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February 2018

Rail News: MOW

Data visualization, actionable insights key to Big Data applications


The opportunities to use Big Data to drive efficiency and improve safety are plentiful, but railroaders may face a steep learning curve when it comes to sorting through the sheer volume of information produced by new technologies.

For instance, data generated by automated track geometry units can be “overwhelming to a lot of people,” said Amtrak Principal Engineer-Track Geometry Michael Craft during his presentation at the University of Delaware’s Big Data in Railroad Maintenance Planning conference, which ran Dec. 14-15.

So, Amtrak works to create visualizations to present the data in more easily digested ways.

“What we really want to focus on is taking the data and making it understandable by people who need to know,” Craft said.

Those who need the information can range from program managers to tamper operators to division engineers.

What’s more, some tech companies can run up against decades-old operational guidelines as they try to incorporate new software in railroading.

“It is kind of a preposterous proposition to walk into a rail yard with a laptop and say, ‘I can predict the future,’” said Uptake Director of Rail Joe Becker in an interview after the conference. “Some people on the ground may be resistant to change.”

Uptake, which presented at the Big Data conference, powers Progress Rail’s EMD Uptime analytics platform. The technology is aimed at minimizing locomotive downtime by identifying problems before they occur.

To help customers fix those problems, the platform lays out specific steps to take to address those problems, Becker said.

“We can do all the analytics in the world, but if we can’t [provide] a pointed, directed insight, then we’re not really moving the needle at all,” he added.

— Daniel Niepow

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