Rolling Processor Platforms

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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TALOS™, Progress Rail’s Energy Management system, is an attended autonomous technology that “delivers better fuel efficiency (up to 15%), reduced emissions (also up to 15%), and improved train handling for safer operation and increased network capacity, all of which can improve a railroad’s bottom line.”

RAILWAY AGE, AUGUST 2020 ISSUE: Improvements in train handling, fuel efficiency and safety are all possible through the advanced microprocessor technology quickly becoming standard on locomotives.

It isn’t a stretch to look at the modern diesel-electric locomotive as a “microprocessor on rails.” Onboard software and related hardware technology have grown exponentially, encompassing numerous integrated systems that manage critical functions: Fuel consumption, through energy management systems. Engine control (prime-mover and traction alternator). EPA emissions compliance. Brake (independent, dynamic and train line) and throttle settings. Remote health monitoring. Engineer-assist and/or attended autonomous operation. PTC. Distributed Power. Safety.

Working closely with railroads, companies like Wabtec, Progress Rail, Wi-Tronix, Railhead and New York Air Brake are developing and deploying these technologies across a broad spectrum of applications. Following are examples of this close collaboration, which in many ways illustrates the best of railroad/supplier collaboration and synergy.


TALOS™, Progress Rail’s Energy Management system, is an attended autonomous technology that “delivers better fuel efficiency (up to 15%), reduced emissions (also up to 15%), and improved train handling for safer operation and increased network capacity, all of which can improve a railroad’s bottom line,” the company says.

On Nov. 19, 2019, Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono climbed on board a TALOS™-controlled heavy-haul freight train at the RTT (Railroad Test Track) at TTCI in Pueblo, Colo., for an exclusive demonstration. The train, as it had been doing throughout numerous tests, operated automatically in ATO mode, navigating the 13.5-mile loop at speeds up to 50 mph, climbing the RTT’s 1.5% ruling grade and negotiating its S-curve, among other right-of-way characteristics.

TALOS™ test train at TTCI. William C. Vantuono photo.

“As the global rail market changes at an ever increasing pace, Progress Rail has listened to its customers to deliver new solutions driving efficiency, productivity and reliability throughout operations,” the company says. “As a result, more emphasis has been placed upon the company’s digital suite of connected solutions than ever. Energy Management and Train Automation is at the forefront of these digital tools. TALOS™ Energy Management utilizes machine learning and massive computing power to analyze and optimize train routes, train types and train health, resulting in significant improvements for fuel and time. Additionally, SmartConsist™ sets each locomotive to its individual, prime throttle position within the consist to improve overall fuel economy and reduce emissions, while achieving required power and tractive effort.

“By adapting to train behavior, TALOS™ delivers higher fuel savings, reduced emissions, improved train handling for safer operation and increased network capacity to impact railroads’ bottom line. For full consist optimization, AESS™, our Automatic Engine Start/Stop system, monitors critical operating parameters during locomotive idle operation, safely and effectively shutting down the engine once all factors are satisfied.”

In terms of asset health monitoring and maintaining an efficient locomotive fleet, Progress Rail’s PR Uptime® Suite allows for leveraging of operational data, saving fuel by detecting potential problems before they become actual failures. This is an example of “moving from time- to condition-based maintenance. Advanced asset monitoring combines with our Locomotive Monitoring Center (LMC) expertise to offer customized reports and streamline data delivery. With the enhanced capabilities to assess engine system health and determine ‘fuel hogs,’ as well as provide Virtual Load Testing and a fleet-level Fuel Management dashboard.”

Progress Rail’s PowerView is described as “a next-generation, crash-hardened Locomotive Event and Video Recorder that provides synchronized recording and playback of multiple data sources and can replace multiple locomotive recorders into a single unit. As an OEM-agnostic processing platform, PowerView provides a single advanced fuel monitoring solution across an entire and varied fleet, and can integrate with other third-party fuel management products. It supports edge computing for local analytics, alarming and other applications.”

Progress Rail’s drop-in, 64-volt replacement EMD Lithium-Ion Starting Battery employs chemistry that “meets the highest demands for locomotive starting in a single battery enclosure,” the company says. “Advanced battery technology significantly lessens maintenance and dead battery issues. Perhaps more important, the Li-On solution provides a foundation to power accessories on the locomotive, offering considerable fuel savings. A single lithium-ion battery replaces two lead-acid batteries on a locomotive.”


Wabtec photo.

Wabtec Corp.’s Trip Optimizer energy management system, described by the company as a “smart cruise control system for trains,” has surpassed, globally, 500 million miles in operation.

