Five railroad operators have joined a venture to accelerate the adoption of telematics technology across the North American railcar fleet, saying Wednesday that adding arrays of sensors to trains could improve safety and visibility, making rail more competitive with other freight modes.

The “Rail Pulse” initiative includes Norfolk Southern, GATX Corp., Genesee & Wyoming, TrinityRail, and Watco, which collectively own nearly 20% of the North American railcar fleet. The partners will begin development of the platform later this year, and plan to offer a full-service platform by the end of 2022.  

Funding for the venture is expected to come from a Federal Railroad Administration grant known as Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements, as well as from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the venture members themselves.

According to the partners, the plan could improve safety by monitoring hand brake and impact data, and will expand in future iterations to add additional sensors measuring onboard bearing temperature and wheel impact detection.

The second objective of Rail Pulse is to increase rail’s competitive position relative to other modes by improving visibility into the status, location, and condition of individual railcars, the group said. By attaching global positioning system (GPS) trackers, the new telematics will support real-time track-level visibility, whether doors or hatches are open, whether the car is loaded or partially loaded, and other key performance metrics.

Rail Pulse intends to offer the data as a neutral, open-architecture, industry-wide railcar telematics platform that could benefit the entire rail ecosystem: shippers, Class I railroads, short lines, regional railroads, switching carriers, and railcar operating lessors.

“Rail Pulse is another example of how the freight rail industry is using advanced technology to enhance safety and service to shippers,” Jennie Granger, PennDOT Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation, said in a release. “PennDOT is proud of the strong partnership we have with the freight rail industry, and we look forward to this platform being implemented throughout the North American railcar fleet.” 

The project follows other recent investments in supply chain technology for the rail sector, including the acquisition this month by yard management software vendor Pinc Solutions of RailcarRx, a provider of a suite of rail industry software solutions and services.

And in April, the location-monitoring system vendor BlackBerry Ltd. announced plans to offer an asset-tracking solution to railcar owners, operators, and suppliers through a partnership with locomotive modernization solution vendor ZTR. Also, supply chain technology provider GE Transportation—now known as Wabtec Corp.—in 2018 linked its Railroad and Shipper visibility suites with data connectivity tools from software vendor project44.


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