Trains without crews

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Trains without crews
Posted by Fred M Cain on Monday, December 04, 2017 11:19 AM

In our most recent issue there was an interesting article discussing driverless trains.  I was particularly intrigued by the quote provided in the article from Larry Gross.  He believes that the biggest help to railroads as far as autonomous trains is concerned would be at the local level.

 

I was pleaseed to hear that someone else was thinking on those terms.  This brings me back again to my idea of "driverless boxcars" that I posted on another thread.  I would like to repost that idea here:

 

A boxcar 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. 
As for Mr. Risch's notion that driverless trains "are a terrible idea", well, if he's right about that then driverless trucks are an even worse idea.  I stand by my belief that driverless trucks should NEVER be allowed on the Nation's highways.  To me the very thought of that is truly frightening.
 
As for a long, cross-country driverless freight train, I suspect the best plan forward there would be to make them driverless but still keep an engineman on board - just in case.
 
Regards,
Fred M. Cain
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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, December 04, 2017 11:28 AM

Which is the case with most automatic rapid transit lines, New York's "L and future 7," PATCO Lindenwald, several London and Paris lines.

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Posted by jeffhergert on Monday, December 04, 2017 6:16 PM

For this to work, wouldn't EVERY switch on the entire railroad network need to be powered and automated?  The ones to customers, the ones to and in yards.  And they would have to work flawlessly all the time.

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Posted by zugmann on Monday, December 04, 2017 6:29 PM

Be cheaper to just rip out the tracks and use trucks.

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

I occasionally post off-topic remarks.  Adults can handle that.

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Posted by jeffhergert on Monday, December 04, 2017 6:38 PM

zugmann

Be cheaper to just rip out the tracks and use trucks.

 

That's what most who used to ship/receive by rail have done.  It's sad to see buildings with rail doors that have been permanently closed off.  The rails, if not removed, disconnected where they once would've joined the railroad's tracks.  Or to look at a Zone/Track/Spot book for an urban area and see so many tracks, if they actually still exist, marked "vacant".  Not to mention that so many industries are gone completely.  If replaced, replaced by light manufacturing or service industries that often don't need a full box car, or trailer.

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Posted by Semper Vaporo on Monday, December 04, 2017 6:41 PM

Everytime this subject of crewless trains comes up, I am reminded of a joke I learned over 60 years ago...

----------------------------

Passengers of the first fully automated airline flight were just settling in when a voice came over the speaker system of the plane:

"Welcome to the first fully automated airline flight.

You have noticed that your tickets were validated by a machine.  Your luggage was taken by a conveyer to the baggage hold of the plane and placed by a robotic arm.  You were directed to your seats by following flashing lights in the floor.  The doors closed all on their own and the engines are now going through the pre-flight checks and we will be taxiing to the runway under the control of the flight computer and the computers in the airport tower.  Your flight to your destination will be under the control of the flight computer, and the landing will be fully automated using the radio signals from the destination runway. 

Please be assured that all this is being done without any human intervention... do not worry, nothing can possibly go wrong go wrong go wrong go wrong go wrong...

----------------------------

 

Semper Vaporo

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, December 04, 2017 7:00 PM

jeffhergert
 
zugmann

Be cheaper to just rip out the tracks and use trucks. 

That's what most who used to ship/receive by rail have done.  It's sad to see buildings with rail doors that have been permanently closed off.  The rails, if not removed, disconnected where they once would've joined the railroad's tracks.  Or to look at a Zone/Track/Spot book for an urban area and see so many tracks, if they actually still exist, marked "vacant".  Not to mention that so many industries are gone completely.  If replaced, replaced by light manufacturing or service industries that often don't need a full box car, or trailer.

Jeff 

The CSX Baltimore Division Operating Center reused the same warehouse space that Chessie System originally leased for the operation of the Baltimore Terminal Services center in 1978.  The warehouse was located in a industrial center that was built in the late 1950's and through the 1960's and housed a number of businesses that used rail service, including Carlings Brewery, A&P Distribution warehouses for their grocery stores.  Yard crews switched the area 24 hours a day and were headquartered at a trailer office across from HX Tower.  The area supported 100 cars inbound and 100 cars outbound on a daily basis.

