The Association of American Railroads (AAR), Washington, D.C., released a report highlighting how technology has made the rail network safer, more efficient and more reliable.

To meet future demands, the freight rail industry has made consistent, substantial private investments in infrastructure, equipment and technology, totaling roughly $100 billion in the last four years alone. Those investments have paid off, as U.S. railroads are their safest ever with mainline accidents down 32% over the last decade.

“America is home to the greatest freight rail network in the world, and we are putting technology to work to keep it that way,” says Edward Hamberger, AAR president and CEO. “Next-generation innovations like drones, lasers and automated technologies are revolutionizing how we run a railroad.”  

The white paper outlines how railroads have used technology to monitor the more than 1.6 million rail cars and about 40,000 locomotives operating across the 140,000-mile rail network. Among other monitoring and assessment tools, railroads have deployed trackside detectors that harness a host of technologies – such as infrared and lasers – to identify microscopic flaws in equipment as trains pass by at full speed. Real-time assessment of infrastructure and equipment has allowed railroads to schedule and conduct proactive maintenance, which enhances safety as well as network fluidity and productivity.

By applying advanced software to operations, the paper shows that railroads have moved more freight more efficiently than ever before. Sophisticated software analyzes factors, including system-wide train schedules, speed restrictions, crew schedules and other important train operations to help train dispatchers manage and modify operations in real-time.

The report also outlines how advanced technologies have helped the industry further build on rail’s reputation as what is said to be the greenest way to move freight over land. In 2017, railroads on average moved a single ton of freight an average of 479 miles per gallon of fuel. In-cab fuel management systems improved fuel efficiency by up to 14%. The industry’s most advanced locomotives, known as Tier 4s, reduced emissions from diesel locomotives by as much as 90% and will continue to be phased into rail fleets nationwide.

“This 200-year-old industry is poised to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” adds Hamberger. “Building on the technology of today, such as positive train control and big data analytics, the industry will continue to do what it has always done for the American economy – deliver.”