Intelligent Rail Networks Enable Smoother Rail Traffic

A delayed train is more than just an inconvenience; it can disrupt the flow of goods and commerce itself. GE Global Research technologists are using advanced data and analytics to ensure trains arrive on time. A three-pronged strategy will help ensure that trains get from point A to point B and beyond in the fastest, most efficient way possible.

A freight car visits many rail yards in its journey from origin to destination. Incredibly, rail cars spend over 60% of their time in yards and less than 40% of the time traveling. The average speed of freight trains in the U.S. is around 20 mph, but the speed of freight cars is less than 7 mph. Increasing average train speed by just 1 mph could save a class 1 railroad over $200 million a year. Decreasing dwell time of cars in rail yards and minimizing the fuel consumed can further save hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s where GE technology comes in.

Trip Optimizer, already in use at several railroads, helps ensure that trains reach their destinations on schedule while minimizing fuel use. It’s like cruise control for locomotives. The system automatically detects changes in terrain and posted speed limits and adjusts a train’s speed accordingly, limiting the need to brake.

Movement Planner, currently in use at Norfolk Southern railroad, guides train scheduling to help operators avoid on-track bottlenecks and other factors that could slow trains down. It develops a detailed, near-optimal plan for dispatching trains over a time horizon of 8 to 12 hours by anticipating scheduled events like meets, passes, crew changes, maintenance stops, and inspections, so that traffic moves freely and work is carried out in an orderly fashion. This system eliminates the operating inefficiencies from manual dispatching, increasing average train speed and rail network capacity, while decreasing travel times and operating costs.

Yard Planner, now under development, generates plans to seamlessly manage operations in the rail yard. Rail yards break down incoming trains, sort cars by destination and assemble them into new trains. Oftentimes, multiple people at these yards make operational decisions resulting in conflicting objectives, missed car connections and long wait times. Yard Planner strives to eliminate that and streamline the process by automating the scheduling of railcar processing, maintenance and routing.

Where these systems have been deployed, they’re delivering very promising results. The average on-track speed has increased 2 to 4 mph, and fuel savings have eclipsed 25 million gallons.

Organized, efficient flow of train traffic—GE’s Intelligent Rail Network makes it possible.