Enabling Technology on the Railroad

Friday, November 30, 2018

At the September APEX Board of Directors meeting, investor-members had the opportunity to learn more about how the BNSF Railroad is leveraging technology innovation to enhance safety and security for their clients and employees. Lydia Bjorge, who oversees State Government Affairs for BNSF, presented compelling information about the Railroad’s economic impact and the breadth and importance of the network in today’s on-demand economy.

Bjorge shared insight into BNSF’s role in the transportation of goods throughout the United States and the infrastructure investments required to maintain the network. The railroads share a huge role in the transportation of goods required in our everyday lives. In addition, the railroads handle a significant share of hazardous materials transportation. BNSF takes this responsibility seriously and has moved 99.997% of the material without incident. Capital investment and upgrades are an essential component of safety. Over the past five years, the company has invested $800 million of their profits to boost safety and another $90 million planned for Minnesota investment in 2018. 

How BNSF is utilizing technology to enhance safety:

  • Equipment Detector Technology – Cameras and machine learning are leveraged by BNSF to enable more than 4,000 trackside equipment detectors to monitor every locomotive and rail car on the BNSF network 24/7. The detectors sense heat, feel force, hear defects on wheel bearings or hear cracks in wheels before they are visible.
  • Track Inspection Technology – The technology enables the railroad to access data and sense infrastructure flaws that humans are not able to detect. Leveraging these tools has doubled the miles of track BNSF is able to inspect every year. Other technology includes:
    • Unmanned geometry cars that utilize laser technology to test track surface and alignments. 
    • Machine vision systems to assess the condition of rail ties on hundreds of miles of track each week. The system uses high-quality photography combined with x-ray technology. 
    • Ground penetrating radar pulses and scans up to two feet below the rail track substructure to inform BNSF when ballasts need to be replaced. 
    • Unmanned aerial vehicles are used to inspect tall bridges and difficult to reach towers. BNSF is the only railroad working with the FAA to test fly UAVs beyond visual line-of-sight. 
  • Positive Train Control (PTC) Technology – The infrastructure, 100% installed throughout BNSF, uses GPS, Wi-Fi and high-band radio transmissions together to determine the train’s location, detection and speed. The system warns crews of problems and can stop a train, if necessary. More than 8,000 trains have been protected with this system in Minnesota alone. 

Economic impact of BNSF:

  • Operates over 1200 freight trains per day 
  • Employs 41,000 employees
  • Transports 25% of all freight in the United States
  • 32,500 route miles in 28 states and 3 Canadian provinces 
  • Serves over 40 ports 

One freight rail car can hold:

  • Enough framing lumber for 5.5 homes
  • Enough grain to make 258K loaves of bread
  • Up to 24 vehicles

To learn more about BNSF and the railroad’s commitment to safety, visit BNSF.com.

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