Written by BSM, a Geotab Company
on March 19, 2018

The digital era is transforming railroads. To stay lean and competitive, it's vital for rail companies to rely on telematics software and the Internet of Things (IoT) to make smart business decisions. In essence, the IoT involves connecting all (and almost every) kind of machine(s) to the internet so those pieces of equipment can communicate with each other. What we do with this interconnectivity is only limited by our creativity, ingenuity, and technical abilities.

When a rail company takes advantage of advanced digital technologies, its annual operating expenses should drop considerably. In other words, when smart fleet management systems are put to work on the railroad, rail companies are more profitable in the long run.

Connect Everything for Faster, Cheaper Repairs

Obviously, it's far more economical to take care of a mechanical issue before it shuts down an entire train. Telematics can help in this area by giving engineers and operators visibility to the assets before they are even in the yard.

As a telematics program accesses multiple streams of data from a train, that data can be used to identify when a wheel, bearing or other part is no longer performing as well as it should. For instance BSM, a Geotab company's rail solution can detect hot bearings, or engaged handbrakes while moving, before a wheel goes bad, allowing railroads to improve their operational efficiency and maintenance planning. Advanced detection can prevent or enable the company to proactively replace a worn-out element before it causes delays.

Since these systems are adept at noticing potential failures before they happen, rail companies are less likely to experience costly accidents. The technology has evolved to the point where it’s possible to get data on tracking impacts, temperature, humidity, pressure, tilt and various other inputs. Setting acceptable thresholds and then calling in the locomotives, cars, or other assets as they fall outside of the range, can result in exceptional cost savings on unnecessary delays, complicated repairs and even non-compliance fees.

Amplify Savings on Fuel

For a major railroad, the cost of fuel is generally the second-largest or third-largest expense. Take Kansas City Southern and Union Pacific Railroad; in 2014, fuel accounted for almost 25 percent of their operating expenses.

Telematics can reduce those costs in various ways. For instance, software could let an engineer know when a train's horsepower is too high and fuel is being wasted. In addition, a telematics program can analyze metrics like tonnage and mileage to let railroad workers know how fuel-efficient their trip is as it's underway. It can also give them ideas about how to conserve fuel on subsequent journeys.

Collaborate on Data to Solve Costly Problems

Monitoring and sharing the appropriate data internally and externally can solve many issues. Whether it’s isolating and identifying an error or putting in a simple check that saves everyone time and headaches, sharing the right data with the right teams is beneficial to everyone.

For instance, at any given moment, a railroad might have one or more trains idling on a track and burning fuel for no reason.  The data collected from a telematics solution can be used to inform central command on a locomotive’s dwell report. That way, someone can shut it down until it's ready to move, saving the company thousands on idled fuel.

Similarly, one rail company noticed cars were experiencing a lot of impacts in one particular section of the railyard. After careful analysis, the company isolated the large numbers of incidents to cars on a certain track. When they took the data to the railroad operating the yard, the data was compelling enough to open an investigation, which let them to fix a previously unreported error that was causing many delays. The efforts to collect and analyze the data saved both the shipper and the operator hundreds of dollars in repairs and delays.

Overall Efficiency

Telematics software can automatically handle all kinds of clerical tasks, including billing, sending paychecks and paying vendors. Consequently, a rail company may be able to thrive with a smaller staff.

These programs can also tell rail command centers when each train will depart and arrive, with precision. That kind of predictive accuracy can allow a railroad to take on more customers and create routes and schedules that are more ambitious, complex and flexible.

In sum, a smart fleet management system provides rail companies with greater efficiency, can lower risk and operating expenses. With telematics and the IoT, a rail company will definitely stay on the right track.

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