Rail Technology Supports Safe, Efficient Transportation Performance

Rail Technology Supports Safe, Efficient Transportation Performance

Not so many years ago, citing examples of innovative technology adoption by railroads was a challenging exercise. Today, it’s difficult to identify a single aspect of the railroad enterprise that isn’t applying advanced technology solutions to improve performance.

From safety to asset efficiency to customer service, the foundations of success in the railroad industry are increasingly supported by a wide range of technology solutions. The most-visible example of rail technology investment over the past decade has been positive train control — a multi-billion-dollar system of interoperable technologies that prevent certain types of train accidents. But while PTC has grabbed the headlines, railroads have been consistently introducing new technology applications. These new technologies range from hardware-based, such as more fuelefficient locomotives and intermodal terminal equipment, to software-based, such as mobile data entry in rail yards and enterprise data discovery that supports improved business decisions.

Two recent technology projects at CSX provide examples of the range of solutions that are adding value to railroad operations. One is the company’s Train Inspection Portal, recently installed outside of Waycross, Ga., to conduct equipment inspections on moving trains with improved safety and efficiency. Another is CSX’s new Trip Plan Performance tool, which is providing customers with unprecedented transparency into the movement of their shipments across the railroad.

Train Inspection Portal

The Train Inspection Portal is an example of a technology that combines sensor and software advances in an innovative solution that impacts safety, efficiency and even operating performance. Traditionally, train inspections are performed by carmen who walk along either side of inbound and outbound trains, making sure safety appliances are in good condition and looking for defects such as excessive wheel wear. 

This is a time-consuming process, normally taking an hour and a half to two hours per train, and it places employees in potentially hazardous environments in all weather conditions, at all times of the day and night. Train inspectors are highly skilled, but even the best railroaders find it challenging to find every defect, especially those in hard-to-see places below and above railcars.

The Train Inspection Portal uses technology to perform train inspections while the train is moving at track speed. The portal is a physical construction over a small section of track on which about 20 highspeed, high-definition cameras are mounted, along with high-power infrared lights. The cameras capture 360-degree images of every railcar as it passes through the portal, then analyzes the images using machine vision technology to detect defects. When the system identifies a defect, the car is automatically flagged and taken out of service for repair Not only is CSX able to use the Train Inspection Portal to inspect cars faster and with less safety risk for employees, the railroad is able to prevent line-of-road breakdowns that slow the network and impact the ability to provide reliable service to customers.

“The Train Inspection Portal is an example of a technology that combines sensor and software advances in an innovative solution that impacts safety, efficiency and even operating performance”

Train Plan Performance

 At the other end of the technology spectrum is CSX’s new Trip Plan Performance tool. Developed internally by the CSX Technology team, Trip Plan Performance is an example of how CSX is able to leverage technology to support business growth.

Trip Plan Performance is a customer-facing tool that began as an internal measurement for the operations team to monitor how effectively it is complying with the trip plans the company created for every carload and intermodal shipment on the railroad. The scheduled railroading operating model used at CSX places greater emphasis on reliable shipment delivery than on train performance. Trip plans are end-to-end itineraries for individual shipments, based on train schedules, terminal handling standards, terminal hours of operation and the intermodal reservation system.

To monitor trip plan performance, CSX ingests data from multiple sources across the railroad, consolidate it and analyze it to pinpoint the location of every shipment and compare it to the shipment’s trip plan. The team further analyzes trip plan compliance data to generate reports at the location, lane and system level. This information has been tremendously useful for identifying efficiency opportunities.

After about a year of working with trip plans and seeing how effectively they help drive improvement, CSX also provided this information to customers to support them in making routing decisions and refining their supply chain strategies. CSX launched the public tool in late 2019 as part of its ShipCSX customer service portal.

Expanding Limits

These are just two of many examples that show how CSX and the rail industry have transformed from a slow adopter of technology to an engine for demonstrating the potential of new technologies to drive greater productivity and business growth. CSX is constantly looking for new ways to improve safety, efficiency and customer service, and believes that technology will continue to be an important driver of unprecedented rail transportation performance.

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