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Rail News Home Mechanical

November 2006

Rail News: Mechanical

Data in, inefficiencies out


Railroads, private rail-car owners and car repair shops continue to implement computerized systems to track and trace cars and locomotives, monitor rolling stock condition and manage car repair billing functions. Recently, railroads and car owners also have begun using the systems to monitor car component condition, such as by detecting wheel and bearing defects, as part of an Equipment Health Management System initiative.

With dozens of tracking and monitoring devices churning out information at any given time, fleet managers know the location and condition of their rolling stock. They also know the accuracy of car repair bills.

But simply knowing that a locomotive is consuming an unusually high amount of fuel or a repair bill contains an error doesn’t always help fleet managers find ways to use rolling stock more efficiently or speed up the billing process.

So, railroads, car owners and shop managers are calling on fleet management system providers to develop computerized offerings that generate detailed data as well as help users interpret the information. It’s a call system providers are trying to heed.

“iIRX gathers all the data from railroads and shops, as well as industry-generated data, such as from wayside detectors, AEI tag readers and UMLER,” says Mike Edwards, president and chief executive officer of rail operations management system provider iIRX L.P. “The data is voluminous and daunting, and we try to put it into easy-to-understand terms so a user can make informed decisions.”

For the past four years, Chicago Freight Car Leasing Co. has partnered with iIRX to develop and implement systems that turn reams of data into fleet management efficiencies, says Chief Mechanical Officer Dennis Weed.

Predictive maintenance push
To manage its 8,000-car fleet more effectively, the lessor is using various systems to adopt a performance-based predictive maintenance cycle for cars and eliminate “reactive” maintenance, says Weed.

“We want to shop a car in advance, not just shop a car when something breaks, and schedule maintenance in five- and 10-year cycles,” he says.

Currently, Chicago Freight Car Leasing is helping iIRX develop mobile management and satellite tracking systems. To be released by iIRX in second-quarter 2007, the mobile management system would use a standard point location code to track a damaged car’s location in real time.

“You can go out in the field and fix a car and get it back on line without having to send the car to a shop,” says Edwards.

To be released in third-quarter 2007, the satellite tracking system will feature sensors that can detect if bearings are heating up, a car’s doors are properly closed or a hand brake is set.

“You’d get all the information on the condition of a car via satellite,” says Edwards.

Chicago Freight Car Leasing already uses iIRX’s Advanced Equipment Monitoring System to monitor cars’ brake shoes in real time. The system — which can obtain data from a Wheel Impact Load Detector (WILD), or an acoustic bearing or truck performance detector — is helping the lessor evaluate different brake-shoe materials.

Customers are “watching whether a tread conditioning brake shoe is affecting the kip readings of a wheel as it goes over each individual high-impact WILD detector,” says Edwards.

Fitting the bill
Chicago Freight Car Leasing also is using iIRX’s car repair billing and mechanical management/maintenance system. Modules enable Chicago Freight Car Leasing to split car repair costs based on the lessor’s and shipper’s contractual responsibilities, manage bad order cars, calculate a car’s depreciated value, audit payable bills, custom manage billing and monitor part inventory.

An outside consultant recently determined Chicago Freight Car Leasing is saving 90 percent in time efficiencies by using the system, says Weed.

“Our fleet is growing — we’ll be at 10,000 cars in two years,” he says. “But we haven’t had to hire more people.”

Progressive Rail Inc., which several months ago began using iIRX’s system for single-car repair billing functions, also is reducing time spent on billing functions. The short line is producing bills more quickly and finding more billing errors, says Director of Administration James Mattsen.

“When we were auditing bills manually, we found virtually nothing, but we’ve already caught eight to 10 things,” he says.

Short lines are deriving benefits from SSG Innovations L.L.C.’s ExpressYard™ car repair billing/fleet management system, as well. ExpressYard enables users — which also include regionals, private car owners and repair shops — to reduce fleet management costs and equipment downtime, increase operating efficiencies, produce accurate data and spot car repair trends, says SSG partner Justin Gillam.

Introduced four years ago, the online or wireless handheld-based system is designed to manage repair and cleaning operations and billing from one user-friendly Web interface.

“ExpressYard is not just a car repair billing system, it’s a repair shop operations management solution,” says Gillam. “It provides a repair shop a start-to-finish operational solution by combining repair billing with additional modules for inspections, inventory management, employee labor tracking, and data feeds with UMLER and EMIS information.”

ExpressYard provides a centralized system to view and maintain all information of an operation, generate accurate bills so time isn’t wasted on correcting and reissuing rejected bills, and prevent billing mistakes and overcharges by helping shops maintain proper contract rates. Using a rugged wireless handheld device, customers also can eliminate delays and mistranslations associated with re-keying repair information, says Gillam.

“By providing a car’s repair history, revenue reports and estimated vs. actual time and dollar comparisons, ExpressYard gives you a picture of your shop’s efficiencies and where improvements need to be made,” says Gillam.

The system is configurable to and affordable for any size shop, he says.

“We customize the system and charge a monthly fee based on the shop’s particular use and how many repairs they perform,” says Gillam.

SSG currently is working on an ExpressYard enhancement that would enable customers to re-use data to provide
updated information in the UMLER and EMIS databases.

Location automation
At Lat-Lon L.L.C., sales personnel already are marketing enhancements to the company’s asset tracking systems.

In spring, the company introduced the RailRider™ Damage Prevention Unit (DPU), the latest version of its wireless rail-car monitoring system, as well as the latest version of the RailRider™ Locomotive Monitoring Unit (LMU).

Featuring a Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring device and alarm reporting capabilities, the DPU monitors the location and condition of rail shipments to help prevent cargo damage. Two temperature and two container sensors detect whether a shipment is mishandled, at an acceptable temperature and vibration level, and delivered on time.

“Maybe a shipment is getting damaged because it’s too hot or because a hatch opens,” says Lat-Lon President and CEO Dave Baker. “You can mix and match, and use the sensors as you see fit.”

Data generated by the DPU is accessible online via Lat-Lon’s Web site. Fleet managers can use the data to improve shipment-handling processes and track cars along mainlines, short-line track and interstates, and in yards.

Something for everyone
Featuring real-time GPS tracking and locomotive health monitoring capabilities, the LMU is an off-the-shelf wireless system marketed to regionals and short lines.

“It’s targeted at all railroads, but Class Is typically put out bids to build a system to their specifications,” says Baker. “We wanted to provide a product that has wide appeal and isn’t specifically designed for one customer.”

Fleet managers can use the LMU to monitor a locomotive’s location, condition, operation and fuel usage. The system is designed to monitor speed limits, coolant temperature and battery voltage, as well as man-down, overspeed and other remote-control alarms through four digital, customizable inputs. The LMU generates reports and sends alarms or other messages that users can access through Lat-Lon’s Web site.

“New in this version is a fuel sensor, a ‘geo-fence’ that can call out if a locomotive crosses a state border and a crew productivity feature,” says Baker. “The fuel sensor is useful for crew efficiencies and fuel management.”

Providing data that can improve operating efficiencies is the name of the game for fleet management system providers.

“Time and labor efficiencies, reduced maintenance costs and increased equipment availability [help] improve the reliability and competitiveness of freight railroading,” says iIRX’s Edwards.

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