How IoT is Making Railways Safer

  • March 7, 2018

    Unfortunately, rail accidents are still a reality. Most probably view the rail industry as an old, low-tech business. However, some of the most venerable players in the industry such as BNSF are leveraging high-tech to anticipate failures and increase efficiencies that will make our railways safer and increase speed in supply chains.

    A recent Government Technology article features highlights from a speech by BNSF’s Director of Modern Business Intelligence, Mike Garcia. He explained that BNSF is now one of the country’s biggest telecom companies, drone operators and champion of IoT.

     

    Risks in Railways

    IoT are physical things that have sensors on them. With IoT, we can collect data from everyday things we use in business and infrastructure for actionable insights and predictive analytics. Garcia explains that these sensors tell us what is going on in the physical environment around them. This is paramount for the rail systems spanning our country. A lot can go wrong on a track. Tracks can buckle in heat while pulling apart in cold. Train wheels can deform from stress and components holding cars together can break. The consequences can be deadly.

     

    Preventative Analytics

    Garcia explains that BNSF takes preventative measures by equipping its locomotives and tracks with sensors and detectors. During break failures, wheels drag on the track creating flat spots. Thermal detectors on the track can sense these flat spots as they create friction with the rail. Leaving wheels with flat spots on the car creates risk. The data collected by thermal detectors alerts BNSF to remove those wheels from the cars and replace them with new ones making them safer.

     

    Drone Surveillance in Remote Areas

    Trains are wired with sensors and computers constantly watching for problems. Garcia explains BNSF is taking surveillance one step further with drone technology. Railways span thousands of miles throughout the US and monitoring them can be an arduous task. BNSF tested its first drone flight in Montana to survey over two hundred miles of track. The company plans to fly the drone up to three times a week.

    While IoT technologies will enhance intelligence and efficiencies, Garcia stresses the indispensable human element of the business. IoT can bring light to the issue, but it takes humans to intervene and use expertise and judgement to make the appropriate improvements.

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