When the BDOC was opened in June 2008 the area was serviced by a yard engine that originated at Curtis Bay Yard and came to the area 2 days per week IF traffic permitted.  Carlings property changed hand multiple times and then the brewery was demolished and the property redevloped into building supply company depot plus a trucking company's main offices.  A&P closed all their stores in the Baltimore area and the distribution center was demolished and redeveloped with part of the property becoming a FedEx facility.  The industries the took rail delivery on the lead that ran a mile and a half down to Carlings ended rail service and the lead was removed, some of the company's still have their sidings (it is their property) but they aren't connected to anything.  The building the houses BDOC in the 1970's had 2 tracks in back of it - one to provide rail service to the building, the other was a lead to a couple of other building as well as terminating at the crew office trailer. 

         

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Posted by Miningman on Monday, December 04, 2017 9:15 PM

Civilization is dead.

Once a typical sight of tail end crew on shoving move. Note the backup airhose in place.
This is on the Kingston Sub. parallel to the Chalk River Sub. mainline between Renfrew Jct. and Renfrew.

Calabogie Lake, June 1983 Gene Burles

 
 

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Posted by tree68 on Monday, December 04, 2017 9:29 PM

There are still cabeese (excuse me, "shoving platforms") still in use, but in most cases, that's all they are is platforms.  The windows are plated over, and I don't even know if the crews can get inside.

But, yeah.

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, December 04, 2017 10:15 PM

Miningman
Civilization is dead.

Once a typical sight of tail end crew on shoving move. Note the backup airhose in place.
This is on the Kingston Sub. parallel to the Chalk River Sub. mainline between Renfrew Jct. and Renfrew.

B&O Caboose's were equiped with a combination brake valve/whistle for back up moves.  Allowed the Conductor controlling the shove to sound for road crossings and make brake application.

         

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Posted by aegrotatio on Monday, December 04, 2017 10:29 PM

Washington DC Metro was completely automated in the beginning. A minor concession was made to have operators present who originally just poked their heads out the window to monitor the platform while they pushed the button to open and close the doors. They couldn't even change to manual operation except to put the train into emergency. An operator's death changed that policy.

 

Since 2009 we've been in manual operation for an accident that had nearly nothing to do with automatic operation and everything to do with negligent wayside maintenance.

 

BART and MARTA are very similar.

 

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Posted by Fred M Cain on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 6:09 AM

jeffhergert

For this to work, wouldn't EVERY switch on the entire railroad network need to be powered and automated?  The ones to customers, the ones to and in yards.  And they would have to work flawlessly all the time.

Jeff 

 

 

Jeff,

 

One thing I should've mentioned about my idea that's important is that such an automated delivery system could be installed INCREMENTALLY. That would be an important feature.  In those areas where the automated equipment is not yet up and running, a car could still be picked up or delivered the old-fashioned way - with a switch engine.  Eventually the entire system could be gradually automated.

As for the whole thing having to run flawlessly, well, you kinda have a point there but nothing in this world is ever perfect.  But maybe we could come close.  The so-called "Sky Train" in Vancouver does reasonable well.  Why not automated boxcars?

 

In any event, in my own personal, honest, humble opinion, something needs to be done.  Our highways have become a mess and they're not getting any better.  The Interstates radiating out of Chicago have been completely taken over by big semis.  They are now a nightmare to drive on.  I for one am very, very skeptical that driverless trucks will improve this situation.  If we have to try an automate somthing, why not the railroads?  Perhaps we could then turn the highways back over to the family car.

Regards,

Fred M. Cain

 

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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 6:53 AM

To work in the Chicago area, a lot of tracks, switches, and sidings would have to be installed new or revived.

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Posted by Norm48327 on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 7:34 AM

Fred M Cain
Perhaps we could then turn the highways back over to the family car.

That's likely to be a "cold day". Trucks will always be needed to get the merchandise from railroad yards to the stores.

While I agree that cross country trucking can generally beat the time it takes on the rails. OTOH, there are high priority trains such as "The Salad Shooter" that make the trip in sufficient time for the produce to still be fresh on arrival. Socal to NY in forty eight hours (I believe) speaks well for the railroads. Well, perhaps make that seventy two hours.

