In late 2017, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) released a new strategic plan following months of planning and discussions. The plan features seven objectives aimed at addressing small railroads' biggest challenges. "Now is the time for ASLRRA leadership to create a road map for the future, guiding our focus, investment and value to our members," said ASLRRA Chair Judy Petry in the winter 2018 edition of the association's Short Line Connector magazine. Like their Class I counterparts, regionals and short lines are doing what they can to stay on top of the latest technological trends. Part of that involves learning how to leverage their growing collection of track, locomotive and equipment data.
Congress passed a law in 2008 giving railroads seven years to put the technology in place, and last year extended that deadline for three more years. WASHINGTON -- Many commuter and freight railroads have made little progress installing safety technology designed to prevent deadly collisions and derailments despite a mandate from Congress, according to a government report released Wednesday. The technology, called positive train control or PTC, uses digital radio communications, GPS and signals alongside tracks to monitor train positions. It can automatically stop or slow trains to prevent them from disobeying signals, derailing due to excessive speed, colliding with another train or entering track that is off-limits. The Federal Railroad Administration report shows that while some railroads have made substantial progress, others have yet to equip a single locomotive or track segment with the technology, or install a single radio tower.
The emerging role of Data Science, commonly known as "Big Data" in railroad maintenance, was discussed earlier in Railway Age ("Better Railroading Through Big Data.") As noted, railroads are developing and implementing new generations of sophisticated inspection and monitoring systems, and as a result are finding themselves collecting large volumes of data. This large volume of data, often referred to as Big Data, generally refers to data sets that are so voluminous and complex that traditional data-processing application software is inadequate to deal with them, resulting in the need to use advanced data analytic tools. This is illustrated in Figure 1, which compares the traditional data analysis approach to data handling with the Big Data approach. This use of Big Data in the railroad industry, to include freight and passenger rail, cuts across traditional departmental lines, with applications in Engineering (Track and Structures), Equipment (Rolling Stock) and Transportation (Operations).
BILLINGS, MONTANA – When a freight train derailed in the Montana town of Culbertson, spilling 27,000 gallons of crude oil, investigators blamed the 2015 accident on defective or missing fasteners used to hold the tracks in place. The previous year, cracks in a track that went unrepaired caused a train hauling oil to come off the rails and explode along the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia. Broken bolts were cited in another oil train derailment and fire last year in Mosier, Oregon. Data obtained by The Associated Press show that tens of thousands of similar safety defects were found when government inspectors checked the rail lines used to haul volatile crude oil across the country. The defects included rails that were worn, bolts that were broken or loose or missing, and steel bars that had cracks.
The Amtrak passenger rail line receives more than $1 billion in annual federal subsidies, but private railroads own 97 percent of the tracks upon which Amtrak trains travel. As part of the relationship between the publicly financed passenger rail service and the private carriers, it's the tax-supported railroad that will typically foot the legal bill when accidents happen – even when a private railroad is at fault, the Associated Press reported. So as federal investigators look at how crews from privately owned CSX routed an Amtrak train into a parked freight train in Cayce, S.C., last weekend, tax-supported Amtrak will likely end up paying crash victims' legal claims with public money -- even if CSX should bear sole responsibility for the accident, AP reported. Both Amtrak and freight railroads fight to keep their contracts secret in legal proceedings, AP reported. But whatever the precise legal language, plaintiffs' lawyers and former Amtrak officials say Amtrak generally bears the full cost of damages to its trains, passengers, employees and other crash victims -- even in instances where crashes occurred as the result of a freight rail company's negligence or misconduct.