BNSF pilot automated track inspection program

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, January 19, 2020 5:26 PM

Euclid
So if there is a motive to automate inspections, I believe it is the motive to eliminate the cost of employing humans to do the work.  

Damn, you just won't let go of the stupidity, will you?

The point of the automatics is to REDUCE both the frequency and the relative criticality of having human inspections to ensure the right mix of safety and maintenance cost.  It is not to REPLACE the humans ... even if the Government went along with this silliness and stopped their safety oversight because 'they trusted the technology'.  

You might as well try saying that remote maintenance routines on locomotives eliminate a need for blue-card inspections.  Try that one on the FRA and see what response they give you.

It is possible, at least in theory, that some combination of AI and machine vision might automate the tasks human inspectors do, as completely as they could do it.  That would still not replace the importance of periodic human inspection or review, and while this might be guided by overseeing the validity of the data gathered by the automatic systems, it wouldn't be limited to accepting it as complete.

I note that in the BNSF timeline, it specifies the reduction of human inspections.  I do not see anything there that implies either that these could, or would, be extrapolated to zero as the system proves itself.  Now, I'm prepared to be wrong about this, but I have seen nothing so far that indicates the point of the advanced technology is to supplant either human oversight or human 'backstopping', nor would I believe that railroads would put full reliance in that idea.

As I think I said: if there are individual inspectors who routinely find 'excess' critical defects that both the automatic systems and subsequent human inspection prove 'not there', it may give railroads much greater incentive and proof to go to, say, the DOT OIG and petition to have different inspectors.  I'd expect that to reduce any temptation to impose punitive numbers of 'defects' fairly quickly, and reduce the practical careers of any inspectors so motivated no less so.

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Sunday, January 19, 2020 5:54 PM

PSA tests have false positives but most of us old geezers still get them. But then have the Dr. decide what to do. Should we ignore them?

Our wives have mamograms which also have error rates. Should we ignore them?

It is easy to be suspicious of management that has a history of being against the worker and some (% not known) management think workers don't care about the job, they just want a bigger paycheck. And I suspect that we all know men who take a lot of pride in doing a great job and others who don't. What I hope comes out of this is a safer railroad. Mixing the benefits of automation to see what it can detect and what it can help manual inspections find. I hope it will not find so many insignificant issues that management ignores some flaw that causes a wreck with fatalities. 

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, January 19, 2020 6:02 PM

Electroliner 1935
I hope it will not find so many insignificant issues that management ignores some flaw that causes a wreck with fatalities. 

This is precisely the convergence that is the bane of automatic-system designers.  Since they can't predict THE flaw that causes the wreck, they have to set k high enough to be reasonably sure to catch it, whatever it may be.  And, even then, there's no guarantee the 'flaw' may be a complex interaction, or rapidly emergent from a combination of sub-critical things, or result from some act of God since the last formal check.

A further issue, which we've discussed in various contexts, is how much 'trust' a railroad can put into what the automated systems are reporting.  It would be nice to leave it at 'trust, but verify' (which is what a good system here would do) but the problem is precisely in knowing what needs the verification, and having the time and means to do it.

There are of course methods of intermediate data analysis and 'warehousing' that help optimize this, but whether or not they get done on the scale, or with the details, that are needed is a question I haven't had a good answer to or for, yet.

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Sunday, January 19, 2020 6:16 PM

As Larry pointed out, defect severity comes in shades of GRAY. Manual detection is subjective and individual inspectors judgement may think something is not urgent and not worth reporting and/or management may say the same thing or that the budget doesn't have the money this period, it can wait until the next period. So time and experience will tell us what happens.

I remember the dire predictions of reducing train crews to two persons. You would expect there to be thousands of accidents freom what was claimed. I am concerned that one man crews may be the step too far but Indiana RR seems to be working out ok. And I am not aware of one man locomotives on Amtrak had had any failures to require a second person in the locomotive. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Sunday, January 19, 2020 7:36 PM

Electroliner 1935
 And I am not aware of one man locomotives on Amtrak had had any failures to require a second person in the locomotive. 