Norm


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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 7:41 AM

Also, your automated self-propelled boxcars require private RoW and even freedom from or very-well protected grade crossings.  A lot of old Chicago pick-ups and delivaries were via street trackage.

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Posted by Fred M Cain on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 9:15 AM

Norm48327

 

 
Fred M Cain
Perhaps we could then turn the highways back over to the family car.

 

That's likely to be a "cold day". Trucks will always be needed to get the merchandise from railroad yards to the stores.

 

Well, yes, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound like I would do away with all trucks - I don't think I'd even advocate that.  But, what I am wondering about - and I know at least some people would agree with - is there is a heck of a lotta traffic out there that COULD be moving by rail but is not.  My question is, could automation be the answer?  Could that help?  We know that at least one intermodal expert is somewhat interested but I don't know to what degree.  I sent Mr. Gross an e-mail but he has yet to respond.

 

Regards,

Fred M. Cain

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Posted by Fred M Cain on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 9:26 AM

daveklepper

Also, your automated self-propelled boxcars require private RoW and even freedom from or very-well protected grade crossings.  A lot of old Chicago pick-ups and delivaries were via street trackage.

 

 

 

Ah, yes, Dave.  You know  back when I was a kid you could go down into the central business district of many American cities and find a virtual maze of tracks – many of them in the street - that ran into different buildings and up to docks.

 

 

 

Even Phoenix had this.  One street actually had TWO tracks in it, one operated by the SP and one by AT&SF.  A few buildings had spurs that connected to both.  But my favorite was San Francisco.  Sheesh!  One time we were riding in the family car and my Dad turned a corner only to encounter a bunch of men unloading a boxcar right out in the middle of the street!  Down near the waterfront, there were tracks all over the place.  Even today if you look carefully you might still be able to find some abandoned rails under the pavement.

 

But, of course, by the time I saw all this in the ‘60s, all of this was already in decline.  Too bad we lost all that infrastructure!  But I can see three main issues with this.

 

One was probably expensive labor.  Depending on the circumstances, anywhere from three to five crew members were required to pick up or spot a car with a switch engine.  I have always wondered, why is it that a single, lone truck driver can change out a box trailer but a railroad needed at least three people?  Union work rules?

 

Second, by the time I saw this stuff, the supporting infrastructure was in bad need of repair.  That would’ve cost an astronomical sum to fix up all those tracks, streets and switches.

 

Third and finally, trucks are probably more flexible.  No need to keep stopping to throw switches or flag cross streets.

 

But automation and “driverless boxcars” could be a game changer benefitting rail.  Automated or not, the downtown tracks in the street won’t be coming back – I don’t mean to suggest that.  But as Larry Gross suggested in the TRAINS Magazine article, local autonomous trains could help bring back a lot of local traffic.

Regards,

Fred M. Cain

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Posted by Fred M Cain on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 9:31 AM

daveklepper

Also, your automated self-propelled boxcars require private RoW and even freedom from or very-well protected grade crossings.  A lot of old Chicago pick-ups and delivaries were via street trackage.

 

 

Ah, yes, Dave.  You know  back when I was a kid you could go down into the central business district of many American cities and find a virtual maze of tracks – many of them in the street - that ran into different buildings and up to docks.

 

Even Phoenix had this.  One street actually had TWO tracks in it, one operated by the SP and one by AT&SF.  A few buildings had spurs that connected to both.  But my favorite was San Francisco.  Sheesh!  One time we were riding in the family car and my Dad turned a corner only to encounter a bunch of men unloading a boxcar right out in the middle of the street!  Down near the waterfront, there were tracks all over the place.  Even today if you look carefully you might still be able to find some abandoned rails under the pavement.

But, of course, by the time I saw all this in the ‘60s, all of this was already in decline.  Too bad we lost all that infrastructure!  But I can see three main issues with this.

 

One was probably expensive labor.  Depending on the circumstances, anywhere from three to five crew members were required to pick up or spot a car with a switch engine.  I have always wondered, why is it that a single, lone truck driver can change out a box trailer but a railroad needed at least three people?  Union work rules?

Second, by the time I saw this stuff, the supporting infrastructure was in bad need of repair.  That would’ve cost an astronomical sum to fix up all those tracks, streets and switches.

Third and finally, trucks are probably more flexible.  No need to keep stopping to throw switches or flag cross streets.

