Self-Driving Freight Trains Are Now Traveling the Rails

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Self-Driving Freight Trains Are Now Traveling the Rails
Posted by zardoz on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 12:02 PM
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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 12:50 PM

Perhaps needless to add, we've had full-scale 'driverless' unit trains on dedicated ROWs for many years, albeit with a lower level of technical sophistication. 

While much of the technology now evolving for autonomous vehicles is highly useful for 'autonomous trains', the programming and technical issues, and the various 'political' and legal issues that surround application of the technology for more than something like the expanded version of TO, are distinct from those for automobiles and trucks.  It would take a repeat of icicles freezing in railroad Hades (it has happened, the first time being when Erie paid an actual dividend in the '40s) for full 'driverless trains' to come into being anywhere on the general system of transportation...

That's not to say there are better ways to use the technologies to enhance single-man crew operation.  But that's a completely different discussion with a different set of values involved.

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Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 4:49 PM

Widespread application likely only a few years off. In the meantime employers and invasive technologies like inward facing cameras will simply hasten the inevitable...i.e. phasing out jobs that nobody will want anymore anyway. 

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Posted by Euclid on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 5:43 PM

It is hard to get an answer when you ask why Rio Tinto is going to driverless trains.  Saving the cost of labor seems like the obvious answer, but what does that savings look like compared to the cost of automating?  I would think the type of heavy trains they haul would already by relatively cost effective even with crew costs.  I get the impression that companies are a little nervous about admitting they are automating to save the cost of employees in such safety-sensitive jobs. The more preferred explanation seems to be that they are automating to make the world safer.  Although that means that they believe their crews are not 100% safe in their operation.   

Here is a link to the Rio Tinto automation that says the following:

“The company said that 90% of its pooled fleet production tonnes are AutoHaul enhanced, which means they are able to operate continuously without shift changes and improved safety, with trains responding automatically to speed limits and alarms.

Rio Tinto said it has already seen the benefits from AutoHaul in increased train speeds and fewer stops that have cut more than an hour from average journey times.”

http://www.mining.com/rio-tinto-back-on-track-to-haul-iron-ore-in-driverless-trains-beginning-next-year/

 

Why does automation result in fewer stops?  I guess it’s because nobody has to use the bathroom. 

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Posted by jeffhergert on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 6:14 PM

As I recall, when they first announced this a few years ago, they said it was getting harder to find people willing to work in remote areas.  I've always thought that to mean they couldn't find people willing to work in remote areas without paying premium wages.  

Looking at their website, it looks like they want to automate has much of the mining and handling process as possible.

Jeff

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 6:17 PM

I wonder who will fix the burst air hose in remote areas?

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Posted by Euclid on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 6:49 PM

BaltACD

I wonder who will fix the burst air hose in remote areas?

 

Probably a remote control drone run by someone in an office 100 miles away. 

I wonder what EHH thinks of driverless trains.

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Posted by Norm48327 on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 7:21 PM

Euclid

 

 
BaltACD

I wonder who will fix the burst air hose in remote areas?

Probably a remote control drone run by someone in an office 100 miles away. 

I wonder what EHH thinks of driverless trains.

Dream on.

Norm


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Posted by zardoz on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 7:32 PM

Euclid

It is hard to get an answer when you ask why Rio Tinto is going to driverless trains.  Saving the cost of labor seems like the obvious answer, but what does that savings look like compared to the cost of automating?  

Just like in grocery stores and Wal-marts...how much does each self-checkout kiosk cost, and how long does it take to recoup those costs when it is replacing a near-minimum-wage employee?

Sometimes it seems to me that CEO's and their ilk would prefer to not have any employees - just robots. I wonder how they'll feel when AI becomes so smart that it can make decisions better than any CEO.

When automation takes over, and AI designs and builds even better AI, what are we humans going to do with ourselves?

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Posted by IslandMan on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 7:48 PM

zardoz

 

 

 
Euclid

It is hard to get an answer when you ask why Rio Tinto is going to driverless trains.  Saving the cost of labor seems like the obvious answer, but what does that savings look like compared to the cost of automating?  

 

 

Just like in grocery stores and Wal-marts...how much does each self-checkout kiosk cost, and how long does it take to recoup those costs when it is replacing a near-minimum-wage employee?

