Internet of Things: AAR’s Railinc crunches Big Data to help railroads stay on top of equipment repairs

By Daniel Niepow, Associate Editor

In January 2012, Railinc Corp. rolled out a tracking program to collect data about rail-car components. The program provides railroads, car owners and repair shops with a more comprehensive view of their components’ performance so they can tackle safety issues before they arise, says Jerry Vaughn, director of asset services for Railinc, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

The program, which uses Railinc’s Umler® component tracking registry to comb through massive amounts of data, allows the industry to “understand the depth and scope of defects identified by other processes,” such as the wayside detector network, Vaughn says.

For example, the detector network might identify a safety issue with a certain type of wheel. Car owners then can use the registry to search for all rail cars associated with other wheels manufactured at the same time. If they find that these wheels have the same issue, they can send the cars off for repair before problems emerge, Vaughn says.


A partial screenshot of Railincs’s Umler® component registry provides data on an axle.

As part of the tracking program, barcodes are placed on components during the manufacturing process. The barcodes allow car owners to pinpoint a component’s location.

The system originally tracked wheelsets, but was expanded in 2013 to include side frames, bolsters and couplers. Railinc later added slack adjusters and the emergency and service portion of the brake valve.

Rail industry participants on the AAR’s committees determined that wheelsets had the largest impact on safety and costs, so they were added first.

“The No. 1 reason for adding a component to the tracking system is safety,” adds Vaughn.

Each month, Railinc adds 25,000 to 40,000 new wheelsets to the registry, on top of a base of 6 million, Vaughn estimates.

Railinc created the database for the registry in a way that easily facilitated the addition of new kinds of components over time, says Railinc Director of Corporate Communications Patrick O’Neil.

“It’s not starting from scratch; it’s just like adding another page to the book,” he says.

There are plans to add even more components to the registry.

“There is a long list,” says Vaughn, reiterating that priority goes to components that have the greatest impacts on safety and costs.

The component tracking program is just one element of the AAR’s broader “Asset Health Strategic Initiative,” which was highlighted in the organization’s first “state of the industry” report issued in late January.

To help foster better decision-making about maintenance, the initiative aggregates data from wayside detectors that belong to multiple railroads. Previously, railroads could only use information gathered from wayside detectors in their own service territory.

“Where we come in is … putting that data in an actionable level,” says O’Neil.

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“Angry”

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

Trump is the Republican nominee apparent. We can reasonably expect many more stories on how “voters are angry”. According to a Rassmussen poll 67% of voters are “angry”, including 38% who are “very angry”.

But angry about what? Angry at who? How was the question asked? It’s not that simple, especially since this very high reading is down from 75% in 2010. None of it justifies the orange tinted reality show host without looking deeper into it.

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Why Trump?

The Arts Mechanical

There’s an old saying that nobody easier to manipulate than a manipulator.  In our current decadent  time there is probably no bigger class of manipulators, as a group, than our current political class.  That, in the end was their undoing. They were so used to their consulting and their focus groups that they forgot the voters concerns.  They still don’t get it.  Just watch the media, day after day.  This candidate did this, that candidate did that, here’s this expert and that pundit.  The  one thing none of the people in the massive media election machine never seem to do is actually seem to do is talk to the people that really matter, the American voter.  The governing classes were so busy talking to themselves and parading what they thought what the American voter was SUPPOSED to be concerned with that the voters voices couldn’t be heard over the noise.

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How GE Became a 124-Year Old Startup

I learned a couple of important things on my first day of work: Where is the “powder room” and “General Electric is the most important company in the World”.  Other things followed, like how to spell “Schenectady” (the city that used to light and haul the World).

The cover story in the new issue of Bloomberg Businessweek takes stock of GE’s transformation into a digital-industrial company and explains how “GE became a 124-year-old startup.” The magazine writes that a decade after he took over, the long bet GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt took “on the Internet of Really Big Things seems to be paying off.”

The story tracks GE’s digital transformation from its inception after the financial crisis in 2008. It started with a broad idea. “I said, ‘Look, we need to start building analytic capability, big data capability, and let’s do it in California,’” Immelt told the magazine. “That was as sophisticated as my original thinking was.”

In 2011, Immelt hired Bill Ruh from Cisco to become his digital lieutenant. According to the magazine, Ruh was “impressed by Immelt’s vision and his willingness to admit that he didn’t fully know what he was doing.”

DPPwind1 crop

“Basically, Jeff said, ‘Look, we’re on Step 1 of a 50-step process, and I just need you to help me figure out what to do because I can only see out one or two steps,’” Ruh, who now runs GE Digital, told Bloomberg Businessweek.

Immelt has invested $1 billion in software and Ruh and his brand-new team moved quickly to develop Predix, GE’s cloud-based operating system for the Industrial Internet. In 2015, GE earned $5 billion in software revenue.

“The company developed applications for Predix enabling it to ingest and analyze vast amounts of data from sensor-equipped machines much like Amazon.com, Facebook, and Google do with information generated by their human customers,” Bloomberg Businessweek wrote. “Immelt wanted to speed Predix’s development and use it on GE’s own equipment. That meant the entire company had to embrace the new operating system, even the power division, which usually took years to design turbines.”

The magazine noted that customers like Pitney Bowes and Toshiba have also already started using Predix, an important step for GE to become one of the top 10 software companies. “The Industrial Internet is going to be the dark matter of the Internet,” Harel Kodesh, chief technology officer for GE Digital, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “It’s something you don’t see, but it is actually the bulk of what’s happening on the Internet.”

The magazine also pointed out the cultural change that has been taking place inside GE. One key new idea, which GE calls FastWorks, came from the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup.” “I’m tired of hearing five-year plans,” Ries remembers Immelt telling him, according to the magazine. You can read the story here and watch a video with the author.

Amtrak, SEPTA Envision Underground Concourse to Connect 30th Street Station With SEPTA Lines

A partnership that includes Amtrak and SEPTA is working to develop an underground concourse to link 30th Street Station and SEPTA’s subway and trolley station across the street.

The 30th Street Station is the third-busiest Amtrak station in the United States with direct connections to a number of modes of transportation, but “the modes do not clearly connect, creating a confusing and sometimes precarious experience for visitors,” according to a draft of a 30th Street Station District Plan, which  will be shown at an open house at the station for public feedback.