Improving Situational Awareness for Railways

Operating a train is a challenging undertaking. Conditions inside the cab as well as outside can be trying as the hours stretch on through night and day without much change. The tedium of miles traveled over the same track, the same scenery, and the same roaring drone of the locomotion can lull an operator into complacency. Yet through all this, the engine crew must remain focused on the job of moving thousands of tons of train, carrying goods or even human lives, at high speed, safely through our neighborhoods and over road crossings every day.


It’s been many years since I have operated a locomotive or worked directly for a railroad; yet, I have remained a part of the railway industry and have witnessed many improvements to railway safety over the years. Particularly over the past decade, where I have seen many advancements in technology developed to improve the situational awareness of not just the train crews, but also the people who monitor trains. The people who may be hundreds of miles away from the locomotive whose job it is to ensure the safety of the crews and the public. Wi‑Tronix, the company I now work for, is dedicated to improving all aspects of railway safety and is continually developing new technology to achieve that goal.


Some of those new technologies involve overspeed detection.  If an engineer becomes distracted, is not in full control of their train, or is unaware of the speed requirements at their location, the Wi-Tronix system can send an audible alarm to the cab of the locomotive when the operator is exceeding track speed. Furthermore, the system can send an in-browser message to the railway Operations Center alerting them to the infraction. To reduce the risk of speeding before it occurs, Wi-Tronix can also notify the engineer that they need to start braking soon or that they need to start breaking immediately to sufficiently reduce their speed.


The Wi-Tronix system can also detect the use of mobile devices such as cell phones on the locomotive. If an engineer is busy with their head down, looking at their phone and checking their messages, they may not see the signal pass by at 60 mph. Most engineers would never use a mobile device when operating a locomotive; yet, several major catastrophic train accidents have resulted from an engineer being distracted while using their cell phone. To alert an operations center or manager of an unauthorized phone call, streaming audio and video, or web browsing by the crew of the locomotive, Wi-Tronix uses a customized antenna inside the cab to detect the offense.  The system will also capture the event by automatically recording a video of the inside of the cab while the mobile device is in use.


Furthermore, in-cab audio and video is available for verifying that locomotive crews are alert, attentive, and compliant with all rules and regulations. This information can be viewed in near real-time or historically for investigations or training opportunities. In development for outward facing video is virtual intelligence to be used for rail crossing near miss detection and automatic reporting systems, imminent collision detection, advanced detection of trespassers or equipment fouling the track, and rail-crossing gate and light monitoring.


The people responsible for the operation of trains, from inside the cab of a locomotive, or from inside an operations center many miles away, are highly skilled, and conscientious professionals who are tasked with the demanding job of moving our families and our goods across this country each day. Our company would not attempt to ease the responsibility placed on these men and women; but by working with the railways and by constantly developing new technologies designed to improve situational awareness, perhaps Wi-Tronix can help make all our lives a little safer.



Originally posted by Jim Dickson  |  Sr. Customer Success Manager