Tuesday, May 18, 2010

RSI: "Great Recession" slows rail traffic, but not supplier innovation

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Railway industry suppliers continue to test and deploy new systems, even in the face of the "Great Recession," according to a new survey conducted by the Railway Supply Institute (RSI) this spring.

"While Positive Train Control (PTC) garners most of the headlines, innovations in information technology, energy conservation, and refinements in equipment are steadily making rail operations more efficient and effective," RSI Executive Director Tom Simpson said. "We see progress in electronically-controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes, computerized camera inspection systems, fuel efficiency technologies, and better materials, coatings, monitoring devices, and improved valves and fittings for tank cars transporting hazardous and toxic materials."

Twenty-eight suppliers responded to the e-mail survey, identifying themselves as locomotive, freight car, or passenger car builders, component suppliers, or as working in communications and signaling or maintenance-of-way (some have multi-discipline research and development efforts). The survey sought details on research and development budgets and supplier interaction with their railroad customers.

Nearly half of the respondents said that more than half of their research and development is driven directly by their customers' requests. Ten of the respondents are "big spenders" on R&D, laying out more than $1 million a year on new technologies. Five spend more than $5 million annually. Despite the recession and downturn in operations, only two respondents have reduced their research and development spending over the past five years, and 11 are increasing their investments.

"These results are extremely positive," said Bob Pokorski, Director of Engineering for Miner Enterprises and 2010 RSI chairman. "This survey was done in February and even then, in a down economy, with the downturn in car orders, rail suppliers are still optimistic about their future. It points to a healthy rail supply industry."