Posts Tagged ‘wireless’
About 20 years ago there was a cartoon in The New Yorker, a monthly periodical best known, arguably, by non- New York City residents for its cartoons. This cartoon showed two wealthy gentlemen (in the style of the Monopoly game millionaire) lounging in the bar car of a passenger train with their martinis. (I think of them as Reginald and Wilfred). Reginald states: “This is a lousy martini. (pause) This is a Hell of a way to run a railroad”.
Being a martini enthusiast (only gin of course), I can appreciate the nuance of making such an evaluation.
Back then, this now-shallow perspective was in actuality one credible way to evaluate passenger and freight rail operations in that it was “take or leave it” from the railroads’ perspective of running their railroads. That is, railroads provided the service that they wanted to provide given their monopolistic position as to transport. However, beginning with the availability of the interstate roads during the Eisenhower administration, followed by the passing of the Staggers Act in 1980 that deregulated the freight railroads as to the price that they could charge for services, there was a gradual, but sustained shift to the customer’s perspective. That is, with these two major game changes of the interstate road infrastructure and the Staggers Act, entered competition not only between rail and truck transport, but also competition between railroads.
In the last several decades, both passenger but primarily freight railroads have taken on a different perspective; a perspective on what technologies can deliver to make a railroad’s operation both more safe and efficient. I must state first of all, that US railroads, both passenger and freight, are extraordinarily safe, especially when compared to operations across the globe. (See previous posting “ What Price Safety” for some additional insight on this point. But, I need to go back to the martini point.)
There are martinis, and there are martinis. James Bond’s infamous standard of “Shaken, not stirred” makes the point. But first, I should note that based upon an independent analysis of literature regarding James Bond’s life style, it has been determined that he was quite a drinker with his consumption of an average of 45 martinis within a given week. OK, so that is 6 +martinis a night which makes him somewhat suspect as to his objective credibility as quoted by Dorothy Parker of Algonquin Round Table fame: “ I like to have a martini, Two at the very most, After Three I’m under the table, after four I’m under the host.” So! 6+ martinis in an evening is clearly past the line.
The point of shaken, not stirred, can be applied to railroad operations, me thinks. The difference between the two versions of martini preparations is that if a martin is shaken, then the ice can “bruise” the gin, where as stirred is like “Whatever, don’t mess with my gin.” Therefore, the parallel to railroads, you may ask, is that railroads have only been stirring their operational processes for the last several decades, at least, by simply upgrading their primary core technologies, i.e. communications, positioning, and IT, most noticeably with the shift from analog to digital, and the integration of distributed decision making platforms with the back-office infrastructure. But, railroads have not truly shaken up their business processes, a.k.a. process reengineering (dynamic work order is a good example), to take advantage of how the operation can change with advancements in technologies. Arguably, the most critical example is that of the management of train movements as to the underlying means of functional vitality (how movement authorities are generated) and the efficiency that an be achieved with more timely and accurate positioning of trains to advance from crisis-based fixed block operation to that of proactive, flexible block.
In this light, the passing of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 that mandates PTC deployment across most of the freight and transit rail operations in the U.S. has been both a blessing and a curse. That is, the PTC mandate is forcing the railroads to deploy an industry-based wireless data platform with mobile IT platforms on locomotives. That’s super. But, the over-engineering of PTC and the lack of technology strategy across the industry, has dampened the progressive advancement of business processes that can use these technologies. Simply state, there is no business strategy in sync with a technology strategy, a.k.a. Strategic Railroading, in most of the railroads, yet alone with an industry perspective for freight operations.
So! Do you want to shake things up in your railroad – or your client railroads if you are a supplier? Or do you just want to stir the same old stuff, the same old processes, albeit with upgraded technologies? If you want to shake things up, then consider what can be done with virtual positioning and wireless data technologies. For one example, click on the VCTC category on the right side on the home page of this blog and review the postings.
Finally, permit me to add my personal notes on gin. With my 46 years of legally enjoying gin across the globe, I offer my following evaluation of several:
- Bombay Sapphire: a classic, a standard, not insulting to anyone.