Trip Optimizer, originally deployed in 2009 by GE Transportation (which Wabtec acquired in 2019), features “situational awareness that accounts for terrain, train make-up and speed restrictions to calculate an optimum speed plan, automatically controlling locomotive throttle and dynamic brakes according to that plan for optimal fuel utilization and emission reduction.” The system is installed on more than 11,000 locomotives globally and, according to Wabtec, “has saved 400 million gallons of fuel to date while reducing CO2 emissions by more than 500,000 tons per year—equivalent to taking 100,000 cars off the road. The system greatly reduces emissions and fuel costs for railroads worldwide.”

“Fuel is the second largest operating cost for our customers, with North American Class I railroads spending more than $7 billion on diesel each year,” said Wabtec Chief Commercial Officer for Digital Electronics Peter Thomas. “The Trip Optimizer system has demonstrated its value by improving locomotive efficiency and utilization for more than 500 million miles of [attended] automatic operation. It is EPA-certified to cut emissions by 10% by reducing fuel consumption, enabling railroads to shrink their carbon footprint and reduce operating expenses.”

“We continue to explore ways to enhance the benefits of the Trip Optimizer system to the environment and our customers by providing advanced features,” said Wabtec Vice President Train Performance and Automation Solutions Scott Horning. “The SmartHPT feature provides an additional 5% fuel savings by optimizing train performance for a given HPT (horsepower per trailing ton), while integration with our LOCOTROL DP (distributed power) system provides automatic control of DP trains in independent mode, delivering improved train handling over challenging terrain.”


Section 11411 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) requires the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) “to promulgate regulations requiring each railroad carrier that provides regularly scheduled intercity rail passenger or commuter rail passenger transportation to install inward- and outward- facing image recording devices (cameras) in all controlling locomotives of passenger trains.” In addition, FRA, through an NPRM that has not yet been issued as a final rule, “is proposing to require that these devices record while a lead locomotive is in motion, and retain the data in a crashworthy memory module. The NPRM does not propose to require recording devices in freight locomotives.

Many railroads are installing these devices voluntarily. For example, Metra recently awarded a $15.5 million contract to Railhead Corp. to install, fleet-wide, tracking systems on locomotives and cab cars. Railhead’s system includes its Locomotive Digital Video Recorders (LDVRs), forward-facing twin-view cameras, three rear-facing cameras, microphones, Locomotive Application Remote Interface (LARI) event recorder data integration and crash-hardened memory. This system “allows Metra the ability to sync event recorder data with video. LARI reads event recorder data live and streams it directly to the LDVR. It also provides Metra the ability to expand and grow to incorporate more on board devices for a complete remote monitoring solution,” the company says.

The latest iteration of LDVR is the LDVRHD (High Definition), described by Railhead as “the industry’s most advanced LDVR system to date.” The system “can support up to 12 IP A/V channels to connect to our industry-inclusive auto detect and configure IP cameras with up to 1080p HD resolution. Railhead has designed the LDVRHD to support multiple storage options ranging from 256GB to 2TB solid-state drive technology. To guarantee that the critical data stored is available when needed, the LDVRHD has an option to protect the data by utilizing RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) configurations and an available Crash Hardened Memory Module. Retrieving the data is simple, using backwards-compatible RSM software.”

Rail describes LDVRHD as “a full featured, highly reliable, steel constructed LDVR designed specifically for use in rail applications. It is Mil-Spec and SAE rated for proven resilience and dependability in unforgiving railroad environments, with added protection for water intrusion, shock, vibration, temperature extremes, voltage fluctuations and power loss. It is built to withstand all the elements, featuring robust M12 connectors, a completely sealed and water-resistant chassis, while recording the clearest, highest quality audio/video. The system has been tested and meets FRA specification S-5702, is easy to use, provides superior video quality and delivers years of reliable service with the lowest cost of ownership.

“LDVRHD supports PoE digital high definition IP cameras that deliver the clearest, highest quality video. The system provides a user-friendly and technologically advanced solution for mobile video surveillance while including all the high-quality features of a standard stationary IP system. It supports plug and play functionality. This allows for the installation of cameras and microphones to be easily installed with no programming or networking expertise required. Our cameras’ auto connect feature provides a common setup across all cameras while saving hours on installation.

“The LDVRHD provides superior video streaming capabilities, is wireless-ready for use with any TCP/IP based network and compatible with existing wireless 802.11 and cellular modem devices.”

To date, more than 5,000 Railhead LDVRs and 2,500 inward-facing cameras have been installed on passenger and freight railroads.


Wi-Tronix Violet Edge Fuel Display and Sensor.

After labor, fuel is a railroad’s single-largest cost. A technology-supported fuel management strategy is a recent development.

According to Wi-Tronix, “access to real-time, accurate fuel-use data has taken on additional urgency. Incorporated into the overall data stream, a data-based fuel management program is an indispensable part of a railroad’s overall business strategy, one focused on safety, efficiency, sustainability, service quality, cost control and profitability. Indeed, fuel management goes well beyond basic fuel conservation.”

