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Can Big Data Help Keep Railroads Safe?

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When most people see a freight train go by, they do not realize the systems and processes used to ensure their safety and the safety of the train or that each cars performance is being tracked continually. Safety is a major concern for all forms of transportation and the rail industry is certainly no exception. In 2015 an estimated 1,000 service interruptions were prevented by using newly developed systems [1].

US Railroad safety is improving greatly on a daily basis through the power of data. By collaborating together, railroads are able to identify problems with equipment prior to them becoming physical issues. America’s high-tech freight industry is using shared data between railroads to pin-point potential equipment issues before they occur. By doing this train derailments have significantly declined in recent years.

Recently, CEOs of USA Class I freight railroads along with leaders from railroad’s mechanical and information departments, launched the Asset Health Strategic Initiative (AHSI). AHSI gathers data stored in individual railroad databases, including the Component Tracking and Equipment Health Management System (EHMS)

The Component Tracking program tracks and monitors six types of rail car components by using tracking codes for each component and each car. As freight cars travel across the nation’s railroads, EHMS gathers data through service records and trackside monitors to create an “electronic health record” of each car. Potential problems are averted by tracking where and when each component was manufactured. Once a component is determined to be defective, Component Tracking can then locate all the cars that have the same component. A determination can be made if it is necessary to replace all the components made at the same location and time before it breaks on each car, causing additional expenses and down time.

ASHI is relatively premature, but its potential is mind blowing. As data is continually added and analyzed, patterns can be determined for car usage and repairs. Additional car components and even information on locomotives will be added to the tracking system extending the safety and equipment repair savings to the entire freight industry. As ASHI continues to grow and improve, the rail industry will have the information available to enhance safety and solve problems in ways that are currently not possible.

Sources:

  1. https://www.aar.org/report/Pages/Report-1-Chapter-2.aspx

PSA Marketing Team

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