- Hendricks: Just too much rose – only good for 1 a month
- Blue Coat: made in the U.S and excellent, but then again keep it down to several week if you drink your martinis dry.
- Gibson: my favorite when in France – can’t find it in the U.S.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I wrote this posting while drinking wine only. Wine is for thinking and writing … and Martinis are for neither.
This is the 2nd of 3 postings that address Industry INTRAoperability (I/I), i.e. the development of systems that support the business interest of the entire rail industry, versus the advances in technologies and systems made by each individual railroad for its singular purposes. I/I is not the same as Railroad INTERoperability, as is required to deploy Positive Train Control (PTC) as a safety enhancement to the traffic control systems that provide for the integrity of movement operations. Rather, I/I addresses the business perspective of the advantages to the industry by the improved management of key resources subject to the interchange of trains between railroads. The assets that I am referring include the full array: track time, train crews, yards, locomotives, rolling stock, and shipments of high value and/or involving security issues.
Yes! I did state track time, train crews, and yards even those assets don’t cross borders. The reason for doing so is that the use of those assets increases in efficiency as the degree of scheduled operations increases . . . And, the ability of an individual railroad to run to scheduled operations is partially dependent upon the schedule reliability of the railroads with which it interconnects . . . And, since most railroads have yet to demonstrate their ability to run to schedule to a significant extent, contrary to their claims, then a valuable opportunity of pursuing I/I is that of providing timely data of train movements, both position and speed, across all interconnecting railroads so as line-ups can be adjusted in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, even with such data, a number of roads are incapable of using it to any great extent given their lack of Proactive Traffic Management techniques that I introduced 6 years or so ago in my quarterly publication, Full Spectrum. However, it is encouraging that at least NS and BNSF have made such advancements via the deployment of pragmatic wireless solutions that can report the speed and position of their own trains on their respective properties.
As to the locomotives, rolling stock, and shipments that do cross railroad borders I identified a number of I/I applications in the FRA-funded study I performed in 2008: A Demand and Supply Analysis of the Opportunities for Wireless Technologies in Passenger and Freight Rail Operations, (www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/Research/ord0802.pdf). As the result of that study, I decided shortly thereafter to take the same approach that IBM used in the 60s and 70s to bring about major changes in the traditional business processes of a full range of industries with the introduction of main frame computers. That is, IBM established major executive education facilities and curriculums across the U.S. to expose their prospective clients’ top management teams to what could be done with computers. As noted in the previous posting, the initial efforts focused on replacing manual data handling processes, e.g., payroll, accounts receivables / payables, with computerized data processing. However, with the introduction of affordable disk storage and the integration of telecommunications with computers, the curriculums expanded in scope by identifying how to change the traditional business processes given the opportunities to rethink the flow of information within and between enterprises (The process of structuring a strategic information flow architecture will be discussed in the next posting: It Takes an Industry: Process).
So, following IBM’s lead I put together an Strategic Railroading Symposium for top railroad executives that would be sponsored by the supplier community overall to remove even the perception of bias. The symposium schedule (presented below) that I put together consisted of 2 tracks, Operations & Engineering, with two categories of topics each, that addressed I/I opportunities as well as other possible applications that I believed at that time would be valuable exposure for railroad top management. Actually, this effort was progressing well with the expression of key suppliers to participate . . . that is until the ramifications of the just-ordered PTC mandate took effect. At that point, rail’s management teams withdrew into their caves rejecting the consideration of anything other than the challenges of implementing PTC. The suppliers, hence, backed away from the opportunity given their inability to market even their current products and services, yet alone the challenges and risks of developing a long-term strategic perspective.
