RailPulse’s Three-Cycle Pilot
RailPulse is actively working to create a neutral, open-architecture, industry-wide railcar remote monitoring platform to accelerate the adoption of GPS and other technologies across the North American railcar network. The RailPulse coalition, currently comprised of seven major railcar owners, is developing the cloud-based telematics platform using a three-phased pilot approach that initially encompasses five key analytic measures.
“The focus of RailPulse is to provide visibility into the location, condition and health of the railcar,” says David Shannon, General Manager of RailPulse. “We are starting with a suite of five key telemetry measures: the location of the railcar, whether the handbrake is set on the railcar, whether excessive impact has been detected, the loaded/empty state of the railcar and whether doors/hatches are open or closed. These measures are just the beginning of what we ultimately plan to offer.”
Pilot Program – Five Key Measures
Telemetry Vendor Selection for the Pilot Program
As a first step in developing the RailPulse platform, in 2021 the coalition solicited participation of telemetry sensor vendors and identified a small set of partner vendors to participate in pilot testing. RailPulse worked with an independent consulting firm to evaluate 100+ candidates. After thorough evaluation, three vendor partners – Nexxiot, ZTR Control Systems and Hitachi Rail Systems (in partnership with Intermodal Telematics) – were selected for the initial year-long RailPulse pilot.
The three selected vendors are only the beginning of RailPulse’s long-term vision. Its intent is not to specify telemetry hardware, but instead to offer a broad range of RailPulse-certified options for railcar owners as more vendors participate.
Pilot Cycle 1 – Hardware Performance Validation
The RailPulse Pilot Program began in spring 2022 and includes three cycles spanning a year. The first cycle included small-scale testing and validation of the telemetry hardware from the three pilot vendor partners. Did the hardware function as intended? Was it accurate and reliable? RailPulse ran many tests during Cycle 1 to validate the performance of each vendor’s sensors, gateways and software. It evaluated geofence, hand brake, impact, loaded/empty and door open/closed scenarios to ensure accurate detection. Cycle 1 completed in June 2022.
Stefan Kalmund, CEO of Nexxiot, said, “We admire the RailPulse initiative and support it with our technology and business applications. We are working closely with RailPulse members from the early conceptual phase, into the current pilot, and then beyond into hardware deployment and operations. Nexxiot technology enables railcar operators to improve maintenance and increase the utilization of their fleet. Cargo shippers benefit as they receive enhanced transport visibility as well as improved safety, quality, and user experience. The RailPulse collaboration is transforming rail freight to make it easier, safer, and more sustainable.”
Pilot Cycle 2 – Instrumented Railcar Deployment Testing
Cycle 2 began in July 2022 and will continue through October. RailPulse is continuing to validate telemetry hardware performance, as well as standardize the installation process for instrumenting five different railcars types that include box cars, auto racks, covered hoppers, gondolas, and tank cars. A key challenge is to achieve accurate telematics performance when parts and components vary among railcar type.
During Cycle 2, RailPulse outfitted a test fleet of railcars with the selected vendors’ telemetry sensors and began evaluating them in real-world conditions. Each of the seven RailPulse members committed to equipping 50 railcars with the same suite of sensor functionalities for a total test fleet of approximately 350 cars. This enabled RailPulse to gather the sensors’ data while the railcars move about the rail network in day-to-day operations and validate the sensors’ performance in various field conditions. RailPulse also gathered information on the time, complexity, and work required to install the suite of sensors on the railcars to help standardize the installation process.
Neil Shipley, ZTR Director of Services, said, “We worked with RailPulse during the pilot to ensure the highest level of data accuracy and value for its platform. Field testing sensor performance across different railcar types in real-world conditions builds confidence in both telemetry sensor technology and the RailPulse platform. With over a decade of telematics experience both inside and outside the rail industry, we understand just how critical that earned confidence is to the growth and overall success of telematics in the industry, ultimately delivering a better product and service for our customers. Our product does just that.“
Throughout Cycle 2, RailPulse platform development has also continued. Currently, the data collected from the telemetry sensors is directly analyzed by RailPulse from the vendors’ respective systems, but once initial development of the cloud-based RailPulse platform is completed, this data will be uploaded to the RailPulse platform and analyzed from there.
Pilot Cycle 3 – Expanded Volume Testing, Vendor Certification Process Development
Cycle 3 will increase the railcar test fleet to more than 1,000 cars and continue testing telemetry data capture and analysis from real-world conditions. RailPulse plans to install telemetry sensors on the additional railcars between December 2022 and January 2023. The railcars will participate in the testing cycle through second quarter 2023 when a final report will be issued.
Data from the railcars will be sent from the telemetry vendors’ systems to the cloud-based RailPulse platform where it will be enriched with other rail data, compiled, analyzed, and delivered to subscribers. Testing in the final cycle will validate the accuracy of sensor data and enable the coalition to monitor and enhance the performance of the complete RailPulse system. The end-goal is to leverage sensors, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to give better insights into the data and issues the rail industry and shippers care about.
Miles Metschke, Head of Freight Rail – Americas for Hitachi Rail, said, “We can see the big-picture vision that is driving RailPulse, and it’s exciting to be a part of the pilot testing and rollout. Accurate telemetry sensor technology combined with advanced analytics and artificial intelligence can provide tremendous value across the entire rail ecosystem and transform the industry. We are very excited to bring our new railcar monitoring solution to North America with our partner, Intermodal Telematics, in support of delivering the RailPulse vision. Our combined products, software, and capabilities will enable railcar owners, rail shippers and railroads to realize the promised value from the RailPulse system.”
During Cycle 3, RailPulse will also formalize the telemetry vendor certification requirements that will allow vendors not part of the pilot to submit their products for RailPulse certification.
“RailPulse doesn’t plan to specify the hardware to be used by each railcar owner,” says Shannon. “We want to enable flexibility and choice by allowing our members to select the vendors they are most comfortable with. We’re confident this can spark even more innovation in the telemetry market.”
Progress in Motion
As of today, the Cycle 2 railcars are on the road testing the telemetry sensors in real-world conditions, and the RailPulse platform is under development. By the end of October 2022, the final cycle of the pilot program will begin with the goal of launching the RailPulse platform by second quarter 2023.
“Our focus during the year-long pilot is to identify and certify RailPulse-ready telemetry vendors, develop the full RailPulse platform, prove it works, and maximize its value to our shippers and members,” Shannon continues. “We are well underway and making progress every day towards making the RailPulse platform available to all rail industry participants.”
RailPulse, formed in 2020 by a diverse group of industry leading stakeholders, includes Norfolk Southern Corporation, Union Pacific Railroad, GATX, Genesee & Wyoming Inc., Watco Companies LLC, The Greenbrier Companies, and TrinityRail. The group aims to facilitate and accelerate the adoption of GPS and other telematics technology across the North American railcar network to significantly increase visibility, efficiency, and safety.