As the digital revolution is well underway across the US, the next phase of the technology shift looks to be the rail industry. From energy-efficient locomotives to autonomous operations, the rail system is increasingly adopting digital innovations. The real game-changers of the moment, though, are proactive maintenance monitoring and Positive Train Control (PTC).
Monitoring for Proactive Maintenance
With over 1.6 million rail cars operating every day across a 140,000-mile network, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), any glitch can spell massive delays and headaches for rail companies. Thus the genius of proactive maintenance monitoring. By utilizing digital technology, these systems can test and evaluate railroad equipment to anticipate problems before they occur, cutting out many potential issues down the line. Some systems use digital modeling to test functional wear on rail cars, track and other components in order to schedule maintenance before a critical point. Another technique employs smart sensors along tracks to examine trains as they pass by for potential issues and maintenance needs. This proactive approach, thanks to digital innovations, has the potential of increasing rail efficiency, cutting costs, optimizing equipment performance and boosting safety.
Positive Train Control
A sort of automatic emergency brake for trains, PTC uses automated technology to literally stop a train in its tracks before an accident. This includes derailments, train-to-train collisions and incursions of trains onto unauthorized track areas. The technology combines an onboard system to assess a train’s speed and position, a wayside system to monitor signals and track circuits and a server to hold supplemental data. Working together, these components form a data network that anticipates the need for and enacts braking. Similar to the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate for trucking, the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act mandates installation of PTC by December 31, 2018. A rapidly approaching deadline, but according to the AAR, one that the US rail system will meet. In fact, as of July 31, 2018, PTC was in operation across 70 percent of the mandate’s required route miles, and installation continues to progress rapidly.
The US rail system may be hundreds of years old, but it’s still a crucial element of the country’s freight transportation network. And with the freight system moving 48 million tons of goods per day and estimated to increase in demand 88 percent by 2035, according to Journal of Commerce, the railroads can’t afford to fall behind — and with recent digital shifts, it doesn’t look like they intend to.
With the rail industry evolving rapidly, shipping by rail is a more reliable, economical choice than ever, and Kansas City is perfectly placed as a central railway hub. To explore rail freight transportation in KC, visit the SmartWay Transportation website to request a quote.