As you will see in the agenda below, several of those applications have had sporadic initiations across the industry in the last several years.
|Delivering Proactive Traffic Management NOW without new CAD|
|The pragmatic application of meet/pass planning tools|
|Effective management of the line-up|
|The challenges and opportunities of effective interchange|
|The challenges to increasing scheduled operations|
|Reconciling the perspectives of Service Design vs. Operations|
|Integration of yard status with main line dispatching|
|Minimizing conflict between high speed passenger and freight trains|
|Optimizing crew management relative to the lineup|
|Balancing locomotive fleets across the industry|
|Industry tracking of key rolling stock and shipment status|
|A new look at work order reporting in light of TSA requirements|
|Maintaining chain-of-custody for critical shipments|
|Opportunities for improved yard management|
|Track & Wayside|
|Unattended, locomotive-borne track inspection|
|Enhanced safety for on-track workers without authorities|
|Enhanced safety for workers within work zones|
|Monitoring the position and health of critical maintenance equipment|
|Locomotive tracking & diagnostics across the industry|
|Performance-based locomotive maintenance|
|Industry-based locomotive maintenance|
|In-train monitoring systems of equipment and shipments|
When rail management surfaces from the PTC abyss, then perhaps there will be an opportunity to reconsider some version of the Strategic Railroading Symposium.
Capitalizing on RR Industry Intra-Operability
Any Class I railroad’s Chief Engineer can quickly and dispassionately list the challenges of handling an “unequipped train” when new technologies, equipment, and systems are being deployed across the property. This perspective of railroad intra-operability is an inherent aspect of maintaining the physical plant and functionality of a railroad as technologies evolve. For example, the migration to narrow-band VHF will involve the eventual replacement of nearly ¼ million radios nationwide without interfering with operations. Now, with the enactment of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, an additional level of operability that has been long discussed and studied, but effectively unresolved, has come to the forefront of the technicians’ tasks. I refer to railroad inter-operability as the ability of trains with foreign power to cross onto and perform PTC effectively.
With the pursuit of railroad inter-operability consuming unprecedented levels of resources and cooperation across the industry to meet the end-of-2015 deadline, a different perspective of operability is not even being considered, yet alone pursued. This is the concept of industry intra-operability that provides the ability to track resources without regard to the property over which they are operating. Unlike railroad inter-operability, industry intra-operability offers substantial business benefits that are either being handled poorly today or are not even available to the railroads, both individually and collectively as an industry.
The business benefits fall into three categories, i.e., resource management, equipment maintenance, and security, as follows -
Increased resource management effectiveness is potentially available via industry intra-operability including moving from the current crisis-based management processes prevalent today to that of being proactive. This means having timely data on train position and speed and approaching a railroad’s network in sync with the tools to project conflicts in a railroad’s lineup whether truly scheduled or not. Such projections will permit the various resource managers to minimize, if not avoid altogether, the effect of projected conflicts including track-time, yards, train crews, locomotives, and critical rolling stock.
Industry intra-operability offers unique advantages as well in the maintenance of locomotives including knowing the status of a foreign locomotive and the opportunity for performance-based maintenance in lieu of prescriptive mandates. An accurate and complete history of diagnostic data could also result in a different concept of competitive nationwide maintenance and warranty services contracted on a railroad if not an industry basis.
Given the increasing expectations and requirements for security of shipments for both commercial and safety purposes, industry intra-operability provides a reliable and commanding level of data for both a shipment’s status and its chain of custody, including TIH shipments. As noted in the Teddy Bear posting PTC Delivers Business Benefits, these business benefits as well as a range of other business benefits that are mistakenly associated with PTC, can be achieved relatively easily with a strategic railroading perspective leveraging the three core technologies discussed in the three prior postings – if the appropriate human resources are provided.
As noted earlier, the railroads are applying substantial technical resources to obtain railroad inter-operability. Fortunately, these technicians are not the same resources required to pursue the business benefits. Unfortunately, the appropriate human resources actually don’t exist in the railroads today, i.e., technologists that can deliver a unique blend of multiple disciplines including wireless & IT technologies, business case development, business process analysis, operations research, and a touch of Six Sigma. Fortunately, however, the ROI’s of the business benefits that can be delivered are quite substantial and can thereby justify obtaining and committing the appropriate resources. Unfortunately though, few railroads, if any, have identified the use of technologists to rethink operations based upon advancing technologies, most specifically wireless. It seems that there are no senior technologist positions in the railroads that can develop and present a threshold business case to senior management to pursue developing a strategic technology plan in sync with a strategic business plan.