But automation and “driverless boxcars” could be a game changer benefitting rail.  Automated or not, the downtown tracks in the street won’t be coming back – I don’t mean to suggest that.  But as Larry Gross suggested in the TRAINS Magazine article, local autonomous trains could help bring back a lot of local traffic

Regards,

Fred M. Cain

 

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Posted by tree68 on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 9:39 AM

Fred M Cain
...local autonomous trains could help bring back a lot of local traffic

Susquehanna tried that in Utica.  Wait - that was a runaway that went through a number of crossings (including one busy 4 lane thoroughfare), did some street running, and only managed to clip one auto.

The steamer it hit hasn't been repaired yet, but the station has...

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Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 4:44 PM

Back in the 80s the banks were jumping up and  down about doing away with tellers.. the future was bank machines.. no tellers. So now in almost every branch we have bank machines AND tellers.. 

Right about the same time companies implemented technology to replace the receptionist in most offices. So now we have automated phone systems AND a receptionist in almost every office.. 

More recently we've got automated self checkout machines.. yup.. they're supposed to get rid of those high priced minimum wage cashiers. So about 10 or 15 years later, we've got many stores that have automated self checkouts AND cashiers.. and supervisors who ensure that customers don't cheat the automated checkouts..

So I'm seeing a trend here.. total automation on trains is likely a long way off. If the above is any indication we'll have some automation AND a crew on board for some time to come. 

 

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Posted by tree68 on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 4:59 PM

Ulrich
So I'm seeing a trend here.. total automation on trains is likely a long way off. If the above is any indication we'll have some automation AND a crew on board for some time to come. 

I suspect that we're well on our way.  Between PTC, TripOptimizer, and LEADER, getting a train from point A to point B is nearly automated now.  The engineer still can run the train, but as route information and other train handling dyamics become more refined, even that will be mostly making sure things are where they are supposed to be, vs where they are.

The bugaboo is at the endpoints (and at online drop and pickup points), where there is some automation, but there's still a long way to go.

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 6:09 PM

tree68
 
Ulrich
So I'm seeing a trend here.. total automation on trains is likely a long way off. If the above is any indication we'll have some automation AND a crew on board for some time to come.  

I suspect that we're well on our way.  Between PTC, TripOptimizer, and LEADER, getting a train from point A to point B is nearly automated now.  The engineer still can run the train, but as route information and other train handling dyamics become more refined, even that will be mostly making sure things are where they are supposed to be, vs where they are.

The bugaboo is at the endpoints (and at online drop and pickup points), where there is some automation, but there's still a long way to go.

I don't think they have automated sounding the horn for road crossings - YET!

         

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Posted by tree68 on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 7:03 PM

BaltACD
I don't think they have automated sounding the horn for road crossings - YET!

We're working on GPS based narration for some of our trains.  It's widely used for tour boats and busses.  It's not beyond the realm of possibility that the same technology could be used, combined with a GPS measurement of speed, to sound the horn for crossings.

It would mean that any crossing a given locomotive might encounter would have to be in the system, but a national database of crossings, with lat and lon, does exist.  There are around 160,000 crossings in the US - not a large data file in today's day and age.  An algorithm to determine distance to a given crossing would be easy to generate, so you wouldn't even have to go out and find the exact location of each whistle board.

However, that doesn't address the folks who choose to enter such crossings with their vehicles at inopportune moments...

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Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 7:15 PM

I think so.. a long way to go. "Nearly" and "almost" are the two words that will keep crews and drivers (and tellers and cashiers) employed for years to come...because these jobs can almost be completely automated.. almost! 

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Posted by zugmann on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 7:20 PM

LEADER has the ability to have grade crossings.  They ahd it in for a while, then took it out on our units.  But then we're changing over to TripOptomizer, so I don't know if it will be equipped or not.  So far, our local power doesn't have that stuff in it.

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

I occasionally post off-topic remarks.  Adults can handle that.

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 9:00 PM

BaltACD
I don't think they have automated sounding the horn for road crossings - YET!

The Muskingum Electric - an automated Ohio coal-hauling line for a power plant, back a few decades ago - did have automated grade crossing horns.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muskingum_Electric_Railroad 

Note: John B. Corns (ex-B&O, I think) wrote the March 1979 Trains article cited in this article. 