Sometimes it seems to me that CEO's and their ilk would prefer to not have any employees - just robots. I wonder how they'll feel when AI becomes so smart that it can make decisions better than any CEO.

When automation takes over, and AI designs and builds even better AI, what are we humans going to do with ourselves?

 

..and what happens as human labour is displaced and with it the spending power that wage earners have and use to buy more goods and services? Lots of stuff on the market but no-one to buy it!

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Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 7:59 PM

 

 

IslandMan

 

 
zardoz

 

 

 
Euclid

It is hard to get an answer when you ask why Rio Tinto is going to driverless trains.  Saving the cost of labor seems like the obvious answer, but what does that savings look like compared to the cost of automating?  

 

 

Just like in grocery stores and Wal-marts...how much does each self-checkout kiosk cost, and how long does it take to recoup those costs when it is replacing a near-minimum-wage employee?

Sometimes it seems to me that CEO's and their ilk would prefer to not have any employees - just robots. I wonder how they'll feel when AI becomes so smart that it can make decisions better than any CEO.

When automation takes over, and AI designs and builds even better AI, what are we humans going to do with ourselves?

 

 

 

..and what happens as human labour is displaced and with it the spending power that wage earners have and use to buy more goods and services? Lots of stuff on the market but no-one to buy it!

 

 

 
zardoz

 

 

 
Euclid

It is hard to get an answer when you ask why Rio Tinto is going to driverless trains.  Saving the cost of labor seems like the obvious answer, but what does that savings look like compared to the cost of automating?  

 

 

Just like in grocery stores and Wal-marts...how much does each self-checkout kiosk cost, and how long does it take to recoup those costs when it is replacing a near-minimum-wage employee?

Sometimes it seems to me that CEO's and their ilk would prefer to not have any employees - just robots. I wonder how they'll feel when AI becomes so smart that it can make decisions better than any CEO.

When automation takes over, and AI designs and builds even better AI, what are we humans going to do with ourselves?

 

 

 

..and what happens as human labour is displaced and with it the spending power that wage earners have and use to buy more goods and services? Lots of stuff on the market but no-one to buy it!

 

[/quote]

I much prefer the self checkouts.. its easy to scan one's items,  and machines are never rude. Your question about what happens to displaced human labor.. they will likely become cannon fodder for the next great war, which, by the way, appears imminent. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 8:02 PM

IslandMan
zardoz
 
Euclid

It is hard to get an answer when you ask why Rio Tinto is going to driverless trains.  Saving the cost of labor seems like the obvious answer, but what does that savings look like compared to the cost of automating?   

Just like in grocery stores and Wal-marts...how much does each self-checkout kiosk cost, and how long does it take to recoup those costs when it is replacing a near-minimum-wage employee?

Sometimes it seems to me that CEO's and their ilk would prefer to not have any employees - just robots. I wonder how they'll feel when AI becomes so smart that it can make decisions better than any CEO.

When automation takes over, and AI designs and builds even better AI, what are we humans going to do with ourselves?

..and what happens as human labour is displaced and with it the spending power that wage earners have and use to buy more goods and services? Lots of stuff on the market but no-one to buy it!

The CEO's ideal for his entire enterprise is to come in in the morning - push a button and watch product and/or services happen without requiring payroll and then look at accounts recievable as the money rolls in without stopping.  At this point in time, CEO's don't care that what they pay their employees forms the basis to keep the perpetual money machine running.  When no one can afford their product and/or services they will wonder what happened.

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Posted by samfp1943 on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 9:00 PM

zardoz wrote the following post[in part]: 

"...Just like in grocery stores and Wal-marts...how much does each self-checkout kiosk cost, and how long does it take to recoup those costs when it is replacing a near-minimum-wage employee?

Sometimes it seems to me that CEO's and their ilk would prefer to not have any employees - just robots. I wonder how they'll feel when AI becomes so smart that it can make decisions better than any CEO..."

Can't speak to other parts of the Country, but out here we are seeing what amount to the'tip of the automation iceberg'.