As to the supplier community, there are at best a few that have the wherewithal to put together synced business / technology strategies, albeit somewhat biased undoubtedly. But even those suppliers that may be capable of doing so are reluctant to take on the railroads in a top-down fashion instead of the politically correct but likely ineffective bottom-up approach. In either intrinsic railroad practices or supplier marketing practices, senior railroad management is not getting the message as to what can be done with advancing technologies.
The bottom line is that the railroads don’t need to wait for the business benefits that have been inappropriately associated with the deployment of PTC. The financial justification is there to deploy a team of technologists to structure the business and technology strategies, the implementation of which will handsomely offset the investment required for narrow-band 160-161 MHz and PTC’s 220 MHz. The cost to take full advantage of narrow-banding as well as the somewhat green-field deployment of the 220 MHz bands for PTC by 2016 will be extraordinary. However, the business value that the new-found wireless capacity can deliver is unprecedented, that is if the railroads collectively expand the dimensions of operability.
The Illusive Mobile Node
Is it politics or perspective that is causing the PTC debate to derail?
As discussed in the Last Mile posting, US railroads are still failing to take on the strategy of incorporating the advanced business applications that can be achieved with the wireless data path required to support Positive Train Control (PTC) so as to most effectively manage their resources.
Specifically, the voice radio and signaling infrastructures that are currently depended upon to provide train status data to the traffic control systems, are unable to deliver the timeliness and completeness as to both location and speed data for trains so as to permit the use of meet /pass planners that could optimize the railroads’ most dense and most critical operations. Therefore, this primal infrastructure needs to be advanced, and to do so effectively requires a perspective that integrates the three principle technology platforms (communications, positioning, and intelligence) to form a strategic core technology infrastructure. In this post, I address intelligence, i.e., the processing power for applications, of such an infrastructure. The other two platforms will be addressed in following postings.
With the shift from the mainframe of the 60’s to that of client / server of today, intelligence has made the transition from being only centralized to that of being distributed with seamless flexibility between the two, at least for those industries whose distributed resources are fixed as to location. For these fixed node operations, the challenges for distributing intelligence tend to be less technical and more functional as how to optimally allocate the processing power across a mesh of private and commercial networks, internet, and back office systems. But, what about railroads where the assets are mobile and, even worse, where those assets traverse across railroad boundaries? This convoluted concoction of mobility and interoperability adds new dimensions to distributed intelligence far beyond those of fixed node, thereby necessitating a mobile node perspective with philosophical, technical, and functional considerations garnished with industry politics.
From a philosophical standpoint, the mobile node should be viewed as an extension to the IT architecture, meaning that the discipline and expertise well established in the traditional wired-IT environment should be imposed upon mastering the wild west of wireless. In short, this means that railroads and suppliers alike need to coalesce wireless and IT expertise into a dedicated Mobile Computing organization in lieu of the parallel lines on an organization chart that are too often the case today.
As to a functional perspective, the deployment of mobile nodes offers the extraordinary opportunity to rethink business processes that can take advantage of unprecedented connectivity and the timeliness and accuracy of position and speed data that wireless data afford (think UPS or Fed Ex). For some this may be extraordinarily uncomfortable when they are confronted with revisiting the functionality of their traditional back office systems, e.g., how would train dispatching be done with train speed and location data available every 5 minutes?
Unlike the fixed node, the mobile node is technically challenged by both the constraints of the communication medium and the physical environment in which it operates as well as the requirements of interoperability. As to communications, the mobile node must be able to strut its independence given that the wireless throughput is relatively limited and unreliable compared to a fixed node’s wired throughput. As to the physical environment, what could be worse than the cab of a locomotive or a maintenance-of-way vehicle? For this challenge I subscribe to the screwdriver-penetration test, a railroad’s version of Psycho’s shower scene applied to on-board equipment.
