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March 2021

Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

From the Editor: Summit highlights the technology evolution, and hurdles yet to clear


By Pat Foran, Editor

On Feb. 17, Progressive Railroading hosted a virtual event that focused on advancements in rail technology. Sessions featured presentations from Brian Hancock, executive vice president and chief innovation officer for Kansas City Southern; Keith Dierkx, strategic adviser at Princeton Consultants; and Gary Fry, senior assistant VP of research and development for the Transportation Technology Center Inc. (TTCI)

In his keynote, Hancock discussed developments in advanced train control (ATC), and what steps still are required to establish the technology in the rail industry. An industrywide ATC solution is needed because the nation’s rail network is so interconnected, Hancock said. The technology would address there always being a crew in a locomotive cab, how creating capacity is critical and how freight visibility is essential to customers. ATC also will “require us to automate the footprint for real-time activity to make instant decisions,” Hancock said.

Dierkx, who formerly led IBM’s global transportation business, reviewed current and future technologies that can benefit the freight-rail industry. He focused on artificial intelligence, coupled with machine learning, the Internet of Things, Big Data, digital twins and platforms. Those technologies are foundational for a lot of the automation that needs to take place in the rail industry, Dierkx said.

Fry provided an overview of TTCI’s facility and shared some of its R&D endeavors. TTCI provides testing, consulting, training, research and technical services. TTCI’s objectives include testing and root cause analysis, and prediction and detection functions for various rail components, which are studied in a fatigue environment.

Managing Editor Jeff Stagl covered the virtual summit for RailPrime, our new premium subscription service. An annual subscription to RailPrime is $199; you also can subscribe monthly at $19.99. To subscribe, visit:

The top five: February’s most-read news

What did our Daily News audience read (or at least click) most often among our story offerings in February? Here are the top five:

1. “Virginia governor calls for $50 million in general funds to expand Amtrak service” (2/16/21)

2. “Court rejects FRA effort to preempt states’ train-crew laws” (2/24/21) 

3. “Grand Canyon Railway to return steam engines to service” (2/17/21)

4. “BNSF advances pile installations at Sandpoint Connector project” (2/22/21)

5. “TSB: Train securement practices led to fatal incident at CN yard” (2/1/21)

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