               A large regional convenience store chain is building new locations, and rehabilitating other of their brand. Their hot food [pizza, sandwiches, and the like] utilize a kiosk style order sustem, in which the customer enters an order...Shortly, the order is delivered by the single employee working in that area.. payment is made to a human cashier[ who are cycled through any number of tasks  around the store, as well as operating the cash registers.  Dunce

 Some of the fast food chains are trying some of the same stuff in their stores...Their main problems seems to be at the Drive Thru; generally sound systems seem to be of poor quality, on both ends of their systems,Headphones and then the final pay out is handled by an employee unable to count back one's money, And the big surprise will be in the bag... Generally, it was ordered by someone ,who is in the line behind you.Oops

Sam

 

 


 

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Posted by Euclid on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 9:46 PM

Norm48327
 
Euclid

 

 
BaltACD

I wonder who will fix the burst air hose in remote areas?

Probably a remote control drone run by someone in an office 100 miles away. 

I wonder what EHH thinks of driverless trains.

 

Dream on.

 

 

So what do they do when an air hose breaks?  They must have a plan for that.  After going to all the effort to automate running the trains, I doubt they are going to be blindsided by a broken air hose.   They must have people who can respond to emergencies on very short notice.  They probably also perform a relatively high quality of routine maintenance on their rolling stock and locomotives in order to reduce breakdowns.  Since they own all of their equipment, they can probably keep very good track of maintenance.   

 

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 10:25 PM

If I remember correctly, the Australians use a 'hi-rail' pickup truck or similar vehicle equipped with needed tools and equipment and kept stocked with the appropriate parts.  A serviceperson drives the vehicle to the stopped train, changes out the parts, performs testing and service, and then goes wherever needed from there.  It's not difficult to imagine multiple trucks in the equivalent of 'section houses' with van transport to them.  People make altogether too much out of this broken-air-hose, pulled-knuckle stuff as an absolute impediment to small-crew or remote operations.  It might be an hour or two longer response time but doesn't involve train crew leaving the locomotive in order to pull their backs lugging components down the length of the ballast prism.

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 11:14 PM

So we have multiple 'train crews' in trucks around the property to fix defects rather than a single crew on the train.  That sounds economical - NOT.

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Posted by Miningman on Wednesday, October 04, 2017 12:23 AM

From Ulrich-- and what happens as human labour is displaced and with it the spending power that wage earners have and use to buy more goods and services? Lots of stuff on the market but no-one to buy it

Ask Mark Cuban... many universities and economists talking about this...even the White House has had leaders from high tech and industry gathered together to discuss this. 

My take-- Feudal societies In the future, ruled by a few "Lords" and their heirs ... the occasional but rare uprising.  

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Posted by zugmann on Wednesday, October 04, 2017 4:47 AM

Overmod
People make altogether too much out of this broken-air-hose, pulled-knuckle stuff as an absolute impediment to small-crew or remote operations. It might be an hour or two longer response time but doesn't involve train crew leaving the locomotive in order to pull their backs lugging components down the length of the ballast prism.

Many lines are in places not accessible from vehicle.  Even if you have a hi-railer, you are still going to have to lug components down the ballast.  Probably further, as anyone with opearting experience can relate.

While some may make a big deal about line-of-road issues, it is downright foolish to ignore them as well.

And if you have a broken knuckle, coupler, pulled drawbar, etc you better hope and pray the airbrakes don't bleed off on the separated portion while the service truck takes 2 hours to get there, or else you are going to have a much, much, larger problem on your hands. 

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by Euclid on Wednesday, October 04, 2017 7:26 AM

If railroads shift to driverless trains, a lot of other operational details will have to change with that.  Along with specializing mobile repair crews with hi-rail trucks, access roads will have to be added alongside all mainline tracks.  In the west or other open, flat spaces like where Rio Tinto operates, the access roads will be already available or easy to add.  It is hard to find a photo of Rio Tinto trains that does not show a prominent access road along the track.

In mountains with high fills and deep cuts, the roads will be difficult to add.  But if this new access road infrastructure is needed to support automated running, and if the whole system is cost effective, then there is no reason why it cannot or will not be done.  Even without automated running, this concept of carrying heavy components down the side of the ballast for thousands of feet seems like a problem that is long overdue for fixing. 

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Posted by oltmannd on Wednesday, October 04, 2017 8:12 AM

zardoz

 

 
Euclid

It is hard to get an answer when you ask why Rio Tinto is going to driverless trains.  Saving the cost of labor seems like the obvious answer, but what does that savings look like compared to the cost of automating?  

