Posts Tagged ‘railroads and technology’

Technology Gaps May Drive Mergers, CN Head Says

February 21, 2021

Canadian National CEO Jean-Jacques Ruest predicted last week that technology and carbon footprint gaps between Class I railroads could be a force leading to the merger of two of North America’s big rail networks.

J..J. Ruest

Speaking to the Citi 2021 Global Industrial Virtual Conference, Ruest acknowledged that any such merger would have to resolve issues of competition through reciprocal switching or some other mechanism to provide shippers with access to two railroads.

Although reciprocal switching arrangement exist in some instances in Canada, U.S. Class 1 railroads have opposed efforts by shippers to get reciprocal switching agreements.

Ruest called for a new competitive model that would allow a merger to receive regulatory approval even as it affects a railroad’s pricing power.
He called that the cost of gaining efficiencies and a better service network of a merger.

Falling behind on fuel efficiency and emission reductions could be the factors that force some railroads to seek a merger partner, Ruest said.

Individual railroads that fail to make much technology progress within the next five years would be prime candidates for a merger.

CN has sought to lead the industry in fuel efficiency by exploring alternatives to the diesel-electric locomotive.

The Montreal-based carrier is looking at or testing hydrogen fuel cells and electrification as ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“People should not dismiss the importance of moving ahead with technology before it’s too late,” Ruest said.

He said environmental, social, and governance, also known as ESG criteria, will become increasingly important to investors and some railroad shippers as ways to combat climate change.

“And people should not dismiss that eventually the pressure on ESG will really catch the rail industry and the fact that we consume so much diesel. It will happen.”

NS Spending Big on Technology Development

August 10, 2018

Norfolk Southern budgeted nearly $300 million this year for technology development, including $140 million for positive train control.

Railroad management said that efforts to develop more technologies and automation have accelerated over the past few years and have included such things as predictive analytics to machine learning to artificial intelligence to smart sensors.

The budget for technological developments this year has sharply risen from $77 million in 2016 to $110 million in 2017.

PTC is viewed by NS executives as a major step toward the goal of an automated railroad.

NS expected to have PTC fully in place by the end of 2020 and is expected to seek an implementation extension later this year from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Along the way NS hopes to be able to persuade government regulators to change their regulations to account for the development of technology.

One example given by NS in that regard involves switch inspection. The railroad has sensors that monitor switch, but the FRA still requires visual inspections of them twice a month.

What NS hopes to see is what it described as performance-based regulations that would allow the railroad industry to experiment and innovate

At the same time, NS acknowledges a role for federal regulators to establish safety parameters.

NS sent the FRA a 41-page document to the FRA that defines how regulators could partner with the railroad industry to promote innovation.

Among the technological systems that NS is seeking to develop include predictive models that forecast when track curves will need replacement.

That model uses machine learning, artificial intelligence and data points collected from on-track equipment to create algorithms that can predict track wear over a five-year period.

This will enable managers can better plan repairs and maintenance, and reduce track downtime.

Although railroads use geometry cars to inspect rails, that is done after the fact and doesn’t provide information that predicts when rails need to be repaired or replaced.

Squires Extols Benefits of PTC

May 18, 2018

Positive train control is the backbone of technological advances that are coming to the railroad industry said Norfolk Southern CEO James A. Squires this week at a shippers’ conference.

James Squires

Speaking to the American Rail Shippers’ 2018 meeting in Chicago, Squires said technology and free trade will bring major changes to the rail industry.

“We are on the verge of an exciting new era of innovation,” Squires said. “PTC is a big new communications network we can use for a variety of purposes. We are only just beginning to discover the many uses of data collected through the PTC network.”

Squires also said that a big data wave is already rolling across the industry and it will result in automation that will evolve to reduce human error.“

Automation in transportation is perceived as controversial, yet it happened long ago in aviation. He said a railroad in Australia has already demonstrated the benefits of automation.

Facing a Dec. 31 deadline under federal law to install PTC and its components, Squires said NS has completed 78 percent of locomotive installations, 93 percent of wayside unit installations, 97 percent of radio tower installations, and 87 percent of employee training.

“We’re gonna get it done,” he said.

As for free trade, Squires said the United States must not turn away from the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said creates jobs for American workers.

“NAFTA remains one of the most successful free trade agreements ever brokered by U.S. lawmakers,” Squires said, adding that international markets “must remain open for business.”

AAR Says Technology Has Made RRs Safer

May 16, 2018

America’s freight railroads are safer because the industry has invested an estimated $100 billion into infrastructure, equipment and technology over the past four years The Association of American Railroads said this week.

AAR issued a white paper that reported that mainline railroad accidents have declined by 32 percent over the past decade.

The paper was released as part of AAR’s RailxTech event being held in Washington.

It details how railroads are using technology to monitor more than 1.6 million rail cars and 40,000 locomotives operating across the 140,000-mile U.S. rail network.

Among the uses of technology that railroads are employing are:

• Deploying trackside detectors using infrared and lasers to identify microscopic flaws in equipment as trains pass by at track speed. This real-time assessment of infrastructure and equipment has allowed railroads to schedule and conduct proactive maintenance, which improves safety as well as network fluidity and productivity.

• Using software to analyze such factors as system-wide train schedules, speed restrictions, crew schedules and other train operations. This information helps train dispatchers manage and modify operations.

• Installation of in-cab fuel management systems has improved fuel efficiency by up to 14 percent, which has helped railroads reduce their environmental footprint. Tier 4 locomotives have reduced emissions from diesel locomotives by as much as 90 percent and will continue to be phased into rail fleets nationwide.

Unions Want FRA to Consider Safety First

May 12, 2018

Five railroad labor unions this week wrote to the Federal Railroad Administration to urge it to emphasize safety as it considers rules pertaining to automation technology in the railroad industry.

The FRA is taking public comments about the future of rail automation and the unions said the agency’s questions about automation reflect a “very positive view of something that has not been proven to be effective in terms of safety or efficiency.”

The unions want the FRA to consider “essential job functions performed by humans that cannot be replaced by automation” as well as what they termed the “ever-present threat of hostile actors looking to inflict mayhem on our nation’s railroads.”

The letter was signed by the heads of the American Train Dispatchers Association, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen Division TCU/IAM and SMART Transportation Division.