, equal to the expected stray current that will return to the substation when the substations negative bus and grounding grid are connected via the NGD. A continuous rating is needed for the situation in which the NGD either fails closed or locks out and therefore remains closed for a substantial period of time.

References Dielectric Withstand Ratings

When the NGD is open, it will have the substation ground potential rise (GPR) voltage across its terminals when a substation ac ground fault occurs. The NGD must therefore be insulated for this dielectric withstand requirement. Calculations of substation GPR during ac ground faults is addressed in the IEEE Standard 367 [4].
[1] IEEE Guide for Safety in Substation Grounding, IEEE Standard 80-2000. [2] M. T. Soylemez, S. Acikbas, and A. Kaypmaz, Controlling rail potential of DC supplied rail traction systems, Turk. J. Electr. Eng., vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 475484, 2006. [3] IEEE Guide for Measuring Earth Resistivity, Ground Impedance, and Earth Surface Potentials of a Ground System, IEEE Standard 81, 1983. [4] IEEE Recommended Practice for Determining the Electric Power Station Ground Potential Rise and Induced Voltage From a Power Fault, IEEE Standard 367, 1996. [5] Railway ApplicationsFixed InstallationsPart 1: Protective Provisions Relating to Electrical Safety and Earthing, European Standard EN 50122-1, 1997. [6] Railway ApplicationsFixed InstallationsPart 1: Protective Provisions Relating to Electrical Safety and Earthing, International Standard IEC 62128-1, 2003. [7] Effects of Current on Human Being and LivestockPart 1: General Aspects, International Standard IEC 60479-1-1, 2005. [8] Railway ApplicationsFixed InstallationsElectrical Safety, Earthing and BondingPart 1: Protective Provisions Relating to Electrical Safety and Earthing, British Standard European Standard 50122-1, 1998. [9] IEEE Guide for Measurement of Impedance and Safety Characteristics of Large, Extended or Interconnected Grounding Systems, IEEE Standard 81.2-1991.

When equipped with recording capability, NGDs can provide useful data related to traction power system behavior under normal service, abnormal service, and equipment contingency conditions. This data include rail potential levels, ground fault current magnitudes, and stray current activity and can be used to verify design assumptions and criteria. Frequent operation can also


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