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— Compiled by Walter Weart
Railroads and other rolling stock owners have always expected to know where their rail cars and locomotives are, the condition they're in and when they'll get to their final destination. But with the evolution of monitoring technology, rail-car and locomotive owners have more product and service options available — and a better shot at pinpointing, in real time, where their assets are — than ever before.
Progressive Railroading recently asked a dozen companies to discuss their Automatic Equipment Identification (AEI) reader systems and Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring solutions. In the first of a two-part series, emailed responses from six companies follow. (Editor's note: Part two will be published in our September 2013 issue.)
Industrial Networks Ltd. specializes in AEI integration.
"While we can simply read tags and report that data, we do so much more," said Jackson Dawson, director of sales and marketing. "Through a combination of handheld and stationary readers, our industrial customers can automate rail-car locations, rail-car inspections, rail-car loading/off loading and a host of other daily rail-car activities."
According to Industrial Networks' website, the company's offerings include the RAILTRAC® Monitor system, which verifies rail-car arrival and departure by scanning the AEI tag on the rail car as it passes; and the RAILTRAC® Monitor Scale system, which integrates with static and motion weigh scales to collect rail-car weights.
Lat-Lon L.L.C. provides wireless GPS tracking and monitoring solutions using cellular and satellite connectivity. The core product in Lat-Lon's line is the self-contained Solar Tracking Unit (STU). A wireless tracking unit, the STU includes GPS, multi-tech modems for code division multiple access or global system for mobile communication — the two major radio systems used in cell phones — and a patented power system for full-day functionality.
Power priority can be allocated from the desktop, alerting a STU to adjust reporting frequency and store data if sunless days persist, the company said.
Lat-Lon's web-based software is available via XML pull from hosted Lat-Lon servers "straight into Enterprise Resource Planning or Customer Relationship Management software owned by customers, or accessed from a smart phone or tablet with the Lat-Lon app," the company said. The online software and coding also is used in powered Lat-Lon products, including a locomotive monitoring unit, vehicle tracking unit, heavy equipment monitoring unit and automatic engine start/stop unit for locomotives.
Meanwhile, Lat-Lon is preparing to launch next-generation radio frequency sensors with high reliability, scalability and flexibility, enabling high-data throughput while using "very low power," the company said.
Applications extend beyond the yard to moving assets, enabling a "complete view" of a piece of equipment with up to 32 units reporting to one base station, the company said. The 32 units can sense flat wheels, hot bearings, hatch status changes, impacts, loaded/unloaded, handbrake position and more at one time.
"We are eager to continue our innovation and product solutions to offer seamless answers to our customers' needs," Lat-Lon President Dave Baker said. "Remote technology has only begun to gain its momentum and will continue evolving as we drive forward with new ideas and build market understanding."
A wholly owned subsidiary of Comet Industries, Comet Electronics L.L.C. offers the RailNet AEI Reader System, which has been installed at more than 4,000 sites and has been used by most Class I and regional railroads for more than 20 years, said Comet Industries Executive Vice President John Killian.
"Our RailNet AEI Reader System is designed to comply with the AAR S-918 Standard for Automatic Equipment Identification and is available in single, multiple and yard track configurations, and is capable of handling trains operating at any track speed," Killian said. "The standard system can deliver consist and maintenance information to multiple railroad host systems simultaneously. The data format and protocols can be different for each host. This feature allows a single site to support the data needs of up to 10 different railroads. In addition, the site can deliver the information over dialup connection, network connections or both."
The standard equipment configuration includes a 4-foot by 6-foot walk-in aluminum hut with standby power and lightning protection.
Comet also offers the Railert Automatic Tag Reader (ATR) System, which is designed to bridge the gap between a hand-held data recorder and the traditional full-featured AEI system. Railert ATR is a single-antenna unit with a modular design for fast and easy repairs, according to company literature.
Through its tracking and tracing technology, Railinc Corp. helps railroads, rail equipment owners and shippers that need visibility across multiple railroads to "connect the dots" across more than 530 railroads, said Railinc Director of Commercial Products Nanette Efird.
