Locomotive Management: Creating Smart Rail Lines with IoT

Posted by on August 16, 2017 at 5:00 AM Carmi Brandis  
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The freight rail industry still is a force to be reckoned with in America, generating $60 billion in revenue annually. But managing services across a tri-coastal continent is a challenge even for the oldest lines in the industry. From costs associated with not adhering to certain regulations to paying for damages in cases of fires and freight loss, there still is plenty of room to improve the freight rail industry as a whole. 

Fortunately, IoT offers new solutions that promise to streamline transportation, load management, adherence, and safety. With a linked cellular network to aggregate and leverage data from each IoT device along a railway system, we are seeing “Smart Rails” that operate efficiently and, potentially, can save railway companies millions in costs associated with adherence and safety.

Fleet Management: Keeping the Tracks

U.S. trains are far from low tech. There already are hundreds of sensors built into standard locomotives, and even more sensors are likely to be added in the future. However, these sensors rarely have a way to talk to one another, and managing data points individually can be a headache. Linked IoT networks bring data together to show the rail for what it truly is — a moving system in which each piece of the whole contributes to the system’s overall success or failure.

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What kinds of information can rail managers monitor with IoT? One example of an IoT network in action is real-time GPS monitoring. With each train in a fleet reporting location information to a single network, rail managers quickly can access a moving map of their system and work with efficiency experts to improve delivery times, resolve delays, and quickly spot any problems along a rail line. Machine-to-machine communication across a rail line also allow rail management to create well-defined geo-fencing for the fleet.

Improving Freight Regulation Adherence with IoT

Violation of hazardous materials regulations can cost rail companies up to $75,000 per violation per day and go up to $150,000 a day when death or injury is involved. Fortunately, IoT networks stand to reduce violations by making it easier to track and monitor the contents of each rail car. How? First, cars can be individually tagged to identify what they are carrying. Scaled up, this creates a freight manifest that can be stored in the cloud and recalled within a few seconds to provide a clearer idea of where problems might originate. In the event of an accident, this tagging makes first responders and the rail safety team’s job easier, and it can even speed up check-ins at mandatory stops along a line. Simplified manifests mean safer rails, and loading and unloading is simplified through this process as well. Ultimately, each car’s tag becomes a data point added to the rail’s overall map to give a clear idea of what assets are arriving where and when.

Mechanical performance can be monitored through IoT networks as well. IoT can generate efficiency reports for each engine, monitor track conditions, and gauge fuel use. IoT networks will allow railroad managers to spot patterns – both good and bad – across the fleet to duplicate what works and to eliminate problems quickly. Further, management will be able to estimate the real-time cost of fuel, weather delays, engine problems, and more as performance monitors can be synced with analysis applications to conduct financial forecasting. Best of all, IoT networks will make it possible to spot patterns in mechanical failure across the entire train fleet and quickly address any problems that arise, rather than always conducting catch-up maintenance for one car, engine, or section of rail at a time.

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How IoT Can Save Railways Money in Freight Management and Safety

What about the actual freight trains are carrying? Can an IoT network make management of payloads simpler as well? Just as smart airports are beginning to tag each piece of luggage, individual items for rail transport can be tagged prior to loading so as to track their location and ensure no part of the payload is lost. But IoT railway solutions go can go even deeper than this.

For instance, remember the statistic about the cost of hazardous materials violations? The cost of actual environmental damage, explosion, and fires is even greater, with rail lines paying out millions for accidents. From 2006 to 2012, rail accidents caused a total of $89,777,794 in damage, costing the rail industry around $2,137,567 per fire. The transportation of volatile materials is a constant across the history of rail lines, and the industry’s continuation hinges on the ability to reduce losses. Leveraging IoT networks, rail lines actively can monitor the environmental conditions in each car to ensure safe temperatures, humidity levels, and more.

In addition to rail safety, security measures can be improved through IoT networks, allowing CCTV, alarms, and other monitoring measures to work together. Whereas engineers on board may have had access to some of this information in the past, IoT-linked vehicles will be accessible to safety personnel to remotely monitor problems from data in the cloud. This means keeping rail lines secure at all times while making instant loss mitigation possible whether your payload is sitting on the line or in a rail yard. Ultimately, IoT means never again having to worry about vandalism, theft, and tampering.

Creating Customized Solutions for Your Rail Line

Aeris is an industry leader adept at custom IoT network builds and management. We are ready to help your rail line identify the best cellular network option for safety and management needs. We believe in the power of rail, and we recommend IoT technologies to improve your rail network.

Contact us to get learn more about IoT and cars, planes, and trains.

Topics: IoT, Fleet Management, sensors, IoT connectivity, rail management, M2M connectivity, fleet tracking, smart trains