Given the extensive interchange of trains between railroads in North America and the EU, there is often the issue of interoperability, i.e., the ability of foreign equipment to provide the desired functionality on a railroad’s property. There are only a few applications that have been recognized for this intra-industry pursuit. Unquestionably, the most important for this discussion is that of Positive Train Control (PTC) which has been mandated by the US Federal government for implementation across the major freight and passenger railroads before 2016. With an unprecedented level of cooperation, it would seem to many, that the primary 4 Class I railroads in the U.S, via a joint effort referred to as the Interoperability Train Control (ITC) agreement, are working on all aspects of interoperability to meet the deadline. The ITC efforts are being handled by 7 technical committees: Architecture, PTC Application, Wayside Signal, Messaging, On-board Platform, Communications Steering, and Data Management. The standards that come out of these committees are to be available by January 2011.
However, there are still 2 major points to consider. The first is that the effort does not have any purpose other than that of PTC. While many railroaders and suppliers will state the business benefits of PTC, they fail to recognize the foolishness of their own hype. Simply stated, it is the wireless path now required for the mandate PTC effort that will finally deliver business benefits not PTC itself; PTC is just one user of the wireless data infrastructure. BUT, the ITC efforts are not providing a business perspective of the on-board platform that would deliver a true mobile node perspective that could handle not only PTC, but also support business-value applications such as pacing, locomotive tracking, fuel consumption, in-train monitoring, etc.
There is also another reason that the ITC efforts are less than complete, certainly not altruistic, if not a bit misleading; it is the issue of industry politics. That is, each major railroad came to the ITC table with a very different technology agenda. There are solutions to address these differences, and the railroads more than ever are working in that direction. However, I believe the solution to develop a single technology platform is poorly evaluated as to both scope and costs, while other wireless spectrums are being very poorly utilized, i.e., Meteorcomm and narrowband 160-161 MHz … clearly a discussion for a forthcoming post.
As of two years ago, the advancement in railroad operations had stalled at the end of the wire, literally. While railroads have invested heavily in the backbone communication and signaling infrastructures that define the perimeter of their IT and traffic control architectures, the primary assets that need to be managed (trains, crews, locomotives, maintenance crews) operate beyond the reach of those tentacles.
Unfortunately, railroads continue to rely on track circuits and voice radio for managing trains and thereby the locomotives, train crews, and yard utilization. Accordingly, the back-office dispatching systems are so geared to provide a level of traffic management that can no longer service the railroads’ markets during peak periods. The net effect of such inefficiency is two-fold: 1. railroads have turned away (or lost) business during peak market periods, and 2. railroads are paying a severe price to obtain and maintain excessive resources, e.g., locomotives and crews.
Suddenly and unexpectedly in 2008, the Congressional mandate for Positive Train Control (PTC) in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 delivered the requirement for the railroads to advance wireless data networks, both individually and as an industry.
Suddenly, there was some hope by the few progressives in the industry that the PTC mandate would lead to a broad understanding of what the required wireless data infrastructure could do for rail operations.
Shortly thereafter, but not surprisingly, all such hopes were dashed as the railroad technicians sunk their teeth into this new opportunity to provide a new, most advanced, extremely tailored wireless data platform that could be envied by all and do all …but without any desire, recognition, or management directive to consider other than PTC.
Shamefully, this wasn’t the first mandate from the Feds that could have led to a revitalization of a railroad’s operations via wireless. The FCC had issued a Point & Order referred to as Narrowbanding that effectively requires the railroads to replace their extensive 160-161 MHz infrastructure consisting of 250,000 analog devices with digital equivalents by January 1, 2013. However, this requirement has been viewed by the railroad technicians as a technology investment issue and not as an opportunity to advance operations.
Amazingly, after two extraordinary opportunities to advance railroad operations with an advanced wireless platform that required no justification other than a Federal mandate, there is still no real focus on the Last Mile as to optimizing the capacity and productivity.
The phrase Last Mile is not a new one for some industries where it has been used to describe alternatives to deliver cable services in the 1990’s as well as to providing communication infrastructures in developing countries, and most recently to define new markets for advancing mobile services. The phrase is also used to define the delivery of goods that is beyond the railroads’ physical infrastructure and that is provided by trucking firms. In this latter case, the intermodal industry has emerged as a seemingly seamless transportation offering the combination of rail, trucking, and maritime. Taking that approach to the last mile relative to a railroad managing its own resources is directly comparable, i.e., developing and merging the necessary technologies into a seamless technology platform that I refer to as the core technology infrastructure.
