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Rail News Home Mechanical

April 2016

Rail News: Mechanical

On-board locomotive monitoring technology (part 1)


by Michael Popke

Today’s locomotives are computers on wheels. Onboard monitoring systems collect and transmit remote, data-driven, in-time operational intelligence in the name of increasing system availability, reducing on-track failures, cutting expenditures, and improving operation and efficiency.

Progressive Railroading recently asked a sampling of on-board locomotive monitoring system suppliers what they’re offering today and what’s on deck for tomorrow. In the first of a two-part series, emailed responses from five companies follow.

(Editor’s note: Part two appears in our May issue.)


ENSCO Rail offers the Vehicle/Track Interaction Monitor (V/TI), an autonomous monitoring system installed on locomotives to assess vehicle and track conditions. The system uses accelerometers mounted on the car body and suspension to monitor and transmit events continuously and in near real time to the remote server.

In use for more than 18 years to help increase safety and plan maintenance activities for freight and passenger railroads, V/TI monitors identify potentially dangerous track conditions associated with broken rail, battered joints and frogs, engine burns, track geometry, and ballast or subgrade issues. The system also identifies locomotive suspension component failures that can result in rough ride conditions and truck hunting, company officials say.

Paired with V/TI Monitors is ENSCO Rail’s TrackIT® Web application, which is used to view reported events. TrackIT automatically forwards events to a railroad’s in-house database or directly emails field personnel.

Since 2010, ENSCO Rail has been focused on V/TI data analytics to proactively identify at-risk conditions prior to failure. The company implemented an automated data analytics technique to identify combinations of repeat track-caused events. The automated algorithm provides a condensed, prioritized list of hazardous locations for field personnel.

The company also is responding to customer requests to enhance locomotive-based track inspections with an Autonomous Track Geometry Measurement System, which measures the same track geometry parameters as a manned track geometry vehicle but can operate fully autonomously — similar to V/TI Monitors.

Lat-Lon, a BSM Technologies Company

Lat-Lon has offered the RailRider Locomotive Monitoring Unit (LMU) for more than a decade. The RailRider provides GPS technology for improved one-person-crew safety and dark territory visibility. Additionally, an optional fuel probe and automatic engine start/stop options are designed to improve efficiency and productivity.

The company recently added Mesh Networking, which offers a view of the locomotive’s location and status, a view of the entire rail yard and the ability to offer relative data.

MeshRF sensors the size of a deck of cards pass data along and create a network with hundreds of reporting points throughout the yard. A modem then uploads the data to secure servers and train dispatcher screens.

Railroads have been asking for ways to monitor entire rail yards from the locomotive — including crew, switches, derails, foul points and rolling stock, Lat-Lon officials said. The next step in this evolution? A new phase of machine-to-machine technology that includes the Internet of Things and Big Data analytics. Lat-Lon, too, is part of the transformation with its systems: Each machine is adaptive to each other’s activities, creating a symmetrical relationship, company officials said.

New York Air Brake

New York Air Brake offers LEADER® — Locomotive Engineer Assist / Display & Event Recorder — a train control and energy management system designed to save fuel and reduce in-train forces. High-fidelity on-board simulations predicting train performance several miles ahead are used to select the strategy best suited for increased fuel economy, rail-car life and on-time schedule performance. LEADER either prompts the locomotive engineer to make precise throttle and brake applications or automatically controls throttle and dynamic brake.

Deployed on more than 4,000 locomotives at 12 railroads worldwide, LEADER reduces fuel consumption by up to 17 percent, company officials said.

New York Air Brake also offers a computer-controlled brake system known as CCB II, a microcomputer network-based system that provides full automatic and independent brake control on freight and passenger locomotives. Advanced self-diagnostics continuously monitor system pressures and signals while identifying, reconfiguring and backing up key component failures to deliver mission reliability.

The company also offers the VV1000-T® oil-free compressor that produces clean, compressed air to power the air brakes on heavy-haul trains. Eliminating oil results in less downstream contamination, reduces and simplifies maintenance and lowers life-cycle costs, company officials said.


The Smart Monitoring and Smart Data Analysis product suite from Siemens is a high-performance onboard and back-office information technology environment that provides remote and data-driven services for locomotives and rolling stock. These products allow customers to realize increased system availability, reduce failure on the track, reduce depot time and secure data consistency and quality, company officials said.

All Smart Monitoring data transfers take place securely through encrypted connections via cellular or Wi-Fi. Complete fleet views at various hierarchical levels (trains, cars, components), all events within a certain time period, environmental data attached to an event, mapping of position and state of all trains are examples of data that can be prepared for graphical presentation and analysis.

The larger the fleet, the more difficult it becomes to pore over data manually — even with visualization support. Smart Data Analysis offers a rule engine for data evaluation and root-cause analysis. Sophisticated rules can be set up leveraging Siemens’ engineering know-how, the company said.

Meanwhile, the SIBAS Remote Data Access Train Router (RDA-RT V3) or the Communication Train Router (mCom-RT) provide encrypted train-to-wayside communications and internal communications between onboard subsystems, receive and distribute GPS data, perform time synchronization, allow for process monitoring and offer a built-in Web server.

Finally, the RDA-RT is an “all-in-one” device with every conceivable communication, data and physical interface used for onboard train operations, Siemens officials said, adding that more rail customers are demanding transparency with regard to how the company uses and analyzes data.

Wi-Tronix LLC

For more than 11 years, the Wi-Tronix Wi-PU wireless processing unit has offered a series of features and benefits that integrate with subsystems on locomotives to deliver information to customers in real time.

Railroads can access the data via the Wi-Tronix website, which organizes the data into actionable alerts and information designed to reduce costs, improve safety, enhance service reliability and offer sustainable technology that adapts to a railroad’s changing fleet.

Wi-PU features include the Wi-FuelSensor™, with customizable alerts that save on fuel costs and reduce excess fuel use, and the Mobile Phone Detection System, which aids railroads in monitoring compliance with mobile phone policies.

In March, Wi-Tronix unveiled Violet, a new Locomotive Data Acquisition Recording System that is both an event recorder and DVR. Violet is slated to be officially introduced May 17.

The company will continue to explore new technologies for integration with locomotive subsystems, Wi-Tronix officials said.

Michael Popke is a Madison, Wis.-based freelance writer. Email comments or questions to


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