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Autonomous Rail Cars

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Posted by Euclid on Friday, March 1, 2024 10:16 AM

BaltACD

 

 
 
Euclid
 
However, this Intramotev concept surpasses Rio Tinto because it automates coupling and uncoupling.    
 

 

How much power would each autonomous car need to go from Rio Tinto's mine areas to their port areas?  What kind of 'traffic system' is needed so that the various autonomous cars don't collide with each other - either loaded or empty?  How much power does each autonomous car require to go from the port areas back to the mines for loading?

 

I am not suggesting that the actual, physical Intramotev system of autonomous railcars be applied to Rio Tinto. I am just saying that Rio Tinto, a private interplant railroad, is already using a higher capacity version of the Intramotev system. 
 
Rio Tinto is doing this by using its autonomous operation of dedicated unit trains in a heavy haul application that cannot be done by the use of highway trucking.   
 
In this sense, Rio Tinto is a good example of the application of the Intramotev system that Intramotev believes is the most ideal application for the starting point of their business.
 
The difference between Intramotev and Rio Tinto is only a matter of scale.
 
What Intramotev has conveyed in their video is their ideal application, which is a private railroad hauling heavy weights of raw materials, and related processed product, over distances of at least a few miles from plant to plant for multiple stages of product processing.  
 
The Intramotev objective is reducing labor costs in heavy rail applications without resorting to “Monster Trains.”  For Class 1, and smaller railroads, the efficiency of the Intramotev system offers these railroads the opportunity to make money on the fewest number of carloads per train.  This includes trains as small as one carload.
 

The application of Intramotev autonomous railcars to go into industrial parks to perform daily switching moves for a variety of customers would be the least favorable application.  This is because it would require a relatively large investment in automatic switches and other related infrastructure while saving the least amount of labor. 

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Friday, March 1, 2024 10:03 AM

All progress is change, not all change is progress.

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, March 1, 2024 9:22 AM

Autonomous railcars appear to be an answer looking for a question.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, March 1, 2024 8:05 AM

greyhounds
Trial and error is the way we move forward in our lives.  Even with our medications.  Most new products fail in the market.  Most new businesses fail in the market.  But those that succeed make our lives better.      There are two things people don't like.  1) The way things are and, 2) change.   

Most progress is made by thorough research. You might want to rethink how medication is developed.

Most people dislike change, as your interesting and amusing tales about resistance to marketing innovation on the IC have shown us over and over. One only needs to look at the railroads and this forum to see "inertia in action!!" 

 

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Poor engineering.

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, March 1, 2024 7:21 AM

greyhounds
In the cited case the automated yard tractors were tried. They failed.  A process design error did not consider the need to open the doors.  They can modify their system to recognize various door types and open/close them.  

Something I've learned repeatedly is that just because someone tried something once, or tried something and didn't succeed financially with it, that doesn't mean the idea is devoid of merit (or, in fact, worthwhile if implemented more properly).  Look at the history of TOFC for many examples, and COFC for even more.

Autonomous 'conventional' yard dogs only make sense when (1) the level 4 autonomous systems are debugged and costed-down, probably with OTR transfer being the development "use case", and (2) some aspect of real-world cost-meaningful autonomous operation becomes difficult or impossible to implement with 'manned' equipment (including dumb RCO equivalent).

One of the basic premises of the Iron Highway and the 'wonder trains' of the early 1980s was that some form of practical sideloading that didn't destroy conventional-construction trailers could be used.  That, to use jargon, "didn't eventuate".  But one thing that a level 4 autonomous truck can do, and do very well, is steer a path obliquely to get the fifth wheel lined up with the trailer kingpin in one quick pass from the side, then pull it off and 'marshal' it separately, and asynchronously, from other trailer moves off the same train.  While with equal facility, trailers are being backed precisely into vacant slots on the same train, again in one quick pass without fribbling, and the tractors detached without needing space in front of the trailer nose.  (Think how Flexi-Vans were loaded without the Mickey-Mouse bogies and pushpoles).