 

 

Just like in grocery stores and Wal-marts...how much does each self-checkout kiosk cost, and how long does it take to recoup those costs when it is replacing a near-minimum-wage employee?

Sometimes it seems to me that CEO's and their ilk would prefer to not have any employees - just robots. I wonder how they'll feel when AI becomes so smart that it can make decisions better than any CEO.

When automation takes over, and AI designs and builds even better AI, what are we humans going to do with ourselves?

 

Probably the same thing we did as farming was mechanized - something new.  What farmer in 1880 knew that their great, great, great, grandkids would be computer programming in 1980?

People find creating things by hand to be satisfying.  People still enjoy cooking when they can eat out.  People still hand sew quilts in an era where you can buy machine-sewn quilts for cheap.  People still read and write books.  

Or, we could just argue politics!  (endlessly....)

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, October 04, 2017 5:54 PM

oltmannd
What farmer in 1880 knew that their great, great, great, grandkids would be computer programming in 1980?

Oh, there were some in that era who knew EXACTLY how automation would affect their grandkids -- remember the description of the girl running the farm in "Easy as ABC" who played the plough at Pirolo?  Only the interface is different, and in fact Kipling's is much more the sort of high-level IxD that characterizes good functional applications...

The problem is that most of the 'middle-class' jobs that actually make the two ends of the pipelines (to invoke another SF story) line up are either gone or being deprecated, and there seem to be efforts everywhere we look to 'work with a wild will to build a more imperfect world' with dumber, less tolerant, easier to "shepherd" folks... who can't do much of anything a machine couldn't do better, were there anyone in or out of Bangalore who understood much about programming them to actually work.

It was kinda fun to read about how increasing mechanization was going to give us more and more leisure time, until we'd only "have to work" about 4 hours a week, jet home in our flying car, and do whatever we thought people in the white-duck-trouser set did with all their time.

I am beginning to worry about exactly how much 'satisfying' activity average people will engage in, vs. serving up more and more content from fatter and fatter cheap Internet pipes and the like.  (Of course, I still remember how bad things were supposed to get with all the teenagers in the '50s yakking on the phone or keeping transistor radios to their ears all the time, and then how television was turning us all into short-little-span-of-attention entertainment junkies, but as we near the Singularity I'm beginning to wonder if current trends aren't the 'real thing' to be concerned about...)

Where this ties into railroading: there's a limit to how much intermodal traffic you can sustain in an economy that's primarily seeing 'wealth appreciation' through service.  Yes, put two Yankees in a room and in an hour they'll have made $10 off each other, but how real is that in the long term, or in the face of organized financial manipulation?  I would be concerned that in fact there are hard limits to the prospective traffic growth, or even continuity unless, say, the Chinese involve a much higher percentage of the money they're currently tapping off in targeted improvements to the actual United States economy...

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Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, October 04, 2017 6:36 PM

Overmod
It was kinda fun to read about how increasing mechanization was going to give us more and more leisure time, until we'd only "have to work" about 4 hours a week, jet home in our flying car, and do whatever we thought people in the white-duck-trouser set did with all their time.

I recall reading about a company that went to a twelve hour day, giving their employees a three-day workweek.  Didn't last long, though.  The employees found that they couldn't afford all that free time.

Let's say you like to camp.  With four days off, you're going to take more elaborate trips - longer, further away.  And that comes with a price tag.

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, October 04, 2017 7:37 PM

tree68
 
Overmod
It was kinda fun to read about how increasing mechanization was going to give us more and more leisure time, until we'd only "have to work" about 4 hours a week, jet home in our flying car, and do whatever we thought people in the white-duck-trouser set did with all their time. 

I recall reading about a company that went to a twelve hour day, giving their employees a three-day workweek.  Didn't last long, though.  The employees found that they couldn't afford all that free time.

Let's say you like to camp.  With four days off, you're going to take more elaborate trips - longer, further away.  And that comes with a price tag.

At the time I retired (BEHH) CSX Operations Center officials worked three 12 hour days with three days off - revolving around the week.  At one time the officials traded between days and nights, however, they all agreed that such trading back and forth was much harder on them than staying all days or all nights.

