Putting Science Behind the Planning

Written by Ryan Grudle, Jeff Girbach and Mark Bremmer, PS Technology
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With PSR driven longer manifest trains, service interruptions caused by break-in-twos or in-train force caused derailments have brought an even greater focus to prevention. PS Technology has created a way to leverage existing railroad train data into useable derailment analysis and consist comparisons.

Physically Accurate Train Simulations for Safety Improvement

With safety at the forefront of railroad technological innovation, PS Technology has developed a tool to assimilate actual train information and produce highly detailed analysis of either historic or hypothetical trains. Their  Precision Train Builder™ (PTB), is a suite of abilities that enables railroads to enhance safety using physically accurate simulation. This ability is leading to improvements in both accident analysis and train consist design.

To improve train safety analysis, PS Technology (PST) has taken the embedded physics simulation within their locomotive simulator products and connected that function to the data railroads have on hand. Here is where the nexus of technology has resulted in new abilities. The combination of railroad GIS track data, actual locomotive event recorder and consist data, plus robust computational analysis have come together to provide new insights about train behavior and safe operations.

With PSR initiatives in full-play, the variety of train length, car weights, proliferation of cushioned couplers, car placement and train-builds for maximizing switching efficiencies enroute is creating new problems. These problems can include break-in-twos, derailments, stalls (loss of track adhesion for power) and other outcomes. All of these have significant safety, economic and operational concerns.

Precision Train Builder wasn’t an “ah-ha” moment. It was more of a natural extension from PST simulators and their user’s awareness of other ways to use physically-based simulation for improved operations. New abilities have now been created that take event recreation into more predictive and prescriptive realms.

The cornerstone of Precision Train Builder is PST’s on-demand Event Recorder Analyzer. Used by several railroads, E•R Analyzer™ is a post-incident forensic tool that combines event recorder data and GIS track information from an actual train run and then processes it through its physics simulation. The results are highly customizable reports that graphically show in-train-forces to help determine what happened. The physics simulation is cumulative across the train and reveals in-train forces, but with car-by-car specifics. This diagnostic ability can show excess in train forces, even if trains were built within the rule sets of a railroad’s Train Management System (TMS). As a total product E•R Analyzer is a diagnostic tool, but one that leads to incident avoidance, due to knowledge that is gained, from post-event analysis.

Seeing the potential to expand this diagnostic ability, PST created Precision Train Builder. As compared to E•R Analyzer, PTB is focused on both predictive and prescriptive outcomes.

PTB Validator can take different consist builds from a railroads TMS and the ‘run’ the trains across real routes to compare outcomes. The customizable reports lets users quickly change or compare a wide variety of operational parameters.

The first of these abilities is a TMS planning tool called PTB Validator™. Validator is used as a means to test existing rulesets against physically simulated outcomes of a consist build. This provides the clarity of science to the train building process.

This new validator ability lets railroads check that trains built with TMS rules have a safety margin to reduce the likelihood of exceeding safe physical in-train forces. Using track data on the anticipated route plus the entered consist design, users are given a go/no-go decision before departure. Additionally, PTB Validator explores maximizing asset utilization which may include, train length, car placement and operational speeds. Validator can execute multiple iterations of consist designs. The simulation will flag instances where a given consist may be built within 100% compliance of the rules but still be forecasted to have physical issues such as stalls.

Another module is PTB Monitor™, a real-time analysis tool for rail operations. There is active monitoring during multiple points in a train’s journey with more simulations being run after each work event. This creates scientifically based opportunities to reduce the likelihood of inadvertent consist placements resulting in sub-optimal performance including derailments or near derailment causing conditions.

As a proactive tool, PTB Monitor includes the ability to provide alerts to the operating team about in-train force issues in real-time. For additional analysis, external data points are also integrated such as dimensional clearance, weather, track adhesion, wind, bulletins, and slow orders. The constant simulation monitor provides a focus on improved train handling, and reduced derailment by utilizing point-to-point scenario creation throughout the duration of the train run. PTB Monitor embeds and then utilizes historical and institutional knowledge in analysis to improve financial performance of train builds and runs.

Continuous monitoring and simulation provides a wide array of options for railroads. Utilizations that might include altering manifest consists to be both safer enroute and more efficient at the switch yard are just one of the possibilities.

Where does PTB go from here? That is a question PST keeps asking itself because there are so many other possibilities. In addition to safety, integration with business operation initiatives seems to be an area with significant potential.

But, fundamentally, PTB and E•R Analyzer are about safety improvements in railroad  operations. “Now we can simply know things about train operations that we only guessed at before.”, says PST president Seenu Chundru. “This means we can operate railroads better and safer than we ever have. Why wouldn’t we want to do that?”

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

  • Ryan Grudle, Systems Consultant: Ryan has extensive railroad knowledge having started in train dispatching and moving into Transportation System analyses and analytical software solutions.
  • Jeff Girbach, Senior Development Manager for PS Technology: Jeff has significant experience developing software-based safety solutions for the rail industry.
  • Mark Bremmer, Senior Marketing Director for PS Technology: Mark has an extensive background in analyzing business-to-business process and product development and then connecting appropriate businesses to those solutions.
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