Pure autonomous tractors eliminate the need for any structure higher than clearance under the trailer nose.  Oddly, the Europeans have built multiple trucks with this characteristic, but not one of them uses it for getting TOFC loaded and unloaded quickly.  We have at least one purpose-bulit vehicle that fits entirely under a load... which we use for tiller-steering purposes; the vehicle isn't even powered!

Muitiple-wheel electric drive, multiple-wheel independent steer, low clearance, and you gain the ability to run a full train of trailers on and off a set of underframes in a couple of minutes, including the ability to 'block swap' groups of them to different parts of the same train.  Equipment dwell in a terminal or port goes to under 10 minutes.  It does not matter which way the noses of trailers are pointing.

I advocate the conversion of trailer brake lines to accommodate some kind of rapid automatic coupling-up to take the spring brakes off without having to gag them -- but that's just a harness and standardized location on the trailer nose, independent of the brake hose connections for normal OTR tractors.

Where the money is to be made is in securing appropriate traffic to justify the specific efficiency improvement capital, and then USING THAT CAPITAL TO IMPROVE ACTUAL OPERATIONS.  If you're going to gang-unload the train and then it sits there until the OTR drivers get around to clearing their trailers out of where the automated system parks them, or there is congestion in getting the trailers 'staged' for efficient loading... then the critical path no longer involves the expensive new stuff, with predictable consequences. 

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Posted by samfp1943 on Thursday, February 29, 2024 8:12 PM

My thought is this 'Idea" is going to havea long trial and ultimately, be cast aside(?) Not that in today's environment it is not worty of a trial; but the 'headwinds' it is facing are brutal.   Transpoortation is a nrutal industry, it feeds on speec, and uniformity.  Not,first- off; new, and different ways of accomplishing similar pre-existing tasks.

    AUTONOMOUS TRAIN, SOUNDS LIKE A Salesman's delight....   FAST BUCK, and then  move on...Nothing left in its' wake but smoke and junk, and the old stady, uniformally, conformal way of moving freight. 

Seems like we have the solution, already, it just mneeds some tweeking of what we have already.   My 2 Cents

 

 

 

 


 

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Posted by greyhounds on Thursday, February 29, 2024 5:57 PM

charlie hebdo
The trial and error methodology is costly, inefficient and often inappropriate in some settings. Ask Boeing!!

Well, in some settings, about anything is costly, inefficient, and often inappropriate.
 
Boeing is not an appropriate comparison.
 
We’re not talking about filling a metal tube with people, taking them five miles up in the air, and moving along at 500 MPH.
 
We’re now talking about spotting trailers/containers at a freight dock and moving them around a storage lot at low speeds. ‘Tis different.
 
There is no perfection. If you wait for perfection before you act, you’ll never act.
 
In the cited case the automated yard tractors were tried. They failed.  A process design error did not consider the need to open the doors.  They can modify their system to recognize various door types and open/close them.
 
Then we’ll get another trial.  They’ll probably find some more issues to deal with. Continuous improvement is part of life.
 
Trial and error is the way we move forward in our lives.  Even with our medications.  Most new products fail in the market.  Most new businesses fail in the market.  But those that succeed make our lives better. 
 
 
There are two things people don't like.  1) The way things are and, 2) change. 

 

 

 

"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.
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Posted by greyhounds on Thursday, February 29, 2024 4:05 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH
f I recall correctly, this concept does not involve coupling or uncoupling.  A string of autonomous cars would operate very closely to each other as a virtual train without any coupling.

I believe you're thinking of the Parallel Systems proposal.  The Intramotev proposal does involve AAR couplers so it can be used in conventinal train serice when appropriate.

 
 

 

 
"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.
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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, February 29, 2024 2:39 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH
Euclid
 
However, this Intramotev concept surpasses Rio Tinto because it automates coupling and uncoupling.    
If I recall correctly, this concept does not involve coupling or uncoupling.  A string of autonomous cars would operate very closely to each other as a virtual train without any coupling.

How much power would each autonomous car need to go from Rio Tinto's mine areas to their port areas?  What kind of 'traffic system' is needed so that the various autonomous cars don't collide with each other - either loaded or empty?  How much power does each autonomous car require to go from the port areas back to the mines for loading?

