RailPulse is developing a cloud-based telematics platform in an aim “to accelerate the adoption of GPS and other technologies across the North American railcar network.” Late last month, it outlined a three-phase approach to development, which is slated to be complete in second-quarter 2023.
“The focus of RailPulse is to provide visibility into the location, condition and health of the railcar,” said David Shannon, General Manager of the RailPulse coalition, which was established in 2020 and comprises founding members Norfolk Southern (NS), GATX Corporation, Genesee & Wyoming Inc., TrinityRail, and Watco; The Greenbrier Companies, which signed on in December 2021; and Union Pacific (UP), which joined in June 2022. “We are starting with a suite of five key telemetry measures: the location of the railcar, whether the handbrake is set on the railcar, whether excessive impact has been detected, the loaded/empty state of the railcar, and whether doors/hatches are open or closed. These measures are just the beginning of what we ultimately plan to offer.”
In 2021, the coalition solicited participation of telemetry sensor vendors and identified a small set of partner vendors to participate in pilot testing. RailPulse said it worked with an independent consulting firm to evaluate more than 100 candidates, and selected Nexxiot, ZTR Control Systems and Hitachi Rail Systems (in partnership with Intermodal Telematics) for the initial yearlong, three-phase pilot. RailPulse’s intent, it reported, “is not to specify telemetry hardware, but instead to offer a broad range of RailPulse-certified options for railcar owners as more vendors participate.”
RailPulse began the pilot in spring 2022. Phase 1 included small-scale testing and validation of the telemetry hardware from the three pilot vendor partners. RailPulse said it ran many tests “to validate the performance of each vendor’s sensors, gateways and software,” and “evaluated geofence, hand brake, impact, loaded/empty, and door open/closed scenarios to ensure accurate detection.” Work was completed in June 2022.
Phase 2 began in July 2022 and will continue through the end of this month. RailPulse said it is “continuing to validate telemetry hardware performance, as well as standardize the installation process for instrumenting five different railcars types that include boxcars, auto racks, covered hoppers, gondolas and tank cars. A key challenge is to achieve accurate telematics performance when parts and components vary among railcar type.”
RailPulse said each of the seven RailPulse members “committed to equipping 50 railcars with the same suite of sensor functionalities for a total test fleet of approximately 350 cars. This enabled RailPulse to gather the sensors’ data while the railcars move about the rail network in day-to-day operations and validate the sensors’ performance in various field conditions.” RailPulse said it has also gathered data on the time, complexity and work required to install the sensors on the railcars “to help standardize the installation process.”
Additionally, platform development work has continued through Phase 2, according to RailPulse. “Currently, the data collected from the telemetry sensors is directly analyzed by RailPulse from the vendors’ respective systems, but once initial development of the cloud-based RailPulse platform is completed, this data will be uploaded to the RailPulse platform and analyzed from there,” the coalition reported. (RailPulse in May selected Railinc to develop, maintain and operate its technology platform for monitoring railcar location, condition and health under a 10-year agreement.)
Phase 3 of the pilot, slated to begin in late October, will increase the railcar test fleet to more than 1,000 cars and continue testing telemetry data capture and analysis from real-world conditions. RailPulse said it plans to install telemetry sensors on the additional railcars between December 2022 and January 2023. Those cars will participate in the testing cycle through second-quarter 2023 when a final report is scheduled to be issued.
“Data from the railcars will be sent from the telemetry vendors’ systems to the cloud-based RailPulse platform where it will be enriched with other rail data, compiled, analyzed and delivered to subscribers,” the coalition reported. “Testing in the final cycle will validate the accuracy of sensor data and enable the coalition to monitor and enhance the performance of the complete RailPulse system. The end-goal is to leverage sensors, machine learning and artificial intelligence to give better insights into the data and issues the rail industry and shippers care about.”
During Phase 3, RailPulse said it will also “formalize the telemetry vendor certification requirements that will allow vendors not part of the pilot to submit their products for RailPulse certification.”
The RailPulse platform is due to launch by second-quarter 2023.
“Our focus during the yearlong pilot is to identify and certify RailPulse-ready telemetry vendors, [and] develop the full RailPulse platform, prove it works, and maximize its value to our shippers and members,” Shannon said.
“We admire the RailPulse initiative and support it with our technology and business applications,” said Nexxiot CEO Stefan Kalmund (pictured, top left). “Nexxiot technology enables railcar operators to improve maintenance and increase the utilization of their fleet. Cargo shippers benefit as they receive enhanced transport visibility as well as improved safety, quality, and user experience. The RailPulse collaboration is transforming rail freight to make it easier, safer and more sustainable.”
“We worked with RailPulse during the pilot to ensure the highest level of data accuracy and value for its platform,” said Neil Shipley, ZTR Director of Services (pictured, middle left). “Field testing sensor performance across different railcar types in real-world conditions builds confidence in both telemetry sensor technology and the RailPulse platform. With over a decade of telematics experience both inside and outside the rail industry, we understand just how critical that earned confidence is to the growth and overall success of telematics in the industry, ultimately delivering a better product and service for our customers. Our product does just that.”
Miles Metschke, Head of Freight Rail-Americas for Hitachi Rail (pictured bottom left), said, “We can see the big-picture vision that is driving RailPulse, and it’s exciting to be a part of the pilot testing and rollout. Accurate telemetry sensor technology combined with advanced analytics and artificial intelligence can provide tremendous value across the entire rail ecosystem and transform the industry. We are very excited to bring our new railcar monitoring solution to North America with our partner, Intermodal Telematics, in support of delivering the RailPulse vision. Our combined products, software and capabilities will enable railcar owners, rail shippers and railroads to realize the promised value from the RailPulse system.”