Identifying a repair before its needed, timing the delivery of cargo down to the hour and coordinating the movement of millions of rail cars between more than 570 railroads across a 140,000-mile network: to some it may seem like an impossible task. Yet in the age of Big Data, railroads have harnessed the power of information to build the safest, most efficient and cost-effective rail network in the world.
At the center of railroad’s information revolution is Railinc. Founded at the dawn of the computer era, Railinc was one of the pioneers in the use of computers to build a groundbreaking inventory system that logged the size, dimensions and carrying capacity of the industry’s shared fleet of rail cars. This information allowed railroads to know if a rail car could be loaded with certain commodities and what routes certain car types could take based upon those specifications.
In the years since, Railinc has continued to incorporate new technologies and data streams into their information network. Today, the company uses railroad data collected as trains pass intelligent sensors to track the movement and health of rail cars as they travel across the United States. By analyzing this information, Railinc can provide near-real time information that helps companies better manage inventory, manufacturers more accurately plan production schedules and railroads plan for network and rail car maintenance and upgrades.
Railinc’s big data programs are also helping to improve the safety of freight rail. Through programs like the Equipment Health Management System, the company is collecting information about the health of rail equipment as it travels across the country, identifying repairs before they’re needed.
America’s rail network will only become smarter in the years to come. From installing sensors directly onto locomotives, rail cars, and beside track to identifying improvements in the loading of freight, big data is helping railroads make intelligent decisions about the rail network – reducing costs for customers, all while delivering cargo more safely and efficiently than ever before.