Remote Monitoring Systems Bring Trains into the Internet of Things

The freight and passenger rail systems are underappreciated strengths of the U.S. economy. Spanning 140,000 miles, freight infrastructure alone is a $60 billion dollar industry, supporting more than 200,000 jobs nationwide. At the same time, rail is essential to the reduction of both greenhouse gas emissions and pressure on highways.

But today’s trains aren’t like the simple coal-burning steam engines from children’s storybooks. They are complex machines with integrated operating systems and Environmental Protection Agency regulations to comply with. Moreover, they’re poster children for the emerging Internet of Things.

Accordingly, rail companies and their individual operators need ways to keep tabs on their trains in real-time. Opengear has stepped to the plate with its remote monitoring systems equipped with cellular connectivity and GPS, enabling efficient, secure tracking of locomotives as the IoT becomes an everyday part of business.

The big picture: Rail infrastructure’s place in the Internet of Things
Given how much economic value is literally riding on it, the rail system is unsurprisingly a prime opportunity for IoT innovation. For example, Cisco has invested heavily in Connected Rail, part of its IoT Smart Solutions initiative. The company aims to modernize rail stations, tracks, controls and trains themselves through improvements to:

  • IP video (as a replacement for analog)
  • Digital signage
  • Ticketing and fare collection systems
  • Indoor and outdoor passenger Wi-Fi
  • Replacement of legacy load signaling systems with IP-enabled ones

Remaking rail across all of these areas in undoubtedly ambitious and will involve substantial updates to data center infrastructure, including switches, routers and enterprise-grade servers. To this end, Cisco products may be hardened to suit the specific requirements of rail operators. As train systems become increasingly networked and specialized, remote connectivity will also become pivotal for the anytime/anywhere management of all associated equipment.

From emissions monitoring to mini data centers: Opengear and remote management for rail
Obtaining real-time information about locomotive emissions and locations is important to regulatory compliance and operating efficiency, yet it is hardly simple. Trains move, after all, setting them apart from the stationary data centers that are the usual subjects of remote monitoring.

TMV Systems recently faced challenges along these lines when helping Brookville Equipment Corp outfit trains with mechanisms for monitoring emissions in accordance with EPA regulations. Ultimately, it opted for Opengear solutions that contained integrated wireless connectivity – 3G and GPS, as well as VPN capability – and were ideal for treating each engine as if it were a mobile data center. Opengear’s appliances enabled comprehensive monitoring as well as quick identification and resolution of issues.

“We decided to adopt Opengear remote monitoring equipment, which is primarily designed for use with data centers,” explained Peter Scholtens, senior sales manager at TMV Systems, in a June 2014 article Railway Gazette International. “It has built-in 3G cellular connectivity and OpenVPN support for integration into the locomotives. In effect, the locomotive could be reimagined as a small, contained and mobile data center, and thus benefit from the same kinds of data center monitoring hardware.”