Fluid Dynamics

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

RAILWAY AGE, FEBRUARY 2021 ISSUE: CSX and MBTA’s commuter rail operation are improving locomotive performance and availability through precision monitoring and analysis of fuel and lube oil, respectively.

Fuel and lube oil are literally the lifeblood of a diesel-electric locomotive. Fuel is the second-largest railroad operating cost, after labor. And lube oil is far more complex than it may seem, as its chemistry is an accurate indicator of how well an engine is performing, and when a failure may be imminent. CSX and the MBTA’s commuter rail operation are using analytics and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven technology to optimize and analyze fuel and lube oil, respectively. 

MBTA Molecular Data

MBTA, under the direction of Chief Railroad Officer Ryan Coholan, partnered with 4Atmos Technologies LLC, a Dallas, Tex.-based provider of IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) Big Data solutions and predictive analytics on a program called Oil Velocity Solutions. The program applies AI modeling to laboratory lube oil data and clusters it “into matches against known failure signatures, not just thresholds for upper and lower limits,” according to 4Atmos President Mike Jensen. “Fluids are molecular data recorders waiting to tell their stories.”

The Oil Velocity Solutions program analyzes no fewer than seven lube oil-related locomotive failure modes tied to:

• Fuel Leaks/Viscosity.
• Crankcase Overpressure.
• Exhaust Blowby/Turbocharger.
• Coolant Contamination/Dilution.
• Traction Motor Bearing Wear.
• Wear Metals.

Following a successful six-month pilot, the MBTA contracted with 4Atmos to monitor all of its locomotives in full production. “We’ve helped set records at the MBTA for what we call good catches and saves,” notes Jensen. “We’ve seen a rapid ROI, reduced train delays, decreased locomotive maintenance costs and improved reliability, while averaging a 30-day failure prediction lead time.”

Since 2018, MBTA has transitioned from 45- to 10-day oil sampling that incorporates predictive oil/fluid analytics; an on-site, MBTA-staffed Oil Lab; a locomotive fleet “at-risk” ranking; prescription recommendations for inspection and repair; and overhaul warranty monitoring. The program features Web-based and mobile reporting solutions that provide:

• Advanced ML (machine learning) with AI.
• Fleet transfer matching for at-risk assets.
• 360-degree view of locomotive health.
• Prescriptive narratives for targeted inspection and repair.
• Integration with asset management systems.
• Comparisons against 4Atmos’ “Library of Failures” and oil sample database.

Weekly “Oil Calls” deal with at-risk legacy locomotives, as well as units (such as overhauls) with a warranty, and reviews of daily lab scorecards. Coordination occurs across multiple MBTA departments and involves vendors and consultants. The most valuable aspect of this program and its “deep dive” approach, says Jensen, is “the ability to make evidence-based decisions.” Those decisions are “prescriptive and proactive, rather than reactive.”

4Atmos has deployed a similar oil analytics program at CSX, which to date has registered well over 1,000 “good catches.”

CSX Fuel Conservation Desk

Within CSX’s NetOps center in Jacksonville, Fla., is a Fuel Conservation Desk that operates 24/7. Supported by multiple vendors, among them Wi-Tronix LCC, and utilizing technology developed in-house, the Fuel Conservation Desk monitors all active CSX linehaul locomotives in real time. Staffed with a single person, it’s the brainchild of Director of Fuel Strategy and Utilization Corey Davis, a 24-year CSX veteran and recipient of the AAR’s 2020 John H. Chafee Environmental Excellence Award.

Davis has overseen efforts that have resulted in CSX reducing fuel consumption by more than 8%—about 32 million gallons—between 2012 and 2018, and cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 332,000 tons in just one year. He has worked to fully integrate Wabtec’s Trip Optimizer technology with Positive Train Control (PTC) interfaces, which allows these systems to automatically adjust to real-time network changes to optimize fuel efficiency, resulting in about 6% fuel savings.

“In total, initiatives under Davis’ leadership have led to record fuel efficiency and have reduced the railroad’s fuel usage by nearly 60,000 gallons per day,” CSX noted. “Looking to the future, he has also been intimately involved in developing CSX’s ambitious GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions reduction goals that have won approval by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI).” 

The Fuel Conservation Desk, which Davis describes as “safety focused” and “laser-focused on CSX’s sustainability goals,” provides real-time compliance monitoring as well as real-time coaching for locomotive engineers on fuel conservation operating techniques. Davis, an Atlanta native who comes from a traditional railroading family that traces its roots to CSX predecessors Seaboard Air Line/Seaboard Coast Line and Louisville & Nashville (L&N), refers to these features as “in the moment.” 

CSX’s 2030 GHG reduction target is 37.3%. As of 2020, the railroad, Davis says, is ahead of schedule, thanks in part to predictive analytics-based initiatives like the Fuel Conservation Desk. He adds that its function is separate and distinct from what is commonly referred to in railroad parlance as the “power desk,” whose primary functions involve “making technical decisions on locomotive assignments and utilization.”   

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