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UP to debut technology train here
Source: Nathan Emily Brandler- Journal Of Business
Published: January 25th 2007
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Railroad expects to spend an estimated $1 billion on system
Union Pacific Corp. says it plans to implement an up to $1 billion technological system that will revolutionize the way it operates its locomotives, and has chosen a route that runs between Spokane and Cranbrook, British Columbia, as one of two testing sites for that cutting edge technology.

The big Omaha, Neb.-based railway company will spend about $20 million to implement and test the system, called communication-based train control (CBTC), on the 140-mile route between here and Cranbrook, called the Spokane Sub, and a 193-mile route, called the South Morrill Sub, which runs through parts of Nebraska and Wyoming.

Jeff Young, Union Pacific’s assistant vice president of transportation systems, says the tests on both routes are expected to launch by August and take about two years to complete. For the Spokane Sub test, Union Pacific will train 55 employees and equip 15 locomotives with the CBTC system, while Calgary, Alberta-based Canadian Pacific Railway, which interchanges with Union Pacific along the track at Eastport, Idaho, will install the CBTC on 15 of its locomotives.

Union Pacific plans to apply by early 2009 to the Federal Railroad Administration for approval to operate the system companywide, and expects that implementing the system will take about five years to complete and will cost between $600 million and $1 billion, says Young, who was in Spokane last week.

The CBTC software, which is being developed by Union Pacific; Watertown, N.Y.-based New York Air Brake Corp.; and Wabtec Railway Electronic, a subsidiary of Wilmerding, Pa.-based Wabtec Corp., will change the way Union Pacific operates its locomotives after more than a century of using older technology, Young says. Under the new system, an on-board computer will be placed in the cab of a locomotive. That computer, using a Global Positioning System (GPS) device and other technologies, will display and update constantly on a monitor a train’s weight, geographical location, velocity, mileage, and details about the surrounding topology, or elevation gains and losses. It also will collect information sent from wireless radio devices installed on each wayside traffic signal or switch that calculate and transmit to the engineer the stopping distance between the train and those devices, Young says. Currently, the only information that’s displayed on board is the train’s speed, he says.

The computer sends the information via wireless radio through the system to a dispatcher at the company’s headquarters in Omaha, who then sends a command to the train’s engineer to proceed, increase speed, slow, stop, or move to another track or siding, he says. The system then monitors the engineer’s compliance, and if the engineer doesn’t follow instructions in time, the system automatically takes the required action. Likewise, an engineer can override the system if it fails, he says.

There are two collision-avoidance systems under which Union Pacific locomotives currently operate. In areas called dark territories, where track doesn’t have wayside signals to direct traffic, an engineer relies on verbal or written communication from a dispatcher, who has been communicating with other engineers on the track, to know when to stop the train or pull onto another track or siding, Young says. The Spokane Sub is an example of such a territory, he says.

In a signaled territory, such as the South Morrill Sub, wayside traffic signals are spaced along a train route based on the safest stopping distance of the largest train using the route, he says. The train crew adjusts the speed of the train based on those signals.

The new system is expected to increase what’s called situational awareness for engineers, which in turn would increase safety by helping them to avoid collisions between trains and between trains and the equipment of rail maintenance crews, he says. Most rail accidents are caused by human failure due to a lack of situational awareness, he says.

Union Pacific also is investing in the CBTC system because it expects the technology will improve efficiency and productivity tremendously, Young says. Those are pressing concerns for a company that’s the largest consumer of No. 2 diesel fuel in the U.S., he says. Union Pacific burned about $3 billion worth of fuel last year and uses 3 million gallons of diesel fuel a day, he says. The company expects the new system will result in a 6 percent to 8 percent improvement in fuel consumption annually, saving the company an estimated $150 million to $250 million a year.

There’s about a 30 percent difference in fuel consumption between the best and worst engineers, depending largely on when an engineer applies the brake and throttle, Young says. The new system includes an energy-saving feature that advises engineers on optimal throttle and brake conditions to reduce operational variability, he says. The feature not only will reduce fuel consumption, but also will increase velocity, or train movement, which will improve connection performance and delivery times and ultimately, Union Pacific hopes, raises customer satisfaction, he says.

The CBTC also is expected to help increase productivity by boosting the number of trains that can operate on a track, since it bases stopping distance for each train on the lengths of all of the trains currently on the track, rather than just on the size of the largest train, he says.

Productivity is becoming increasingly important for railroads as fuel costs cut into their bottom lines and competition with trucking companies that offer just-in-time delivery heats up, Young says.

Meanwhile, customer demand, particularly for coal shipments, is rising as energy consumption climbs, he says. Union Pacific’s volume grew by 6 percent last year, which is “pretty significant for a railroad,” he says.

The two lines on which the CBTC will be tested are prime examples of the heavy demands being placed on the company’s rail infrastructure, Young says. Rail traffic on UP’s Spokane Sub, over which hazardous materials are carried, has shot up by 60 percent in the last five years, thanks mainly to increased potash, grain, chemical, and other shipments resulting from the North American Free Trade Agreement, he says. The line is the company’s only direct connection to Canada, he says.

The South Morrill Sub in Nebraska helped move a record 194 million tons of coal from Wyoming’s Southern Powder River Basin last year, an increase of 15 million tons, or 895 train loads, from 2005, Young says. The average weight of trains moving coal out of the basin was more than 15,000 tons in the fourth quarter of 2006, an increase of 200 tons compared with the year-earlier period.

Railroad infrastructure is expensive, with one mile of new track costing roughly $2.5 million and a new locomotive costing about $2 million. Rather than spending ever more money in that area, Union Pacific has developed the new train control system in hopes of maximizing the efficiency of the company’s infrastructure while increasing the reliability of those larger shipments, Young says.

“Productivity is key to us and our stakeholders,” he says. “This helps us to take on additional capacity without investing more in infrastructure, and if customers can ship more business and we can handle that traffic more efficiently and effectively, then the customers will benefit.”

All of the major railroad companies in the U.S. are working on developing technology similar to the CBTC system, Young says.

He says the challenge for the industry will be to make sure such systems are interoperable, since companies often share facilities and tracks.

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