See also the last post here:

https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,3162804 

And the 3rd post here:

https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,3426856 

- PDN. 

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Posted by jeffhergert on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 9:28 PM

BaltACD

 

 
tree68
 
Ulrich
So I'm seeing a trend here.. total automation on trains is likely a long way off. If the above is any indication we'll have some automation AND a crew on board for some time to come.  

I suspect that we're well on our way.  Between PTC, TripOptimizer, and LEADER, getting a train from point A to point B is nearly automated now.  The engineer still can run the train, but as route information and other train handling dyamics become more refined, even that will be mostly making sure things are where they are supposed to be, vs where they are.

The bugaboo is at the endpoints (and at online drop and pickup points), where there is some automation, but there's still a long way to go.

 

I don't think they have automated sounding the horn for road crossings - YET!

 

PTC will blow the horn before crossings, but only a continuous blast.  Unless the engineer overrides it by pushing the horn button/ moving the horn lever.

Trip Optimizer does a good job, only a few times has it concerned me enough to take over.  LEADER auto throttle is almost has good, their first version where it prompts the engineer is not good.  Fortunately, the screen for PTC is the same that was used for LEADER.  Unfortunately, PTC is starting to have both T-O/LEADER integrated into it.

The Energy Mamagement Systems do best with empty unit trains.  Next up is loaded unit trains.  (well, most of the time.)  Long heavy manifests just kind of depend where you are at.  They have torn up large trains, despite what the advertisements say .  We're supposed to use EMS as much as possible, but also to use our best judgement.  (Even so, if EMS tears up a train they aren't holding us responsible.  Yet.)  I like that part about using our best judgement.  I'm supposed to use my best judgement even though they are saying, in effect, my judgement isn't good enough. 

Jeff

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Posted by zardoz on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 10:32 PM

Ulrich

I think so.. a long way to go. "Nearly" and "almost" are the two words that will keep crews and drivers (and tellers and cashiers) employed for years to come...because these jobs can almost be completely automated.. almost! 

 

With all this talk about technology replacing train crews, I wonder if anyone has considered how easily a computer could take over most of the duties of the suit-and-tie ilk.

Sure, a computer could not hide in the bushes and pull an efficiency test (yet), but decision-making seems like just the sort of thing a good algorithm could do better.

A railroad could have a few "Travelling Trainmasters" that roam the system to do efficiency tests, in the same way the railroad feels that they could have a few "Travelling Conductors" driving around to places where they are needed.

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Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, December 06, 2017 6:48 AM

zardoz
With all this talk about technology replacing train crews, I wonder if anyone has considered how easily a computer could take over most of the duties of the suit-and-tie ilk.

And already has.  When was last time you saw a steno pool at an office?  Nowadays, pretty much everyone does their own typing.

The railroads already use "speed traps" albeit at fixed, known locations (defect detectors).  Setting up photo radar at random locations wouldn't be that hard on a busy line (why bother on a lightly used line?).  It would almost be easier than "pulling tapes."  Of course, GPS also serves a similar function.

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, December 06, 2017 7:01 AM

tree68
 
zardoz
With all this talk about technology replacing train crews, I wonder if anyone has considered how easily a computer could take over most of the duties of the suit-and-tie ilk. 

And already has.  When was last time you saw a steno pool at an office?  Nowadays, pretty much everyone does their own typing. 

The railroads already use "speed traps" albeit at fixed, known locations (defect detectors).  Setting up photo radar at random locations wouldn't be that hard on a busy line (why bother on a lightly used line?).  It would almost be easier than "pulling tapes."  Of course, GPS also serves a similar function.

Above and beyond your 'speed traps' don't forget that the information that gets written to the event recorder can be accessed 'on line' in real time and on at least one carrier is downloaded, retained and reviewed by supervision periodically.

Had a crew get 30 days suspension for a incident of 'overspeed' that was identified solely from use of the event recorder.  Crew was operating on what they 'understood' to be Main Tracks in Yard Limits within the 30 MPH that the timetable identified as 'track speed'; however, in Yard Limits Restricted Speed is required and that is 15 MPH, prepared to stop within 1/2 the range of vision.  This was not a 'newbie' crew.

         

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