Simply described, the core technology infrastructure is the integration of communication, positioning, and intelligence technologies that supports the basis of a railroad’s operations. Today, that infrastructure is a ménage of voice radio and backbone networks as to communications, track circuits for positioning, and control points enslaved by CTC systems for intelligence. This infrastructure provides a level of block positioning data, but without train speed, that constrains the effectiveness of managing traffic to that of being reactive to conflicts in the meeting and passing of trains. With improved timeliness and accuracy in both train position and speed information, the railroads can achieve an advanced operating practice of Proactive Traffic Management (PTM) that I introduced to the industry in 2005.
PTM is the ability to see the future state of a railroad’s operations so as to provide solutions to minimize, if not avoid, foreseen traffic conflicts. It does so by projecting the current status of trains by feeding both timely and accurate train position and speed data to sophisticated meet / pass planners aligned with a railroad’s operating objectives. For traffic management, the frequency of such data is dependent upon traffic density and the type of traffic control. To be brief here, that means the reporting frequency of position and speed data ranging from 5 to 15 minutes in addition to AEI and CTC’s on-station (OS) reports. This is what I refer to as in-time data.
To obtain in-time data requires a strategic perspective of the core technology infrastructure, a perspective that needs to be both evolutionary and revolutionary. As to the former, the railroads should be able to leverage their current, massive communications infrastructure to obtain the level of in-time data required. The most obvious opportunity here is the conversion of the current analog, voice-based VHF infrastructure to a digital, data-based one … justified by the rational understanding that by doing so the railroads could avoid the $1 billion investment in the 220 MHz platform for PTC. As to a revolutionary perspective, obtaining PTM will mean making significant changes in the traffic control processes that stem from the 1st qtr of the last century. Such changes are supported by integrating advanced communication, positioning, and intelligence technologies that have yet to successfully storm the innovation barricades of both the railroads’ and traditional suppliers’ engineering departments. A critical design point in developing a strategic core technology infrastructure is to not fall for the fallacy of zero tolerance – 100% efficiency, to not drive towards unrealistic, if even achievable, goals such as moving block dependent upon real-time data.
To do the Last Mile requires a strategic technology plan in sync with a strategic operations plan. It requires Strategic Railroading.
Since their introduction nearly a century ago, the deeply-rooted operating practices of railroads have normally been adequate in servicing the traffic requirements of the railroads. But, in times of heavy demand, those practices are not sufficient to provide the necessary capacity.
The traditional means to meet high demands is to increase the raw capacity via significant capital investments in infrastructure, rolling stock, and locomotives. Improving the effective capacity, i.e. the boundary placed upon the raw capacity by the operating practices, has not been a consideration. However, with the substantial advancements in technologies in the past decade, railroads can now increase their effective capacity in selected corridors without investment in raw capacity. But, it takes an operations strategy in sync with a technology strategy.
It takes Strategic Railroading.
The phrase Strategic Railroading may seem a bit oxymoronic. After all, the rail industry is a very traditional one with its primary operation practices and processes having not changed since the 1st qtr. of the last century. This is so because the set of the 3 core operational technologies, the core technology infrastructure if you will, has not changed, i.e.,
- Positioning: track circuits
- Communications: voice & signals
- Intelligence: dispatchers using non-intelligent Computer Assisted Dispatching platforms (CAD)
Indeed, a railroad’s operational practices and processes based upon these technologies are well established as are the associated business practices and processes including customer service, fueling, maintenance, and the interchange of trains between railroads.
The railroads have yet to make the quantum transition from traditional technologies and operations to those advance capabilities afforded by having timely resource data
being used by advanced planning and execution tools. Additionally, the railroads
have yet to look beyond their own borders to take an industry perspective that benefits all. To make such transitions will require technologists and a reality that wireless data infrastructure, with or without the pursuit of PTC, provides the means to make such advancements. At this point without such understanding, the railroads are destined to spend extraordinary amounts of capital on raw infrastructure, including parallel wireless platforms, while realizing only a small portion of the business benefits that could be achieved via Strategic Railroading.