Railinc's products include RailSight™ Track and Trace, a single-source data service that sends out real-time rail data around the clock, tracking rail cars and intermodal equipment. It's suited for high-volume data users and delivers car location messages via a data feed directly into transportation management systems.
The company also offers RailSight™ Monitor, a web-based application that provides customizable dashboards from a single data source. It enables users to quickly locate rail cars and shipments so they can plan and schedule activities accordingly, Efird said. Custom trace reports can be scheduled to run automatically; results are emailed to users.
Another web-based application — RailSight™ Demand Trace — is designed to help "infrequent" users access the complete lifecycle of shipments and equipment, the company said. With RailSight Demand Trace, users run traces as needed to solve a problem or keep tabs on a shipment.
Railinc also offers Steelroads®, a shipping community- oriented website through which users can trace their rail shipments, submit bills of lading to participating carriers, and look up equipment characteristics and industry reference information. A short-line event reporting application, also integrated with Steelroads, is a free tool used by smaller railroads to submit events to the industry's central event repository.
Softrail, which offers a complete line of AEI RF identification products and services, recently released two new AEI reader products: the AI3000 Network AEI Reader System, which replaces the AI2006 Network AEI Reader System, and the AI3100 Portable AEI Reader, said Softrail President Tom Levine.
The AI3000 Network AEI Reader System is a trackside reader designed primarily for use in yards, but it can read tags at train speeds up to 100 mph.
The AI3000 uses radar to determine speed and direction instead of wheel detectors, and can send train consists in a T94 or CSV file attached to an email or directly to an FTP server, Levine said. It also interfaces with Softrail's AEI Rail and Road Manager program, which enables users to draw a track map of a yard and display rail-car location. Network communication options include a wireless LAN bridge and a cellular link. And the AI3000 can be solar powered.
The AI3100 portable reader, too, can send and track rail-car consists in a T94 or CSV file attached to an email or directly to an FTP server; it also interfaces with Softrail's AEI Rail and Road Manager program.
And with an optional barcode reader, the AI3100 portable reader can record up to 40 serial numbers from seals or rail-car components for each car. The information can be sent to other computer systems, Levine said.
The AI3100 portable reader communicates with a network via a docking station or WiFi.
"Customers generally locate an AI3000 wayside reader at their rail gate to know what rail cars are in their facility, and then use the portable reader to identify the locations of the rail cars on the various tracks," Levine said. "Rail-car locations are then displayed on a track map of their yard using the AEI Rail and Road Manager program."
Wi-Tronix® L.L.C. provides products and services to wirelessly monitor mobile assets such as locomotives, industrial equipment and marine vessels.
The company's products include the Wireless Processing Unit (Wi-PU), an onboard platform for communications. The unit features internal cellular, GPS and wireless local area network modules to transmit data to appropriate locations, said Vice President of Sales and Marketing Fred Cozzi. The company's Wi-PU software — Wi-DownloadER™ and Wi-Tracker™ — links to a number of components onboard the locomotive, including event recorders, locomotive digital video recorders and engine controllers.
"The interfaces to these systems allows for real-time health monitoring and remote downloads," Cozzi said, adding that real-time data and alerts can be generated based on objectives and rules that customers establish.
The data that is gathered is "off-boarded" to the back office, which consists of a suite of software that stores, analyzes and retrieves information gathered from the locomotive, Cozzi said.
"The capability of the back office system is absolutely critical to the implementation of process improvements enabled by remote monitoring," he added.
Wi-Tronix also offers the Wi-FuelSensor™, which features ultrasonic technology to measure fuel levels. The sensor mounts on top of the fuel tank and uses ultrasonic technology to measure the distance from the sensor to the fuel in the tank.
Meanwhile, the Wi-NAV™ option for the Wi-PU can be integrated into new or existing Wi-PUs to enhance operational efficiency, service reliability and safety. Wi-NAV provides a range of alerts and summary reports, including switching impacts, collision detection, enhanced positioning accuracy and real-time track monitoring.
Walter Weart is a Denver-based freelance writer.