When it comes to issuing inroute Train Messages to Amtrak - there can be issues with only the Engineer on the locomotive.  CSX rules prohibit the person at the opeating controls of a MOVING locomotive from copying a Train Message.  The work around is to do it at a station stop or get the Conductor onto the engine.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Tuesday, January 21, 2020 11:22 AM

SALfan

 

 
BaltACD

 

 
 

 

In one's local area - look at the published inspection reports of local eating establishments - I have yet to see one that has stated NO VIOLATIONS FOUND - and that runs the gammut from the swankiest of high roller establishments to the hole in the wall greasy spoon.  Governmental inspectors - no matter the industry - don't retain their jobs if they don't find violations.

 

 

 

 

The number of violations found in restaurant inspections are not necessarily a product of the inspector/restaurant relationship, or the attitude of the inspector.  I make my living reviewing the performance of contractors on contracts with a government agency (internal auditor), and recently reviewed a food service contract where contractor personnel and management use government kitchens to produce meals.  Take it from someone who spent six months on an exhaustive review of kitchen operations, there are about 862,000 ways to screw up food handling, preparation, serving and cleanup of just one meal (a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea).  I watched a meal being prepared and served, and part of the cleanup while accompanied by the contract manager (a former Food Service Director with 10 years' experience), the Regional Manager of the contractor (another former Food Service Director with years of experience).  Both of those folks pointed out several things I didn't even notice that were done wrong or could have been done better/faster/easier.  It was truly an eye-opening experience how tiny little things could be a violation of the food-service rules, or could possibly lead to violations if the production workers don't do everything just so.  And this contractor does a good job; they aren't one of those contractors who make you wonder if they have ever even walked by a kitchen before.

 

This post triggered a memory of a superb Fawlty Towers episode entitled "Basil the Rat" about a visit from the health inspector.

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6thosu

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Tuesday, January 21, 2020 12:28 PM

Here is a pretty straight forward explanation of what the difficulties are in terms of error:

https://www.abtasty.com/blog/type-1-and-type-2-errors/

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Posted by jeffhergert on Tuesday, January 21, 2020 4:29 PM

Overmod

 

 
Euclid
So if there is a motive to automate inspections, I believe it is the motive to eliminate the cost of employing humans to do the work.  

 

Damn, you just won't let go of the stupidity, will you?

The point of the automatics is to REDUCE both the frequency and the relative criticality of having human inspections to ensure the right mix of safety and maintenance cost.  It is not to REPLACE the humans ... even if the Government went along with this silliness and stopped their safety oversight because 'they trusted the technology'.  

You might as well try saying that remote maintenance routines on locomotives eliminate a need for blue-card inspections.  Try that one on the FRA and see what response they give you.

It is possible, at least in theory, that some combination of AI and machine vision might automate the tasks human inspectors do, as completely as they could do it.  That would still not replace the importance of periodic human inspection or review, and while this might be guided by overseeing the validity of the data gathered by the automatic systems, it wouldn't be limited to accepting it as complete.

I note that in the BNSF timeline, it specifies the reduction of human inspections.  I do not see anything there that implies either that these could, or would, be extrapolated to zero as the system proves itself.  Now, I'm prepared to be wrong about this, but I have seen nothing so far that indicates the point of the advanced technology is to supplant either human oversight or human 'backstopping', nor would I believe that railroads would put full reliance in that idea.

As I think I said: if there are individual inspectors who routinely find 'excess' critical defects that both the automatic systems and subsequent human inspection prove 'not there', it may give railroads much greater incentive and proof to go to, say, the DOT OIG and petition to have different inspectors.  I'd expect that to reduce any temptation to impose punitive numbers of 'defects' fairly quickly, and reduce the practical careers of any inspectors so motivated no less so.

 

I believe that the automation is to ultimately replace most, but by no means all, human inspectors.  It's in line with all the other places they are using more automation.  

They have, or had, a pilot program to use hot box detectors at certain locations to do away with the 1000 (and maybe also the 1500 mile) air brake inspections for certain trains.  Less carmen to have to employ.

 

And the railroads have floated the idea of relieving the requirement of the daily locomotive inspections.

 

They ain't buying automation just for the heck of it.

Jeff

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Tuesday, January 21, 2020 5:30 PM

Precisely.

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