Distracted Driving When Your Vehicle is a Train

Using Technology to Reduce At-Risk Behavior in Locomotives and Control Cabs


Operating any vehicle or heavy equipment while distracted by technology makes you 23 times more likely to have an accident. It’s no different for engineers and conductors—except when texts, videos, internet browsing, or phone calls take their attention from their posts—it puts rail companies, their customers, and sometimes the public at risk.


Positive Train Control (PTC) is being actively implemented by railroads, and it will reduce fatalities and injuries associated with certain types of accidents, but it isn’t going to eliminate all of the incidents related to distracted operation. The Federal Railroad Association (FRA) figured this out and banned use of all electronic devices in controlling locomotive cabs and control cabs.


Distracted operation not only causes accidents, it also results in other incidents that affect network velocity and fuel consumption. For example, a distracted crew’s reaction time will be slower when seconds count to avoid an incident at a crossing. On a single-track operation, this usually means that in addition to the train involved in the incident, several other trains are held up. Fuel is wasted while trains idle waiting for the incident to be cleared. Delays increase if crews expire on the law and have to be re-crewed.


Even with regulation, electronic devices continue to be used while trains are in operation. Based on 2017 data, Wi-Tronix estimates 532,000 annual occurrences of mobile device usage in moving locomotives and control cabs on both commuter and freight service. This means that every day, every US rail company is probably at risk of an incident due to distracted operation.


We have to change how we view and manage distracted operation. The behavior not only puts railroads at risk, it increases the likelihood of additional industry regulation. The FRA has already taken action, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) stated that “Ultimately, eliminating distractions in transportation will require changes in regulations…” To avoid additional regulation, railroads need to demonstrate that they are taking action to regulate the behavior themselves.


It’s difficult for a railroad to demonstrate compliance as a company without using technology to monitor and ensure crew compliance inside the cab. Technology innovations based in the Internet of Things (IoT) make this a real possibility. I’ve seen clients reduce at-risk behaviors in locomotives and control cabs by more than 70% using real-time monitoring and alerts to warn management and crew that a violation has been detected.


How? By installing inward crew safety cameras integrated with IoT-based onboard technology and edge processing to detect electronic device signals. Crew and managers are alerted in real-time to the device detection, while actual device usage is confirmed using video data.


It isn’t possible to do this without full-fledged, onboard edge processing and deep learning to enable the visual intelligence needed to recognize device usage, but this technology is available today and will more than pay for itself in reduced risk, network velocity, and fuel savings.


In partnership with key customers, Wi-Tronix conducted extensive research and testing to develop our Mobile Device Detection and In-Cab Audio applications. These applications are available to customers using the Violet onboard technology as part of their Wi-Tronix IoT platform for remote monitoring and management of their locomotives and rail networks.


Originally published on LinkedIn