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Teddy Bear – “Digital Authorities are Vital”

I thought I had covered all of the important Teddy Bears in my prior posts as to the issue of vitality in railroad operations, but I forgot about one.  Several weeks ago at a PTC conference where I was the luncheon speaker, I addressed a number of topics. Arguably, the most important two points I discussed were:

  1. PTC does not deliver business benefits; and
  2. The fervent pursuit of PTC by the railroads to meet the mandate requirement is actually preventing the pursuit of opportunities to advance railroad operations. The reason for the latter is explained by the fact that most railroads lack both the Strategic Railroading perspective and the necessary resources, Technologists, to develop and deploy such a perspective.

At the conclusion of the presentation, the audience was asked if they had questions or comments. The first question was as to whether or not I thought Digital Authorities are vital. Indeed, there are many that believe them to be … with the sequential logic being that the wireless communication system required would have to be vital as well. In fact, the digital authorities are no more vital than the aspects on the signal post or the authorities that are provided via voice radio in non-signaled territory. All of these are only the display of the results of the vital process that was in effect to generate the authority.

With that said, it doesn’t mean that the transmission of authorities need not be accurate and reliable. For voice authorities, those attributes are provided by the crew member repeating the authority back to the dispatcher, and then starting over if there is any disagreement.  For DA’s, the accuracy and reliability factors are provided by a mathematical algorithm that performs error detection and correction on bits. And for signals, the issue is whether or not the light source is operable.  In all cases, should the transmission fail, then the crew knows what to do.  They revert to the threshold level of vitality referred to as the Book of Operating Rules.

The bottom line is that DA’s are not vital.
Therefore neither the transmission process nor the equipment need to be either.

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One Response to “Teddy Bear – “Digital Authorities are Vital””
  • Jon K. Kristinsson:

    I agree with everything you said about the vitality of digital authorities right up to your statement that the transmission does not need to be vital. Today there is no significant cost penalty to convert to all vital message transmission. Creating an all vital transmission infrastructure allows for future incremental upgrades to other parts of the system of issuance and implementation of those authorities.

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Given recent tech advances there is now an unprecedented opportunity to advance railroad operations and the integration of high speed rail with freight. Real-time traffic management and communication is possible without significant development and deployment costs, but it will take a technology strategy working hand-in-hand with an operational strategy, it will take Strategic Railroading.™
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