The Association of American Railroads has sent out an alert to its members to be on the lookout for clandestine freight car tracking devices along their tracks.
The alert was sent after Norfolk Southern police found such a device in New Jersey.
The alert, which was obtained by Trains magazine and reported on its website on Thursday, noted that the devices are not authorized by the railroad industry.
Trains said the alert noted that NS police determined that the tracking device was installed by a company known as ClipperData.
The tracking device, known as an automatic equipment identification or AEI reader, tracks the movement of freight cars by monitoring the car’s built-in radio beacons.
According to the Trains report, ClipperData was formed about two years ago and sells comprehensive data regarding the energy industry, including the movement of crude oil and other commodities.
NS police found a copy of a lease agreement between a homeowner living near a Conrail Shared Assets route and ClipperData, which gave the homeowner $500 to use an electrical outlet to power the AEI reader.
ClipperData CEO Sterling Lapinski told Trains that his company’s work is legal and his firm is seeking to sell data to and about the railroad industry.
He said potential customers include government agencies, trade groups and energy companies.
“We do have devices installed but the network isn’t operational yet,” Lapinski told Trains. “We’re not currently selling data, we’re just trying to see if it’s feasible.”
Railroads use AEI readers to track freight cars in trains moving at track speed and typically update their own records before sharing the information with shippers.
Trains cited unnamed sources as saying that many Class I railroad executives are upset with the idea of clandestine tracking of freight cars and are ready to adopt a “scorched earth” approach to dealing with companies that install or are thinking of installing the readers.
The AAR alert noted that a second tracking device was found recently along BNSF tracks in Wyoming. The railroad industry is concerned that those who install the readers may be trespassing on railroad property to do so.
The railroad industry also fears that information gleaned from the tracking devices could be used to “disrupt rail operations through intentional, and potentially destructive, acts.”
In a statement to Trains, AAR spokesperson Ed Greenburg said the railroad trade group is watching the situation closely.
“The AAR was aware of this situation and pleased that local law enforcement and railroad police took steps to address the situation as quickly as possible,” Greenburg said.