7 Rail Industry Trends to Track in 2024
09 January 24
The US railroad industry is at an exciting stage in its development. New technology solutions are making it possible for rail operators to improve fleet control, operational efficiency, and rail safety.
In 2024, the rail sector is on a fast track towards automation through the implementation of data-driven technology. While technology solutions cannot solve all the issues facing the industry, new advancements play a pivotal role in enabling rail operators to make the most cost-effective use of available resources.
1. Automation and AI
Parallel advancements in automation and AI are dramatically changing the way trains and rail assets are managed around the US and the world. AI models which combine deep learning algorithms and GPS data combined with increasingly automated systems are streamlining asset management, train scheduling, signaling, and predictive maintenance, resulting in fewer delays, better overall visibility of operations, and less risk of errors[i].
While fully automated passenger trains have been in operation for more than 40 years – implemented multiple times around the world since first launched in Japan in 1981 – recent rail technology advancements have made them more suitable to long-distance freight networks[i].
2. Big data and the Internet of Things (IoT)
The US rail industry is becoming increasingly sophisticated in the way it uses IoT and big data analytics to deliver actionable insights. Companies are investing in smart sensors to collect and analyze millions of data sets, distilling vast amounts of information down to identify patterns which can be used to:
Investigate the source of failures quickly, reducing time to repair and delays.
Prevent failures from happening through predictive maintenance.
Give railroad operators vastly enhanced visibility over asset performance.
At Tracsis, we have 24,000 devices monitoring more than 60,000 rail assets through our CENTRIX IoT platform to improve the safety and reliability of railway infrastructure. The deployment of IoT railroad technology is growing rapidly as the kinds of assets that can be monitored grows.
3. Evolution of Computer-Aided Dispatching (CAD)
Computer Aided Dispatching (CAD) technology works by enforcing a consistent ruleset to improve train safety and railroad efficiency, reducing delays and the risk of human error. The evolution of CAD systems is a key trend for the North American market. The transition from stand-alone platforms in operation rooms to central data hubs integrating with other systems on the railroad is where significant movement will take place in 2024. Improving operational awareness, reducing the need to switch between systems and moving towards a single, fully integrated platform, vastly simplifying the management and oversight of complex rail operations.
4. Mobile Authorization for Maintenance of Way (MOW).
Rail Maintenance of Way (MOW) systems are moving from paper and phone calls to the cloud. Rail operators are switching to digital applications which enable field activities to be coordinated and managed via a web-based user interface, which rail managers and workers access via their mobile devices. The benefits of rail maintenance digitalization include:
Getting rid of paperwork
Fewer errors caused by miscommunication
A safer on-site environment
Increased efficiency and time saving
Enhanced accountability due to an easily accessible log of all transactions
Accumulated data which can be used to make strategic long-term decisions
5. Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM)
The advance of predictive rail maintenance is playing a pivotal role in reducing the number of physical site visits required across US rail networks, enabling rail companies to optimize the utilization of labor, reduce cost and save time. Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM) works by using a combination of sensors and cloud-based analytics software to capture data from rail assets to provide valuable insights for more effective rail asset management.
When Tracsis began working in this field more than two decades ago, rail operators were mostly interested in using railroad technology solutions to reduce failures. Now, the industry has moved towards more pro-active, risk-based asset maintenance, constantly monitoring the state of rail assets to develop maintenance schedules which prevent failures. The ability to track asset usage over time enables operators to optimize the lifespan of their assets and methodically plan repair, rehabilitation or replacement and with this, Capital Investment years in advance.
RCM technology is empowering rail operators to improve safety while getting a better understanding of the root causes behind malfunctions, limiting costly and potentially dangerous field visits, and improving customer satisfaction through enhanced reliability and fewer delays.
US rail businesses are investing billions of dollars to make the greenest form of high-volume transport[i] even more sustainable. As well as investing heavily in electrification, renewable energy use, and more efficient fuel management, rail operators are harnessing the environmental benefits of utilizing the IoT and automation – specifically, longer distances, faster, and more fuel-efficient trains with shorter dwell times, and a smaller carbon footprint. Rail technology solutions such as Computer Aided Dispatching (CAD), Yard Automation, and Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM) are driving the trend towards advanced sustainability.
7. Improved customer experience
While it’s a perennial trend, railroads are under mounting pressure from stakeholders and customers to embrace continuous improvement in their service offering. A frictionless, seamless service is the goal for both passenger and freight services. For intercity passenger rail services in particular, this includes everything from automated ticketing and seat allocation to more transparent, accessible pricing information via mobile apps, as well as improved last-minute booking, and quality end-to-end customer service. In such a fiercely cost-driven market, reliability, transparency, and consistency are the KPIs for maintaining and growing market share.
Tracsis is the leading provider of software-based rail automation solutions, trusted by rail operators in Europe, North and Latin America.