Monitoring North America’s Rail Pulse

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
The Rail Pulse platform will help shippers, car owners/lessors and railroads better manage consists, incidents and maintenance.

The Rail Pulse platform will help shippers, car owners/lessors and railroads better manage consists, incidents and maintenance.

Norfolk Southern, Genesee & Wyoming, Watco Companies, GATX Corp. and TrinityRail are developing a telematics platform for railcars to provide real-time car location and condition/health monitoring data. Called “Rail Pulse,” it will help shippers, car owners/lessors and railroads better manage consists, incidents and maintenance. Rollout is expected by year-end 2022.

Aims of the “neutral, open-architecture, industry-wide railcar telematics platform” are to “facilitate and accelerate the adoption of GPS and other telematics technology across the North American railcar fleet” for safety, and to “transform rail shipping,” the partners said. (The platform will also ensure the “security of proprietary car-owner data.”)

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, through its Department of Transportation (PennDOT), recently received a Fiscal Year 2020 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant from the U.S. DOT for the project. The Commonwealth, along with the railroad and railcar partners that collectively own 20% of the North American railcar fleet, will provide additional investment.

Early phases of Rail Pulse will incorporate hand brake and impact data. As the platform evolves, it will also include data from onboard bearing temperature and wheel impact detection sensors. Data will also be captured to support “real-time track-level visibility,” such as whether doors or hatches are open, whether the car is loaded or partially loaded, and other key performance metrics.

“While this platform and resulting services are in the early stages of development, we believe these capabilities are a key factor in improving the rail industry’s competitive position relative to other modes of transportation longer term,” Trinity CEO and President Jean Savage said of Rail Pulse during a recent third-quarter earnings meeting. She noted the company has been “developing the analytics and infrastructure to support the addition of telematics on railcars and [has] partnered with other leading rail service providers” to create the new platform.

“Rail Pulse is another example of how the freight rail industry is using advanced technology to enhance safety and service to shippers,” PennDOT Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation Jennie Granger said. “PennDOT is proud of the strong partnership we have with the freight rail industry, and we look forward to this platform being implemented throughout the North American railcar fleet.”

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