Self-Driving Freight Trains Are Now Traveling the Rails

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  • Member since
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  • From: Central Iowa
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Posted by jeffhergert on Thursday, October 05, 2017 12:13 PM

[quote user="Euclid"]


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. 

Your expertise is showing.  I guess you haven't heard of New York Air Brake's LEADER system or GE's Trip Optimizer.  (I was told the algorithms used for PTC are the same for T-O.)  LEADER's auto throttle version and T-O already run the train when engaged.  Now they only operate throttle and dynamic brake, but I've been told that full air brake operation (This was for T-O) and the ability to start once stopped is close.  Not only handling the air brake, the advanced verstion will also blow the horn in the proper sequence for crossings, something I still have to do.  Currently, both systems don't recognize signals, they are a "clear block" system.  I only have to take over if the signals are less than clear (LEADER can't handle crossover moves, T-O can) or if an unforseen speed restriction is given.  PTC updates speed restrictions.  If a speed restriction or crossing protection is put into the dispatcher's computer, updated for speed or removed  entirely the onboard PTC system automatically updates.  (Recently a dispr asked a train if they could comply with a crossing protection.  They couldn't because they were almost on it at track speed.  The dispr didn't verbally give it to them, but entered it into the computer system.  The train's PTC still received it and put them into emergency.)  I know there's at least one engine being tested with PTC and T-O integrated onto the same screen, but doesn't have the enhanced capability.  But I was told the tech riding the test engine said it's not far off.  We may not ever, for political concerns, have completely personless trains.  But it may be the case where the person only takes over when the system fails.  Assuming that person still retains the skills to do so.  You can also be sure the remaining person won't be compensated close to what they currently are.  (At least I'm hoping someone remains.  I've got between 11 and 16 years, depending on a few different things, to go.)          

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. 

I don't think anyone thinks automation will eliminate ALL jobs.  The highest number I've seen about future unemployment predictions was 50%.  The visionaries who say automation will open enough new (good stable middle class type) jobs for those that lose their old ones (IMO) are just as full of it.  (I think maybe more so.)  I think that because automation doesn't happen over night there won't be any uproar as entire jobs go away.  As long as it is slow enough, and people buy into the philosophy that only certain types of jobs are worth doing while other jobs aren't, the sheople will be content.  



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Posted by samfp1943 on Thursday, October 05, 2017 10:11 PM

Larry(tree68) wrote the following [in part]

"...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..."

Before retiring, I had worked for a Trucking Company for the better part of 12 years, as a night dispatch operator. Our shift was 6PM to 6AM; wer worked four days on and four days off. We worked any holiday that fell on our rotation for work.  The company rationalle was that we had so much time off that we did not need compensation forO/T, or holiday pay.  The pay was not unfair, and was considered a pretty good wage for that time.  Your off-time was your own; I held a part-time job with a company that was glad to work around my 'regular schedule'. Since my part-time was somewhat different than my full-time, it did work well for me.    Once one gets into the 4 days on, 4 days off, routine  and rhythm; scheduling work, and sleeping became routine .Whistling





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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Friday, October 06, 2017 6:48 AM

My employer offers the option of four 10-hour days per week with the fifth day off or four 9-hour days per week with an eight-hour day on the fifth day of one week with the other fifth day off (comes out to 80 hours per pay period).  These options are more popular when overtime isn't being offered.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by dehusman on Friday, October 06, 2017 9:13 AM

As Jeff alluded to, the pieces for one man or automated operation are pretty much in place.  Because we have very little practical experience with them there will be bugs to work out over the next few years with all the new systems.  Railroads already have roving mechanical forces that can assist trains with problems.  It wouldn't be a stretch to see a person who crosses craft lines and is both a utility person that can make set outs, operate RCL and other train crew type work and also a rapid response mechanical person who can fix knuckles, air hoses and other on line repairs.  Which ever union decides to be the one to cross craft boundaries and allow dual training will get the work.

The mechanical issues would be relatively minor on the Rio Tinto, consistent cars, consistent mechanical standards, etc.  Most of the air hose problems are due to the mix of car lengths and air hose arrangements, particularly on longer cars.  But as railroads do rigorous analysis, they can eliminate those problems and incorporate the solutions on new cars.  There were issues on reefers with air houses coming uncoupled, the railroad studied them extensively and figured out how to reposition the air hose to eliminate the problem.

One man or autonomous trains won't work everywhere, but I bet we see them within the next couple decades.  Who would have guessed 50 years ago that the majority of yard engines wouldn't have an engineer?