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, February 29, 2024 1:54 PM

Euclid
 
However, this Intramotev concept surpasses Rio Tinto because it automates coupling and uncoupling.   
 

 
If I recall correctly, this concept does not involve coupling or uncoupling.  A string of autonomous cars would operate very closely to each other as a virtual train without any coupling.
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Posted by rdamon on Thursday, February 29, 2024 11:44 AM

charlie hebdo

 

 
greyhounds
As the quoted author said, we make progress by trial and error.  Just fix the error and go on to the next issue.   

 

The trial and error methodology is costly, inefficient and often inappropriate in some settings. Ask Boeing!!

 

Think Boeing has forgotton the trial part.

SpaceX Crew Dragon vs. Boeing's Starliner is a better example of time to market

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, February 29, 2024 11:08 AM

greyhounds
As the quoted author said, we make progress by trial and error.  Just fix the error and go on to the next issue.   

The trial and error methodology is costly, inefficient and often inappropriate in some settings. Ask Boeing!!

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Posted by greyhounds on Thursday, February 29, 2024 10:31 AM

Shadow the Cats owner
That's kinda hard to do on a 53 foot trailer that can have different ways to open up some trailers have single locks some have double locks some have interference locks were one goes right the other left on the same door.  Those are very common on international containers.  Then you have air ride suspensions that needs to be dumped or recharged sliders to move.    Just a few little things that need to be worked out.  Let alone loads secured inside the trailer.  

"Once, in the last century, in the Cambria Iron Works at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, after working for months to build an unorthodox new machine for steel production, the engineer in charge, John Fritz, said at last, 'All right boys, let’s start it up and see why it doesn’t work.' It is with that very American approach to problems that I think we will find our course. Beware the purists, the doctrinaires. It has been by the empirical method largely, by way of trial and error, that we have come so far. America itself is an experiment and we must bear that always in mind."

McCullough, David. The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For . Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition. 

There was a design flaw in the system. It was discovered. It's a problem to be solved.  Big deal.  What's needed is a robot that can recognize the type of door to be opened (or closed) and then perform the needed motions to operate the door.  That doesn't seem to be too difficult to design and program.  

As the quoted author said, we make progress by trial and error.  Just fix the error and go on to the next issue.  

"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.
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Posted by Paul of Covington on Wednesday, February 28, 2024 8:22 PM

   What they really need is regular trucks with robots in the driver's seat that can get out and open the doors.

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Posted by Backshop on Wednesday, February 28, 2024 7:09 PM

Euclid
Sounds like they need some type of automatic system that won’t forget to open the doors. 
 

No such thing.  Trailer doors have to be opened by hand.

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Posted by Shadow the Cats owner on Wednesday, February 28, 2024 6:39 PM

That's kinda hard to do on a 53 foot trailer that can have different ways to open up some trailers have single locks some have double locks some have interference locks were one goes right the other left on the same door.  Those are very common on international containers.  Then you have air ride suspensions that needs to be dumped or recharged sliders to move.    Just a few little things that need to be worked out.  Let alone loads secured inside the trailer.  

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Posted by Euclid on Wednesday, February 28, 2024 4:33 PM

Shadow the Cats owner

A few weeks ago my industry had a major warehouse customer celebrating they went to fully automated spotter tractors.  The irony of this is that less than a week later all 3 of the unmanned trucks were replaced with manned.  Why they forgot about having to open up the doors on the trailers to be able to load and unload them.  Plus other things that only a person can do.  

 

Sounds like they need some type of automatic system that won’t forget to open the doors. 
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Posted by Shadow the Cats owner on Wednesday, February 28, 2024 12:14 PM

A few weeks ago my industry had a major warehouse customer celebrating they went to fully automated spotter tractors.  The irony of this is that less than a week later all 3 of the unmanned trucks were replaced with manned.  Why they forgot about having to open up the doors on the trailers to be able to load and unload them.  Plus other things that only a person can do.  

