One of the most effective ways a technology-based company can keep users of its products up to date, informed and educated is to hold a conference. Such conferences are far more than marketing and sales initiatives and product demonstrations. They’re a means to immerse users in new and emerging technologies, as well as gain valuable insight into what they’re looking for.
Wi-Tronix, a leading provider of remote monitoring, video analytics and proactive diagnostic information for freight and passenger rail networks, has been conducting such gatherings for many years. The company “continues to create products and services for our customers with innovation at the forefront of our mind,” notes Vice President – Sales and Customer Experience Chad Jasmin. “Building relationships, listening, and demonstrating that we value customer input is critical and a core value at our company; that’s why holding events like our User Conference is essential for us and our customers.”
The Wi-Tronix 2022 User Conference featured more than a dozen presentations ranging from AI (artificial intelligence) to ATO (automated train operation) to cybersecurity. Key railroad customers and consultants joined Wi-Tronix’s team of experts, led by Wi-Tronix President and CEO Larry Jordan, in presenting these topics:
Making “Double” Happen Through Agility, Innovation, and the Magic of Technology (Larry Jordan)
Citing John F. Kennedy’s famous 1962 “We Choose to Go to the Moon” speech, Larry Jordan kicked off the conference with an impassioned talk about “the magic of technology,” and how it should be leveraged to help double rail freight ton-miles and passenger-miles by 2035. The magic includes Lithium-Ion Batteries; Fuel Cells; Renewable Energy; Artificial Neural Networks; Space-Based Internet-Ubiquitous, Cost-Effective, High-Speed Digital Communications; Ubiquitous, Cost-Effective, High-Speed Digital Communications; and ATO. The rail industry “is leaving 3 trillion-ton miles, 680 million tons of CO2 and 4,000 human lives on the table” Jordan said. “With a bold vision, agility to navigate the unknown, the will to make things happen and the magic of technology, we will double rail traffic by 2035.”
Introduction to Artificial Intelligence (AI): Can Your Trains Think for Themselves? (Larry Jordan and Wi-Tronix VP Product Management Lisa Matta)
Rail faces many AI challenges, Jordan and Matta said. Among these are “training” data for different locomotive cab configurations and camera mounting setups, environmental changes and crew position. In terms of economic feasibility, as processing is expensive, with low per inference cost yet billions in inferences per day. Training requires labeled data, with a human in the loop. rare events may re-quire simulated data generation or physical alterations. Among potential AI applications are automated grade crossing inspection, signal and track detection, trespasser/near miss detection, threat detection scans of video downloads, and environmental.
Ferromex’s Path to Utilizing Fully Alternative Fuels (Otto Rodríguez, Ferromex Rail Transport & Efficiency Submanager; and Xavi Singla, Wi-Tronix Senior Customer Success Manager)
Ferromex (GMXT) started in 2015 with two pilot Wi-Tronix units and by 2018 was the leading Wi-Tronix user relative to the number of locomotives and users. The railroad launched several projects that are still part of day-to-day operations, These include ride-alongs on high-profile trains through a Train Security team, possible track issue monitoring, improving locomotive productivity by monitoring terminals and locomotive daily usage, fuel efficiency calculations, HPT (horsepower per ton) monitoring and compliance enforcing, excess idle reduction, and LNG reporting.
Ferromex is currently transitioning a portion of its locomotive fleet to tender-fueled LNG, and will leverage Wi-Tronix technology to help achieve its C02 emissions reduction goals.
Improve a Railroad’s Efficiencies & Use of PTC Data in Day-to-Day Operations (Director of Fuel and Utilization at a Class I railroad)
“PTC logs hold a wealth of information,” this director pointed out. He provided this scenario: “If your railroad experienced 15 PTC enforcements daily, what would that cost you in fuel consumption to bring those trains back up to speed? For this scenario, say you have 10 loaded trains and five empty trains. Who is accountable for investigating those enforcements and bringing forth corrective action? The unnecessary fuel gallons consumed would be 719,050; the operating ratio impact would be $3 million. Data is only powerful if you can access and turn it into information upon which to act.”
His railroad, he said, “is looking to provide operational officers with accessibility to PTC logs, with data accessible by all with operational use cases. The player/viewer must be nimble to grow with operational needs. Readability of PTC logs is critical. We want a platform that leverages the latest technology for privacy, traceability and security. This platform would support mobile viewing and tools. PTC logs hold the wealth of information to support an investigation. Higher visibility drives down unnecessary enforcements through awareness. Placing the data into the hands of team members can make difference, as this reduces unnecessary interaction and delays through PTC logs being requested. Finally, We want greater interoperability in exchanging PTC data with event recorder (ER) data. We have a no-download approach. Wi-Tronix Violet Share is our proven technology because it exchanges PTC, ER, DVR and locomotive operational data.”
Introduction to 5G and GNSS Precision Navigation (Larry Jordan and Eric Santa)
From Wi-Tronix’s perspective, 5G, the fifth-generation standard for broadband cellular networks, has great interest due to excellent consumer marketing. It offers real world speed improvements of 2-4x faster video download speed and better video streaming, continued lower cost per GB, and improved coverage due to additional low band frequencies and network diversity.
GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) offers far greater positioning accuracy than GPS. Wi-Tronix is currently conducting a Dual Frequency Receiver verification test, and a field test of higher precision GNSS.
Improve Asset Reliability Through Real-Time Connected Systems (Kiran Chaudhari and Xavier Singla)
A Wi-Tronix platform can provide five monitoring areas: Health (view per-asset and fleet health, which be customized, with traceability to bad actor(s) including third parties); Vehicle Faults (view system faults—EM2000, QES, CCA via LIG, etc.—and see the before and after of a fault occurrence; Asset System Configuration/Traceability (the ability to know if/when system was changed and software was updated, with an inventory of systems on an asset); Alerts (notifications of variations on an asset and asystem’s expected performance, with the ability to select alerts per user); Commonized Data (consistent information with different OEM Vehicles and systems, with a webpage that can be personalized).
Chaudhari and Singla noted that Wi-Tronix technology “is manufacturer agnostic, offering integration with such manufacturers as Wabtec, Progress Rail, Railhead, TeleVic, Init, Siemens, etc.—one box, one format, all data available.”
Meet Your ESG Goals: Energy Accounting for Alternative Fuel Locomotives (Mihir Phadke and Mike Heilmann)
The opportunities for innovation related to alternative energy are SEC disclosure requirements, GHG emissions (ESG reporting); preventative maintenance; supplier qualification and validation; independent validation of railroad GHG performance; KPIs that drive operating ratio; and troubleshooting line of road issues. Phadke and Heilmann described Wi-Tronix’s work with Ferromex’s LNG locomotive fleet, where the company’s platform was used for safety monitoring of critical assets, real time alerting for faults and pattern analysis, and post-trip reports on overall train energy consumption.
The setup included a Violet box on both locomotives and the LNG fuel tender, a natural gas flow meter installed on the tender to measure LNG flow to the locomotive via Violet, a rear-facing camera with night vision capability to monitor the tender in real time, front and side cameras that provided a 360 degree view of the train and its surroundings, autodetection on the tender’s A and B ends supplying each locomotive, and Violet interfaces with PLC modules for all fault and alarm data.
Camera safety best practices included rear-facing cameras to enable the railroad’s control center to view the tender piping and PLC ends. Normal operations checks included frosted pipes (the LNG flow at minus 220 degrees Fahrenheit), leaks, which would be indicated by a smoke stream, the PLC’s controller state and whether it was vandal-free, and damage to piping from buff and draft forces. An incident invent investigation would include the state of the tender, and safe, remote identification of a leak to better guide responding emergency service personnel.
The Wi-Tronix Path to Automated Train Operation (ATO) (Mihir Phadke and Larry Jordan)
The path to ATO, Jordan and Phadke said, started with no automation, where the engineer is in control with no technology support. The next step was engineer assistance, where the engineer is responsible for safety and operations, but with advisement. Today, the industry is at the “initial automation” stage, where acceleration and deacceleration are automated. The next step would be enhanced automation, with electronic delivery of mandatory directives to the train. By 2030, the vision is to have “high automation,” with fully automated execution under normal conditions. The final step is full automation. (This information is based upon the work of the Association of American Railroads ATO Development Planning Committee.)
“To go from today to the future, what building blocks do we need?” Jordan and Phadke asked. “We need PTC to perform safety functions related to train control and EMS to perform motion control functionality by interacting with locomotive control systems. A train crew identifies what’s around the train, sensing the internal and external operating environment of the train for hazards, determining what happens next in predicting risk, and initiating train responses to operating conditions until the condition has been resolved. Automated train control and motion control (ATOSS) will sense for hazards, predict risk and respond.
Security is a Must-Have, and Wi-Tronix Has You Covered! (Gary Klemens, Information Security Manager; and Rutch Johnson, IT Director)
“Cybersecurity is important,” said Klemens and Johnson. “It consists of all the technologies and practices that keep computer systems and electronic data safe. In a world where more and more of our business and social lives are on line, it is an enormous and growing field. Getting hacked isn’t just a direct threat to the confidential data companies need. It can also ruin relationships with customers and government agencies, and present significant legal jeopardy. With new technology, from self-driving cars to Internet-enabled IO T devices, the danger of cybercrime increases constantly. Reputable reporting agencies predict worldwide security spending will hit $170 billion this year, an 8% increase in just one year. Protecting confidential information is a pressing concern at the highest levels of government and industry. State secrets can be stolen from the other side of the world without the bad actor ever leaving the house. Companies can find their databases compromised.”
Cybersecurity is important to the rail industry due to many factors. For example, the damage to rail infrastructure, locomotives, switching operations, track systems and equipment, breaking the chain of custody and equipment malfunctions. There can be disruption of operations such as denial of service due to ransomware, economic loss due to damage caused by criminals such as lost confidential information, increased cost of operations, and data that can be stolen, changed and held hostage.
