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Predictive Maintenance as a Solution for Rail

Shift5 Team May 10, 2021

Predictive Maintenance as a Solution for Rail

Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) is ready for a much-needed upgrade when it comes to implementing predictive maintenance for decreased down-time and increased savings.

Class 1 Railroads implement what is called Precision Scheduled Railroading strategy (PSR), which enables them to maintain efficiency while reducing the number of locomotives in service, which exponentially lowers operating costs. However, should one locomotive encounter an unplanned mechanical failure, there are various moving parts required to get that locomotive back to service. Repair shops are incentivized to turn around a certain number of locomotives in an 8-hr shift and return them to service, not to predict upcoming repair needs. There is no measurement system in place that promotes/rewards full, quality, comprehensive repair.

The Problem: A “run to failure” mindset is not sustainable.

As it stands now, locomotive maintenance and repair follows traditional processes unless something new is discovered. With PSR’s “run to failure” mindset, locomotive repair shops have more incentive to return a locomotive to service to meet a defined % of availability. This leads to releasing locomotives back into service with known/unknown mechanical deficiencies that may cause failure before the next inspection date, because a mechanical part “still has life to it.”

Predictive Maintenance as a Solution

Already in conversation with several Class 1 freight and commuter rail companies, Shift5 has developed a solution for locomotive predictive maintenance and onboard system monitoring to empower railroad companies to reduce locomotive downtime and increase cost savings, realigning an appropriate PSR strategy

“Locomotives contain many digital components, but they were never designed for the digital age,” says Josh Lospinoso, Shift5’s CEO. “With lifetimes measured in decades, the rolling stock in service today must be upgraded with modern technology. Operators can run smarter, safer, and with less risk from cyberattack by collecting the valuable data their fleets are generating. The trains are talking, but no one is listening.”

Data has always been collected on a locomotive but one common issue lies with who owns that data and who controls access to the locomotive’s operating system? Virtually no OEM’s expose this data stream to their customers. This oversight represents an enormous waste for rail customers who miss out on optimizing maintenance, operations, and compliance functions. This gap also leaves onboard systems vulnerable to cyber attacks (see Can a Train Be Hacked). A lack of software configuration management, sensing, and comprehensive onboard data monitoring results in unaddressed safety and security risk.

How does this affect rail maintenance operations?

One prime example of efficient predictive maintenance is accurately monitoring traction motor control trends. Traction motor cutouts are common maintenance headaches that lead to increased wear and tear on the brake pads as well as miscalculations in platform arrival. By monitoring traction motor performance in real-time, operators are enabled with trend analysis to predict a future failure and alerted to schedule maintenance before a cutout occurs.

Remove unpredicted failures from the picture = decreased downtime and increased savings.

Without a steady stream of real-time operational data, railroads waste money performing expensive regularly scheduled maintenance on components that don’t need it. They also spend countless hours performing menial tasks, such as physically plugging maintenance devices into their platforms and manually shuffling data around.

“Comprehensive data acquisition and management is a competitive advantage that enables railroads to effectively compete in an increasingly challenging transportation market. To fully realize this vision, cyber and data security must be baked in from the start. We’re already working with commuter and freight railroads to implement both of these value propositions with a battle-tested solution, drafting off our military deployments and joint development,” reports Michael Weigand, Shift5’s Chief Growth Officer.

Predictive maintenance for rail is just one of many opportunities that are presenting themselves for pivotal changes in mechanical operations. By utilizing Shift5’s solution, railroads remotely gain access to significantly more mechanical data than what is produced today by existing products, with much greater detail and higher usability.


Unlocking Fleet Data with Shift5

We, at Shift5, have joined the rail technology ”race” from an entirely different sport – military grade cybersecurity for the DoD’s mobile weapon systems. Our founders were among the first members of the US Army Cyber Command where they were charged with keeping heavy ground vehicles and military aircraft safe from cyber attacks. Many of these platforms share the same internal components and serial communications networks as today’s passenger and freight locomotives.

Learn more about Shift5 for Rail