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Rail News Home Canadian National Railway - CN

November 2019

Rail News: Canadian National Railway - CN

Rail technology: CN ups the automation ante

CN deployed its first new-generation ATIP car in the third quarter on lines south of Chicago.
Photo – CN


By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor

CN continues to explore and adopt technologies that promise to boost operational execution, efficiency and safety. Add one to the adoption list.

The Class I now is employing a new generation of rail cars in its autonomous track inspection program (ATIP). CN has been testing and implementing autonomous inspection technologies since 2016.

ATIP involves automated box cars that are positioned within trains to wirelessly test and monitor geometric track parameters in real time without interrupting operations.

The cars feature the latest sensor and artificial intelligence technologies to perform automated track inspections around the clock. ATIP cars travel at any track speed and be placed in any type of train.

The cars are equipped with solar and generator power sources for uninterrupted service; a global positioning system to pinpoint asset locations; wireless real-time communications and alert capabilities to maintain constant contact with a back office; and onboard data processing and laser track geometry measurement systems.

Three-dimensional viewpoint

ATIP cars are designed to take continuous measurements of rail shape, rail distance and cross-level deviation alignments, and produce a 3D view of a rail corridor using a cross plane LIDAR system. In addition, a 3D track assessment and component analysis system helps determine the condition of ties, ballast, spikes, plates and other track components.

Using electronic sensing technology, the car can create a profile of track under inspection and provide a real-time geometry view so maintenance crews can perform any repairs that are needed.

The data collected by the box cars also supports predictive maintenance capabilities and reduces the time needed for manual inspections, helping to increase network capacity and boost fluidity, CN officials said in an online post.

“The use of autonomous inspection technologies results in earlier detection of track defects and better data capture for improved predictive maintenance, moving from reactive to preventative maintenance and ultimately building a safer rail network,” they said.

CN began operating the first new-generation ATIP car in the third quarter on lines south of Chicago. The car is the result of internal research and development efforts, collaboration among multiple vendors using existing industry technologies, and customized engineering solutions developed for the Class I, CN officials said in an email.

The railroad has commissioned two of the box cars so far and expects to deploy six more by year’s end, said CN Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Reilly Oct. 22 during the railroad’s third-quarter earnings conference.

“These cars will allow for increased testing and more consistent results that [can] ultimately lead to a safer and more reliable railroad,” he said.

More ATIP cars to come

The eight ATIP cars are expected to cover core routes from Chicago to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, New Orleans and Halifax, Nova Scotia. As the cars enter service, CN officials expect to continue assessing and expanding the program.

“With our strong guiding principle to be the safest and most respected railroad in North America, [we’re] evolving from a traditional railway to the digital, connected railway of the future,” CN officials said. “Next-generation technology and intelligent engineering business systems are designed to provide real-time information to our crews and customers, and are laying the digital foundation that will safely usher us into our next century of operations.”

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