Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Venture to Improve Rail Car Tracking

October 23, 2020

Norfolk Southern has joined with GATX Corporation, short liner operators Genesee & Wyoming and Watco, and Trinity Rail to create a technology platform that they say will help transform rail shipping.

In a news release, the companies said the newly-formed Rail Pulse will facilitate and accelerate the adoption of GPS and other telematics technology across the North American rail-car fleet.

Funding for the venture came from the Federal Railroad Administration, the state of Pennsylvania, and from the venture members, who collectively own nearly 20 percent of the North American rail car fleet.

They said in the news release that Rail Pulse seeks to improve safety by incorporating hand brake and impact data.

Rail Pulse also seeks to increase rail’s competitiveness relative to other modes by improving visibility into rail-car status, location and condition, which can contribute to rail-industry growth, they said.

Telematics capabilities will include data capture to support real-time track-level visibility, whether doors or hatches are open, whether the car is loaded or partially loaded, and other key performance metrics.

The venture offers a neutral, open-architecture, industry-wide rail-car telematics platform to make it easier to shop by rail and track rail shipments while ensuring the safety and security of proprietary car-owner data, the news release said..

Development of Rail Pulse partners will begin later this year and full implementation expected by the end of 2022.

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.

FRA Seeks Comments on Automation

March 23, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration is seeking comment from railroad industry stakeholders, governments, and the public on “the extent to which they believe railroad operations can (and should) be automated, and the potential benefits, costs, risks, and challenges to achieving such automation.”

The request for comments was published in the Federal Register on Thursday.

The notice says that although railroads don’t operate autonomous trains, automation already is being used in everything from dispatching to in-cab information systems to remote control yard switching.

“These various systems of automation and technologies have transformed rail operations in recent years, improving railroad operational safety and efficiency,” the notice said.

Comments are being taken through May 7.

Using technology in rail operations is a priority of new FRA head Ron Batory.

“There is so much opportunity we have before us in embracing technology that helps us reduce risk and enhance safety. We have a great opportunity to become a safer mode of surface transportation,” he said in an interview with Trains magazine.

Forcing Film Shooters into the Digital World

March 27, 2017

Organizations have ways of forcing people to do something they might not wish to do otherwise.

It used to be that airlines issued paper tickets to passengers. They still do, but for a fee.

The reason why this changed is obvious. The airlines save money by shifting the cost of paper and printing onto their customers.

In theory customers get the “convenience” of being able to print their tickets at home. That saves them a trip to the airport or a travel agent.

To many people, printing your own tickets is no big deal. The cost of the paper and ink for printing airline tickets – technically called boarding passes – is minuscule.

Most people who travel by air already have computers and printers at home.

Some don’t even print their boarding passes. They show a code on their smart phone sent to them electronically. No paper is involved at any step of the process.

But not everyone who still makes photographic images on film has the equipment needed to digitize their work.

Those photographers might be out of luck if they wish to enter the 2017 Trains magazine photo contest.

Tucked into the rules is this change: “We will no longer be accepting submissions by mail.”

No explanation for that rule change was provided, but it likely wasn’t a financial move.

The photographer paid all costs associated with sending slides or printed images by mail.

More than likely this rule change was for the convenience of the staff. All entries can now be kept in one location and viewed in the same manner.

There is no more having to toggle between digital entries and slides and prints.

It also might save some staff time. Winning entries submitted as slides or prints no longer need to be digitized.

But what is convenient for the magazine staff is not so convenient for certain photographs. If they lack the equipment to digitize the images they wish to submit to the contest, they will have to buy the equipment or pay to have their images digitized.

Perhaps some have a friend who has a scanner who might be willing to do it for a beer.

The rule change also is likely a reflection of the reality that few entries are still being submitted the old fashioned way.

There remains a hard core of photographers who use film to make railroad images.

Some of them have scanning equipment to digitize their images, but most of the film guys I know do not have equipment to scan slides and negatives.

Most of them strike me as unwilling to learn how to do it. I can understand why.

Like cameras, film scanners come in all shapes, sizes and price points.

Some equipment is inexpensive, but the quality of the finished product might not be satisfactory.

B&H Photo offers a guide to scanning equipment at

If you know little to nothing about digital images, reading that guide might be bewildering. You soon learn you need to know about things that film photographers do not need to know unless they are in the publication business.

I can’t say what percentage of photographers has equipment capable of scanning film images into a digital format.

Most of the railroad images I’ve see posted online were made with a digital camera.

There are not as many pre-digital images in cyberspace as there could be. Aside from its cost, digitizing equipment takes time to learn to use.

Yet the day is coming when having scanning equipment will be a “must have” if you wish to share your pre-digital photographs with others.

Slide shows remain a staple of local railroad clubs, but some events, e.g., Summerail, no longer allow programs in which images are projected directly from film.

I have a sizable collection of slides and I do not foresee projecting them again with a slide projector.

Local railroad clubs are losing members and the number of opportunities to project slides the old fashioned way is dwindling even as slide film is making a modest comeback.

As I noted in a previous column, slide film has a future, but it is tied into the digital world, particularly if you want to share your images with a circle that extends beyond your closest friends who are willing to get together in a room for a slide showing.