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Posted by Euclid on Wednesday, February 21, 2024 8:57 AM
Autonomous running is going to require autonomous switches.  I don’t see this system being ideal for going into industries to provide a daily switch.  The main benefit of autonomous operation is to reduce locomotive operator labor.  So getting that benefit in just industry switching is not going to accrue labor savings compared to running some miles over the road. 
 
Plant switching would involve the least miles and operational time, while requiring the most equipment investment in not only the automatic railcars, but also the entire fixed infrastructure such as autonomous features on trackage infrastructure such as switches and automatic warnings and communication to people on the ground in the industrial plants. 
 
Private railroads with heavy weights, over distances of at least a few miles are going to be the best application starting out.  Rio Tinto would be the best example, taken to the maximum in the current state of the art.
 
However, this Intramotev concept surpasses Rio Tinto because it automates coupling and uncoupling.   
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Posted by zugmann on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 9:29 PM

Gramp
 Probably certain, very active customers with well suited up to date track situations I would think. 

Derails, chocks, doors, blue flags, equipment, etc are all present even with active customers. The whole restricted speed thing. 

  

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

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Posted by Gramp on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 9:24 PM

These wouldn't be used for just any old destination, would they?  Probably certain, very active customers with well suited up to date track situations I would think. 

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Posted by mvlandsw on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 8:54 PM

How will the autonomous cars know when it is time to move and where to go to within an industrial park?

How will multiple cars coordinate their movements?

Who will handle the switches, derails, warehouse doors, gates, etc.?

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Posted by jeffhergert on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 4:45 PM

BaltACD

 

 
daveklepper
Conditions there now?

 

The grocery organization went bankrupt and no longer exists, most of the other industires came to use other means to receive/ship their products and in a number of cases went out of business.  When I was last working in 2016, a yard job from another yard in Baltimore would come to the area once or twice a week with a car or two for the remaining customer(s).  The industrial park still exists.  The grocery warehouse has become a FedEx Terminal.  The brewery that was at the termination end of the main customer lead was torn down and the land occupied by a construction materials company.

The land the industrial park occupied was the location of the B&O's 1927 Fair of the Iron Horse.  Guaranteed the location will not be used to celebrate the 200 year anniversary of the founding of the N&O.

 

Going across Omaha a few trips back, I was looking at all the remnants of business that's no longer there.  Some are cases where the track has either been disconnected or entirely pulled up.  But there is a lot of cases where the original business is gone.  Some facilities have been repurposed, but they won't be able to originate or terminate a full rail car's worth of freight.  Some won't even use a full trailer or container's worth.

And that's just what can be seen from the mainline.  The old Zone/Track/Spot books show a spider web of industrial leads that are about in the same predicament. 

Jeff

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 8:47 AM

daveklepper
Conditions there now?

The grocery organization went bankrupt and no longer exists, most of the other industires came to use other means to receive/ship their products and in a number of cases went out of business.  When I was last working in 2016, a yard job from another yard in Baltimore would come to the area once or twice a week with a car or two for the remaining customer(s).  The industrial park still exists.  The grocery warehouse has become a FedEx Terminal.  The brewery that was at the termination end of the main customer lead was torn down and the land occupied by a construction materials company.

The land the industrial park occupied was the location of the B&O's 1927 Fair of the Iron Horse.  Guaranteed the location will not be used to celebrate the 200 year anniversary of the founding of the N&O.

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Posted by Euclid on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 7:54 AM
Backshop wrote the following post 11 hours ago:

 

 
Euclid
 

  But the CEO says that penetrating the Class 1 railroad market will be the last frontier, so it might be quite a while before that happens. 

 

 

That makes absolutely no sense.  If you don't involve the Class 1 railroads, where are these autonomous railcars going to travel? Are they going to go from one side of the steel mill to the other? Five miles down the shortline from the gravel pit to the transload facility?
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
 
(Quote function does not work with above post in blue)
 
EUCLID reply:
 
It makes a lot of sense.  It is starting a new business with a radical departure from its normal practice and methods.  So it starts at the smallest scale and works up to the largest scale.  Specifically, it starts with heavy industrial rail operations, which are apparently receptive to the concept.  Then it moves up to class 2 and class 3 railroads which are relatively nimble, hungry for new business, and willing to take chances on new concepts.  All of this sets the stage for attracting the Class 1s. 
 