Dave H. Painted side goes up.

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Posted by switch7frg on Sunday, October 08, 2017 11:06 AM

WinkIf and when all this driverless train does happen, I would bet some "hackers" would already have a program  for this.

Y6bs evergreen in my mind

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Posted by samfp1943 on Sunday, October 08, 2017 11:39 AM


WinkIf and when all this driverless train does happen, I would bet some "hackers" would already have a program  for this.


  Not to mention: WHO has to respond when a knuckle breaks, an airline parts, emergency brake application happens[Who 'walks the train' inspection?].

  I would suspect that the guy 'driving' the train is not gonna get up from his desk and run out and do it? Not to mention, how are they going to reach the point of repair in a timely manner?   Just askin' Whistling





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Posted by Fred M Cain on Monday, October 09, 2017 12:13 PM


I kinda like the idea of Driverless boxcars.  Before you dismiss the idea as completely absurd and totally impossible, let me explain.

A car could be developed that has the ability to deliver itself from the shipper’s dock to a local classification center.  I believe the technology already exists to do this.  If not, it could be very easily developed.  Unlike driverless trucks, the fact that driverless boxcars would be on a fixed guideway would make them a whole lot safer.  The technology would also be easier to implement because figuring out a way to keep them safely on the asphalt and out of the way of other vehicles would not be necessary.
It goes without saying that tracks leading from the shippers’ docks to the local yard(s) would have to be fenced off and grade crossing free.  But that would be a good idea anyways.
How would you possibly power the driverless boxcars?  Before the advent of lithium ion batteries that might have been a major obstacle but today perhaps not so much.
Here is an interesting scenario:  Imagine a shipper somewhere in the Northeast loads a car of widgets and programs it for a consignee somewhere on the west coast.  The car takes off on a private, grade crossing fee right of way to the nearest hub center where it is automatically shunted onto a locomotive-drawn train with other cars bound for the same hub center in the West.  (The batteries and motors would only need to have enough wattage to get it from the shipper to the yard.)
When the train is ready, it takes off with perhaps 100+ cars and is also completely “driverless” but still has a single engineer in the cab whose sole responsibility is to take over the controls in the event of an emergency or some other unforeseen issue.
Upon arrival on the west coast, the train is automatically broken up and the driverless cars deliver themselves to their respective consignees.
Totally impossible?   I don’t believe it is.  Think about the implications and benefits not only for our industry but for the public as well.  A lot of dangerous trucks would be taken off the highways.  It is a future that is the complete antithesis to that of the “driverless truck” negative utopia.
What this industry really needs today more than ever is some vision.  Railroads could fill an extremely important, vital and necessary role in our nation’s future if only rail executives and government leaders would let that happen.
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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, October 09, 2017 12:19 PM

I am with you on this.  You are proposing the ideal loose-car frieght transportation system.  As to whether there is a practical incremental way of geting there, that is another big question, and including financing and the number of businesses reachable by truck and not by rail, looks pretty unlikely to be realized.  Have you thought about steps to its implementation?

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Posted by IslandMan on Monday, October 09, 2017 2:16 PM

Driverless trains have actually been around for a long time, at least in specialist applications.  The Muskingum Electric Railroad had automatic trains from its opening in 1968.

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Posted by Fred M Cain on Tuesday, October 10, 2017 8:38 AM


Yes, I think there might be a practical, incremental way of getting there.  Once this technology begins to get applied, in those areas where it has yet to be installed, the boxcars could STILL be delivered the old-fashioned way With a switch engine.

As for those industries reachable by truck but not rail, that is just a bit more problematic.  However, today there are almost uncountable businesses and industries located on or very near rail lines that are simply no longer using rail. Those kinds of shippers could be approached first.  Then, if the system proves successful and cuts costs, more and more industries will look at industrial parks first that have rail access.

Think of what this could do.  It might make the pick up and delivery of the loose car business profitable again and take untold trucks off the highways.

The problem with modern intermodal is that it only takes the very longest hauls off the highways then dumps all that heavy truck traffic onto more local roads in and around major container hubs.

It will never be possible to take all trucks off the roads nor would I necessarily even advocate that. But taking a good number off the roads would increase rail market share and make our cities, towns and highways a whole lot more livable.


Fred M. Cain


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Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, October 10, 2017 12:03 PM

Massive layoffs due to automation will create a huge problem of its own: what to do with all those people.. thay can't all be shoe salesman or astronauts. That problem needs to be addressed sooner than later or else we may have a revolution on our hands. 

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