Klemens and Johnson pointed to the new TSA/CISA cybersecurity requirements: security directive 1582-21-01 for passenger and 1580-21-01 01, which applies to all freight railroad carriers (owners and operators). CISA requires reporting of significant cybersecurity incidents. “Wi-Tronix can help. Violet can provide alerts for unauthorized access attempts, probing by potential malicious software and denial of service activity, and support operator incident response plan. Our certifications for compliance include EN 50155: 2017, FRA compliant for PTC and EATC, and SOC 2 Type-2. For example, the Violet Intrusion Detection System (VIDS) detects any anomalous logon activity and password brute force attacks. In development is potential misconfigured devices detection. Misconfigured devices tend to broadcast ‘junk’ network traffic. The system records data hitting the network card. This can be used to find and diagnose problems with other devices on the local network.”
Precision Navigation: On Track to Operational Efficiency (Divya Dinesh and Mihir Phadke)
“When was the last time you printed the directions to get somewhere or pulled a map out of your glovebox?” Dinesh and Phadke asked. “Thanks to advancements in technology and precision navigation, we no longer rely on the old ways of navigation with maps. These advancements are due to revolutionary improvements including GPS, IMUs, AI and global connectivity technologies. For railroads, precision navigation means efficient train planning and ADA compliance reporting by identifying orientation of locomotives and railcars; a digital shop whiteboard to easily locate track order and orientation of assets; real time visibility to blocked crossings; underground navigation to get train location in zero-coverage areas like subways and tunnels; PTC critical asset location using GPS and AI; and arrival announcements to the minute using real time location.
Wi-Tronix precision navigation components include GPS (Global Positioning System), which uses satellite geolocation data to locate assets with high accuracy; Wi-Nav (Wi-Tronix inertial navigation system), which includes an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer for dead reckoning, impact detection, orientation, etc.; and Violet cameras for AI-based wayside object location detection and visual representation of surroundings.
Ride the Innovation Train: How Wi-Tronix is Advancing the Rail Industry with Vision and Agility (Lisa Matta)
Wi-Tronix’s “Innovation Train,” Matta said is a “Violet view for all” with data shared across railroads It replaces asset details with a “mobile first” unified viewer providing a single view for asset data, with access to new data (such as signals, which can easily be added). Enhanced viewing is mobile-optimized, with graph, map and moment views; a customized view with signal lists, wayside signal and crossing locations; and improved performance (time to interaction). Online sharing is on demand, including foreign locomotives on your track (with a data sharing agreement).
Wi-Tronix: The Exclusive IoT Platform Providing Remote Access and Monitoring for SunRail (Wesley Lindner, Railroad Operations Specialist, WSP USA)
Florida’s SunRail uses Wi-Tronix technology to provide real time access, creating better passenger experiences; rail safety, supporting enterprise initiatives; operational oversight, for faster more accurate decision making; reducing its technology footprint, because “Big Data gets bigger, and we need to make the burden smaller”; and contractor compliance.
For example, creating better passenger experiences touches three areas: station announcements that provide next train visibility, passenger area conditions that immediately validate public reports, and data sharing for interchange that provides network awareness to foreign assets on the sun rail network. Operational oversight functions include work zones with “smarter main line stops,” mechanical problem detection through engine diagnostics, and indications of heavy traffic hotspots such as blocked crossings and near misses with cars and trespassers. Performance and service reliability components cover PTC and mechanical faults for diagnosing problems faster, reducing delays through fleet visibility and availability data, and control stand connections that integrate with existing devices.
Unleashing the Power of the New Violet Platform (Divya Dinesh and Lisa Matta, with Douglas Goff, Kansas City Southern Senior Product Manager)
Kanas City Southern, according to Goff, leveraged Wi-Tronix platforms—Violet Live, Violet View and the power of second-by-second data—to drive certain business outcomes. Violet Live, deployed at U.S./Mexico border operations, measured every train precisely during their border crossings. Main terminals are watching trains in real time as they are yarding inbound trains. RFPs are monitoring problematic trains to ensure correct train handling by engineers. At the Help Desk, line-of-road assistance can be routed based on the most recent train movement.
“Violet Live is a valuable tool to locate delays in the operation,” said Goff. For example Violet View, a web-based player for access to second-by-second asset historic data, date range and signal sets, can be accessed from anywhere in the world with any modern web browser. It provides a view of time-synchronized updates on locomotive data. This includes event recorders, control systems, the prime-mover, PTC, fuel and other subsystem data. This is fused with weather and railroad geospatial location data by subdivision and milepost.
Violet view is also a, “efficient incident investigation” tool for the KCS Claims Department. “The old way was for every event, retrieving video from a hard drive,” noted Goff. “In the new way, Violet View is used to view and save events and videos. It is the new primary source of truth for non-catastrophic incidents. It has provided cost savings and enhanced safety, offering quicker release of trains—no more waiting for a claims person to arrive, and eliminating follow on tests. No more hard drive removals are needed, saving operating budget costs. Digitized solutions are at our fingertips, anytime and anywhere. It provides a simplified event-viewing-station experience, with no custom apps and no version management—just a simple browser. It reduces the difficulty of supporting users, because all users are on the same version every time. As such, there is no more hassle to update the software of traditional event recorders.”