A newly published Wi-Tronix white paper on fuel management is instructive on why fuel management is important:

“Among the primary jobs of railroad personnel responsible for managing locomotive fleets is ensuring that locomotives get fuel where and when they need it. However, the data needed to make business-appropriate strategic decisions often lacks detail and/or comprehensiveness. For example, actual fuel consumption is often higher than what is projected. Reconciliation of purchased gallons with actual gallons consumed is very challenging.

“There are many considerations. Locomotives, individually or in multiple-unit lashups, are often cut out of a train to visit the fueling pad. With Distributed Power (DP) units spaced throughout a consist (more common today, with longer, heavier trains operating under Precision Scheduled Railroading), this becomes more problematic. Even with run-through refueling pads located on the main line handling multiple locomotives simultaneously, a train must still stop for an extended time period. Traffic control, even for the most experienced dispatchers, is often a chess game. Refueling stops, planned or unplanned, are just one of many pieces on the board.

“Locomotive fuel tank gauges have improved over the years, from simple sight glasses to gauges that use compressed air to determine how much fuel is left in the tank. But these methods have up to a 5% margin of error (for example, plus or minus 250 gallons on a 5,000 gallon tank). Fuel level readings are skewed by roll and pitch and rail cant, and whether a train is operating on a grade or flat territory, through curves or on tangent track.

“Fuel costs vary, depending upon geographic region. Fueling in regions where prices are higher impacts cost control initiatives. Delaying locomotive refueling until a train is operating in a region where prices are lower creates risks: running out of fuel, stranding power on line-of-road, unplanned stops, and financial penalties for delayed trains and shipment deliveries outside of contracted windows. The remedy is a DTL (Direct To Locomotive) fuel stop requiring a contracted truck making a fuel delivery in a remote location, at higher cost than a railroad facility. DTL, however, can be problematic, particularly, reconciling billing with the amount of fuel actually delivered.

“Technology exists in the market today that provides the benefits of reduced fuel consumption, simplified fuel consumption accounting, and reduced emissions. This technology, utilizing AI (Artificial Intelligence) as well as railroad operating systems, is designed to provide high-quality data—real-time and historical—for every locomotive in the fleet, resulting in ‘refueling optimization.’”

To address the numerous challenges railroads encounter like those described above, Wi-Tronix® has developed the Wi-FuelSensor, Wi-Nav and Fuel Efficiency Monitor (FEM) System technologies. “All are fleet-agnostic, AI-based solutions that generate fuel data used to provide alerts and reports,” the company says. “Integrated within a refueling optimization program, these solutions provide access to real-time, accurate fuel data, generating alerts when specific fuel conditions are met. They allow railroad personnel to make real-time adjustments for optimal fuel consumption, ultimately decreasing fuel costs and increasing operating efficiencies.”


NYAB LEADER® as deployed on Norfolk Southern.

The New York Air Brake TDS (Train Dynamic Systems) Division LEADER® (Locomotive Engineer Assist/Display & Event Recorder) is a train control and energy management system designed to save fuel and reduce in-train forces. It has been in service since 2008 and is deployed on thousands of locomotives globally.

LEADER® software “contains data on the train’s length and weight, car types, power distribution and a detailed track profile, reacting en route in real time to signal changes, weather conditions and locomotive performance to optimize train handling,” NYAB says. “It performs high-fidelity on-board simulations that predict train performance several miles ahead, evaluates multiple train operating strategies and selects the strategy that is the best match for increased fuel economy, railcar life and on-time schedule performance.”

In a study using two years of log data on EMD locomotives operating on a Class I railroad, NYAB found that LEADER’s overall, network-wide fuel savings were 11.8%.

LEADER® has evolved in recent years to a three-mode technology: LEADER DriverAssist™ “prompts the locomotive engineer on brake and throttle settings.” LEADER AutoControl™ “automatically operates the throttle and dynamic brake systems for improved precision. The most advanced iteration, LEADER AutoPilot™, “provides autonomous train control, and operates driverless in Australia.” LEADER® also offers PTC compliance, real-time brake monitoring, trip management or “pacing,” consist management (such as integration with SmartConsist® from Progress Rail), and compliance with LCCM (Locomotive Command & Control Module) and other interoperability standards.

As well, says NYAB, LEADER® has the capability “to model and prompt for Asynchronous Distributed Power (ADP), providing a material improvement in fuel savings and train handling in both hilly and flat terrain.” As a long, heavy freight train crests a hill, the force of gravity pulls on the portion of the train on the ascending grade—draft—while pushing on the portion on the descending grade—buff. ADP allows the lead locomotives to use gravity to their full advantage, while supplying power to the rear locomotives to climb the hill. On flat terrain,  ADP selects the most efficient units, since less power is needed. Fuel consumption is reduced by temporarily idling unneeded units and reducing power to others.

Rolling processor platforms, indeed.

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