Automating the industry, one yard at a time

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor

Classification yard performance has a direct impact on network velocity and efficiency. Process control systems are helping improve that performance.

Classification yards tend to be the bottleneck on a railroad. Breaking up inbound trains, sorting cars and building new outbound consists can be a time- and labor-intensive process, especially when car information isn’t accurate. Misrouted, misclassified cars create extra work, and extra time, ultimately slowing down a corridor, or even an entire network.

Computerization and automation are changing the way class yards work. Following are several examples of companies that offer new and improved software-based yard control systems.


RailComm has a long history of implementing solutions for yard automation. Today, its technology ranges from its first standard switch machine remote control to its current automation of yard ladders using remote control from a central location, to local control panels strategically located in the field, and remote control through mobile radios.

Powered by its Domain Controller, DOC® (Domain Operations Controller) System, RailComm’s yard control capabilities “have migrated from single isolated locations to a full control of receiving to departure areas of the yard, making inbound and outbound movements more efficient and safer for yard employees,” the company says.

The DOC® System is described as “an advanced command, control and communications software platform that supports a wide variety of integrated solutions for indication, control, access and distribution of critical operational data across the railroad enterprise.”

RailComm’s yard control system integrates switch and signal components with a command and control architecture “that scales as the customers need it—from a few switches to an entire yard or an entire railway, increasing efficiencies, safety and protection.” RailComm’s solutions include remote switch control and routing, blue flag protection, shove track protection, car tracking and heater control.

RailComm’s DOC® System can interface with a variety of third-party enterprise systems, making its technology “more valuable and relevant to customers.” And by integrating its own data communications platform—RailComm RADiANT™—and intelligent control hardware platform, RailComm says its yard solution is more “robust and reliable for the rail environment.” RailComm says it is continuously investing in its control hardware and communications platforms “to provide more value to customers through greater functionality, higher availability and more sophisticated monitoring and support capabilities. With our latest development of the Expandable Automation Controller (EAC) and IP RADiANT, we provide augmented functionality that allows us to communicate to field devices at a ground level to monitor and perform remote diagnostics and troubleshooting.”

Recently, RailComm launched RailComm Insight™, its smart monitoring and analytics platform. With RailComm Insight™, the company “plans to transform traditional remote condition monitoring to a smart decision tool for effective preventive and corrective condition-based maintenance. We currently monitor the condition of main line switches; however our roadmap supports the integration of our DOC® system that currently gathers relevant field data from the yard, and other specific field devices. Now railroads can benefit from lower maintenance costs, better planning, fewer service disruptions and higher asset availability.”

RailComm says its yard control system “has been proven to help customers, from North American Class I railroads to industrials and ports, increase efficiency and safety. With RailComm’s software and hardware platforms, our customers can optimize their resources more effectively and achieve increases in revenue and reduction costs.

In addition to freight railroads, RailComm has delivered multiple yard control projects to Amtrak, WMATA, SEPTA, PATH and Metro, as well as the Port of Los Angeles, Long Beach Container Terminal, US Sugar, Auckland Transport and Kinder Morgan.

At US Sugar Corp. in Clewiston, Fla., RailComm completed installation of yard automation and computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems. As the largest sugar cane producer in the U.S., US Sugar Corp. owns and operates the largest private agricultural short line railroad in the country. It operates 24 hours a day for just-in-time processing, and its 120 miles of main line connects with South Central Florida Express, which in turn connects with Florida East Coast and CSX.

“With a well-defined deadline to implement our solutions on time for harvesting season, we successfully implemented a yard automation solution for controlling 32 switches, and a CAD system for the entire main line, in October 2015,” RailComm notes.

The yard control system provides entrance/exit routing and remote control of powered switch machines for US Sugar’s Clewiston yard. It’s controlled from a central location within the control tower. Communications with the field use RailComm’s RADiANT wireless communications platform over a 2.4 GHz spread-spectrum data network. “Authorized personnel can safely route trains through the yard and onto the main line from a remote location, without the need to manually throw switches that can cause injuries,” RailComm explains. “DOC® software also offers the yard controllers a user-friendly graphical interface that provides flexibility, speed and efficiency.”

The main line dispatch system uses DTC block dispatching. US Sugar takes advantage of DOC® system’s standard components such as Daily Operating Bulletins, Track Bulletins, Delivery Bulletins, GCOR Protection Forms, Railroad Manager and reporting services. US Sugar dispatchers have replaced paper train sheets with an electronic form “that enhances their ability to move trains with increased safety and productivity. From a single user interface, the dispatcher can add and access train consist information, as well as keep track of the train’s resources during its journey,” RailComm says.

GE Transportation

GE’s Yard Planner is described as “an advanced software solution that helps customers make the best decisions around asset use and resource working sequences. Yard Planner allows customers to visualize and monitor yard state and plan yard activities, so trains can get connected and out of the yard faster, avoiding trains sitting idly.”

Yard Planner’s core capabilities include generating a yard-level processing plan with a detailed schedule for the movement and processing of each car; visualizing current car inventory, activities, and inbound and outbound schedules, and providing predictability on yard capacity/performance in the planning horizon. It includes a comprehensive yard planning suite that covers inbound train termination, car humping, car sorting and outbound train building—“an intuitive way to view yard status, yard plan and KPIs (key performance indicators). Yard Planner improves car connection performance, on-time departure performance and efficiency in daily operations. Additionally, the software helps reduce overall car-hire costs and allows for a 5% reduction in car dwell time.”

Trainyard Tech

The technology for Trainyard Tech, LLC’s ClassMaster™ system has been migrated over to a new system called RouteMaster™ for providing Entrance-Exit (NX) train control. “With RouteMaster™, it is now possible to integrate the entire train operation at the hump yard from the receiving yard to the hump yard to the pullback yard and finally to the departure yard—main to main control,” the company says.

“The next hump yard to install our ClassMaster™ Hump Yard Process Control system will use a new approach for detecting switch occupancy,” Trainyard Tech notes. “This will now be accomplished by using bi-directional wheel sensors positioned around the switch point. The advantage is that it does away with the legacy method of using a Presence Detector Device while providing significantly more information from the bi-directional wheel sensors. This will be used to enhance the speed and acceleration measurements of rolling cars, which leads to a much improved control performance. Another benefit is quicker detection of anomalies associated with rolling cars, such as brakes-on or other problems.”

Now included in the ClassMaster™ system is TyTReporter, a web-based tool that provides an easy-to-use interface to access car data and reports from the system’s car database. TyTReporter provides yard performance statistics and metrics, as well as detailed car data, “with a few simple clicks. The big advantage is that all stakeholders have access to various reports, from yard production and productivity statistics for managers to detailed car data analysis information for technicians.”

Another innovative user interface now available provides operator displays over the railroad’s internal intranet with the user simply using a standard web browser. This method allows for access over any device—PDAs, tablets, laptops, mobile phones—to the system user interface, with a high degree of security.

Trainyard Tech’s new Distance To Coupling (DTC) subsystem has been fully integrated with the ClassMaster™ system so that the track calibration is now completely automatic, providing additional information including real-time car speed and coupling speeds.

Recent ClassMaster™ hump yard installations include CN’s McMillan Yard in Toronto, which entered service this past June, and Norfolk Southern’s Bellevue (Ohio) Yard which entered service in October. Ongoing ClassMaster™ hump yard projects include the CSX Queensgate Yard Process Control System in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is expected to enter service in March 2016, and NS’s Conway Yard Process Control System in Pittsburgh, which is scheduled to enter service in December 2016.

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