A New Era in Rail Technology: At The Crossing of Hardware and Software In Service of Safer Rail Systems in the U.S. by Aaron Allsbrook

March 4, 2020

Railways opened the great frontier across the U.S. starting a mere 150 years ago, around the same time telegraphs came into being, replacing stagecoaches and mail bags with what was, back then, state of the art technologies.

Communications and transportation have long been running and growing in parallel; with investments in physical infrastructure that moves “things and people” from point A to point B, and increasingly digital infrastructure that moves “information and data” so it is no wonder that the rail industry is one of the first to embrace connected systems made possible by the IoT and Industrial IoT (IIoT).

Digital technology will be key to improving both the passenger experience and the operational efficiency of the rail industry, while also making travel safer and services more convenient.

ClearBlade has had the honor to contribute to the fast-growing world of rail technology and digital systems, working with many of the largest Tier One rail operators in the U.S. on their most meaningful projects. This has, for me as the CTO at ClearBlade, been one of the most interesting and creative projects in my career, in large part because we have also had the great fortune to come together with Automated Railroad Maintenance Systems (ARMS), an industry expert in railroad communications systems, power solutions, electronics used in signaling and locomotive applications and more, and Transportation Products Sales Company, (TPSC) a professional sales organization representing ClearBlade and ARMS to the to the North American rail market.

Yesterday, we announced the introduction of the ARMS Ario-GX, an Industrial IIoT Gateway with smart I/O to measure, monitor, and report status of remote assets to the Back Office, co-developed by ARMS and ClearBlade.

With this pre-integrated, tested and scalable gateway we can deliver an easily implemented and managed end-to-end solution. This advanced gateway has been tested in the harshest conditions and adapts to all types of software and network communications protocols, giving rail operators choices.

Our advanced software analytics combined with ARMS’ ArioSense™ family of wireless sensors can support preventive maintenance initiatives, including automated testing, with many more applications on the roadmap.

The Ario-GX™ powered by ClearBlade, makes it possible for rail operators to connect anything, via any path, to the back office located on premise or ClearBlade’s Cloud.

For my fellow engineers, you’ll enjoy learning about the Ario-GX which features modular scalability, robust security, and extensive flexibility.

Protocols include ITCM, TCP/IP, MQTT, Modbus/TCP, SNMP, CANBUS, Echelon, and others.

This gateway features 8 isolated Digital Inputs, 4 isolated Analog Inputs, 2 Relays, with ability to increase I/O via expansion modules.  Connectivity features 3 Ethernet ports, 1 USB-B port, and adaptors to work with RS-232/422/485, cellular, LoRa and GPS communication devices. This novel solution features today’s IIoT technology to connect to all common legacy equipment, today’s equipment, and will be compatible with tomorrow’s equipment.  We and ARMS promote secure open standards – a huge advantage compared to proprietary, expensive closed systems.

The Ario-GX™ Gateway:

  • Connects legacy grade crossing controllers and equipment to the back office in a common format.
  • Performs routine tests of crossing equipment every time a train passes utilizing ArioSense™ equipment.
  • Monitors switch machine current draw and reports abnormal conditions prior to switch failure utilizing ArioSense™ equipment.
  • Monitors and reports tank levels and health for snow melters, rail lubricators, and fuel cells.
  • Reports status of all common hazard detectors, including slide fence, high water, high wind, and bridge fires.

Often burdened with old and ageing infrastructure, some rail operators have fallen behind in adopting digital technologies, but that is rapidly changing.

Our advice? Do not tackle problems without having a system-wide digital transformation strategy. The IoT, IIoT, and advanced analytics using AI and machine learning will further help automate and improve operations.

Rail services and new infrastructure supporting those services is project to grow steadily in this decade, as the world’s governments struggle to deal traffic, pollution, economic uncertainty and of course climate change.

Railways, after 150 years of history, have become a key part of every country’s future transportation strategy, including in the US where funding continues to expand to support investment, including investment required to meet stricter regulatory and safety requirements.

Digital will play a key role on the operational side with use cases including train control systems, asset monitoring, video surveillance, predictive maintenance, intelligent rail infrastructure and operations, freight and passenger information systems, safety systems, and cybersecurity, and will be the key to meeting these “audacious goals.” Sensor-based technologies and solutions like the one we announced this week with ARMS and TPSC can gather information on every aspect of rail operations and help avoid derailments, accidents, and downtime, with a clearer line of sight into what is happening in real time, and what should happen automatically (including scheduled maintenance).

We are just at the beginning of this new rail tech revolution, and we couldn’t be more inspired or prouder to be on that train with such world-class partners. For more information or a demo, please contact me at aallsbrook@clearblade.com.

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