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On Wednesday, major U.S. freight rail companies Norfolk Southern, GATX Corporation, Genesee & Wyoming, TrinityRail, and Watco announced that they are jointly launching a technology platform that they say will transform rail shipping for the 21st century. The new venture, Rail Pulse, will ease and accelerate the adoption of GPS and other telematics technology across the North American railcar fleet.

Funding for Rail Pulse was a sponsored by a grant from Pennsylvania’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program. In addition to this Federal Railroad Administration funding, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the five venture members will invest in further development and scaling of this platform.

20 percent of continent’s railcar fleet

Norfolk Southern and its fellow Rail Pulse partners, who collectively own nearly 20 percent of the North American railcar fleet, want to accelerate the adoption of telematics to meet two specific objectives. The first of these is safety. Early phases of the platform will incorporate hand brake and impact data, both of which could provide important safety data for railroads, car owners, and shippers alike. Future telematics capabilities, such as onboard bearing temperature and wheel impact detection sensors, may be implemented as the technology evolves.

The second objective is to increase rail’s competitive position relative to other freight transportation modes, by improving visibility into the status, location, and condition of individual railcars. This, in turn, they say, will meaningfully contribute to rail industry growth.

Telematics capabilities will include data capture technologies to support real-time track-level visibility, whether doors or hatches are open, whether the car is loaded or partially loaded, and other performance metrics.

The companies behind Rail Pulse say they are launching this venture for the benefit of the entire rail ecosystem: shippers, Class I railroads, short lines, regional railroads, switching carriers and railcar operating lessors. Rail Pulse intends to provide a neutral, open-architecture, industry-wide railcar telematics platform to make it easier to ship by rail and to track rail shipments across the North American rail network, all while ensuring the safety and security of proprietary car-owner data.

“Rail Pulse is another example of how the freight rail industry is using advanced technology to enhance safety and service to shippers,” said Jennie Granger, PennDOT Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation in a statement announcing the joint venture. “PennDOT is proud of the strong partnership we have with the freight rail industry, and we look forward to this platform being implemented throughout the North American railcar fleet.”

Partners will begin developing the platform later this year, with a full-service platform targeted for availability to the North American railcar industry by the end of 2022.

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