AEHH ?????????????

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Posted by Miningman on Thursday, October 05, 2017 12:11 AM

Overmod-- Love that analysis on the economy and approaching a "singularity". There are warning signs everywhere. It is only resonable that we question them and dismiss it as the warnings were to our generation growing up, yet this is much much more than rock and roll music, swinging hips and transistor radios. 

Still I like to think we are entering a decade or two were the good guys win for a change and the bad is pushed back 30 yards. 

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, October 05, 2017 7:13 AM

This entire thread goes a long way in explaining why I have little respect for Elon Musk and his acolytes.  He appears to have an abiding and misguided faith that advanced technology will solve the world's social problems.  He also never tries to answer the question "Why should we do this?"

Miningman--Who are the good guys in which you have such an abiding faith?

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Posted by Euclid on Thursday, October 05, 2017 7:29 AM

Actually, I don’t believe driverless trains are right around the corner.  Nor are self-driving trucks or self-driving cars, although for differing reasons.  What is right around the corner is a continuation of this endless stream of Elon Musk style futurism laid out by visioners  and their fantastic predictions.  There is money to be made selling visions whether they are possible or not.  People buy the vision because they don’t want to be seen as a knuckle-dragging Luddite.  A healthy skepticism is always good, but people have become afraid to express it.

Railroads don’t want ECP brakes because the cost is too high.  Wait until they get the cost estimate for automated trains.  They will be out there telling the world that automated trains really don’t do any good while the promotors tell us that driverless trains are safer.  The railroads will tell us the technology is not ready for prime time. 

Driverless trucks and cars are each subject to differing agendas.  Both are way overpromised.  The politics of forcing the public to share the road with dangerous trucks only to enrich corporations will be impossible to overcome unless those trucking companies pay for their own roads.   Self-driving cars are a green movement vision of sustainability, and it too is over-promised just like the rising seas and renewable energy. 

Equally overpromised is the idea that futuristic technology will eliminate all jobs.  This is now being sold by visionaries who say the solution is a guaranteed annual wage to save people from inevitable destitution from being displaced by robots. 

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Posted by Deggesty on Thursday, October 05, 2017 8:07 AM

Quoting Euclid  "Equally overpromised is the idea that futuristic technology will eliminate all jobs.  This is now being sold by visionaries who say the solution is a guaranteed annual wage to save people from inevitable destitution from being displaced by robots. "

People will be paid simply for existing? 

Johnny

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Posted by Euclid on Thursday, October 05, 2017 8:20 AM

Deggesty

Quoting Euclid  "Equally overpromised is the idea that futuristic technology will eliminate all jobs.  This is now being sold by visionaries who say the solution is a guaranteed annual wage to save people from inevitable destitution from being displaced by robots. "

People will be paid simply for existing? 

 

Yes that is the idea unless they can find a job.  The theory is that automation while being a good thing, will have the side effect of causing massive, insurmountable job loss.  So finally the guaranteed annual wage that many on both the receiving and giving side have always dreamed of has stumbled upon a pretext as to why it must be instituted.  It figures.  The proposal is just as disengenous as the snake oil of selling futurism.  It is a phony solution for a phony problem.

 

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Posted by Miningman on Thursday, October 05, 2017 9:04 AM

CSSHEGEWSCH- The "good guys" are us...you, Firelock, Overmod, Wanswheel, NDG, Dave Klepper and many other Forum contributors, ....my students are definitely the good guys,  far from typical students they work on family trap lines and are exceptionally hearty outdoorsman, value family a great deal, have very few of the material things and live modest but enriched lives. It is encouraging, it is a choice. 

James T. Kirk and Spock were good guys in our day, although fictional characters. 

The bad guys want to destroy all that. Many in the media, entire companies and their philosophies are destructive, a rigged insider game within the economy destroys the fabric of capitalism and makes a mockery of it. What Americans have come to know as the "swamp" for political favours and corruption that has become entrenched. Google and Facebook control far far too much information and show signs of being manipulative and suppressing thought and differing opinions. 

Bad guys have won for a long time...it's our turn. Hopefully. 

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Posted by Norm48327 on Thursday, October 05, 2017 10:05 AM

Mining Man,

Well thought out and well spoken.

Norm


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