The Class 1s are not going to touch it until they see it operate successfully and make money.  What does not make sense is to dismiss the idea because empty track does not have any capacity.
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Posted by tree68 on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 7:27 AM

BaltACD
Even in the first/last mile service - most people overlook all the switching that is requried to go from an arriving road train to a industrial service job. 

Not forgotten - although the factor I thought of was operation of the switches themselves.  Either someone has to shadow the autonomous cars to throw the appropriate switches to route the cars where they need to be, or all of the switches have to be remotely controlled by someone/something.

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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 3:31 AM

Conditions there now?

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, February 19, 2024 10:27 PM

tree68
 
That makes absolutely no sense.  If you don't involve the Class 1 railroads, where are these autonomous railcars going to travel? Are they going to go from one side of the steel mill to the other? Five miles down the shortline from the gravel pit to the transload facility? 

Actually, that sounds rather like a good proof of concept.  

As has been pointed out, the logical place for this is "last mile" applications.  Industrial parks being a case in point.  However, that will require that the shipper/receiver pairs have sufficient dedicated cars to cover those loading, unloading, and in transit.

The Class 1's role would be getting the car from the originating staging point to the delivery staging point, where the autonomous part can be used.  And return.  

A significant majority of railcars in use have no reason to be capable of autonomous operation.  They operate in bulk business from end to end.  And cars not in dedicated service will be floating around the system with the autonomous equipment just going along for the ride.

The idea that an autonomous car is going to travel from Chicago to Los Angeles all by itself is a bit far-fetched...

Even in the first/last mile service - most people overlook all the switching that is requried to go from an arriving road train to a industrial service job.  Lets say our autonomous industrial park has multiple customers handling multiple product lines of both inbound and outbound traffic - loads inbound to be emptied and pulled outbound; empties inbound to be loaded outbound, loads inbound to be unloaded at a particular spot, moved to a different spot and be reloaded for outbound shipment. And if our autonomous industrial park has customers that have multiple tracks with multiple spots and cars at many of those spots that have not completed either loading or unloading and need to remain in place after the new inbound cars are handled.

When I was first transferred to Maryland - I got to work in an industrial park that had about 15 different customers, most could hold 3 or 4 cars on the sidings off a lead that served their buildings.  The 'big' customer was a grocery store warehouse that had two tracks inside their building that held 20 cars each.  The particular industrial park had yard engine service around the clock.  The grocery warehouse got two spotting per day, six days a week.  The rest of the customers got daily service.  The 1st and 2nd trick jobs did the actul work of spotting and pulling cars from the industries.  The 3rd trick job would accumulate all the 'oubound' for the day and drag it to the serving yard 5 miles to the East, where those cars would be dropped and inbound cars for the industrial park would be picked up and moved out to the industrial park for the next days activities.  This traffic approximated 100 cars per day each way.  Autonomous......

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Posted by tree68 on Monday, February 19, 2024 9:11 PM

That makes absolutely no sense.  If you don't involve the Class 1 railroads, where are these autonomous railcars going to travel? Are they going to go from one side of the steel mill to the other? Five miles down the shortline from the gravel pit to the transload facility?

Actually, that sounds rather like a good proof of concept.  

As has been pointed out, the logical place for this is "last mile" applications.  Industrial parks being a case in point.  However, that will require that the shipper/receiver pairs have sufficient dedicated cars to cover those loading, unloading, and in transit.

The Class 1's role would be getting the car from the originating staging point to the delivery staging point, where the autonomous part can be used.  And return.  

A significant majority of railcars in use have no reason to be capable of autonomous operation.  They operate in bulk business from end to end.  And cars not in dedicated service will be floating around the system with the autonomous equipment just going along for the ride.

The idea that an autonomous car is going to travel from Chicago to Los Angeles all by itself is a bit far-fetched...

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