About three-quarters of the nearly 550 miles of track owned by Paducah & Louisville Railway (P&L) and its affiliates, Evansville Western Railway (EVWR) and Appalachian and Ohio Railroad (A&O), runs through some of the most rural areas of Kentucky and adjacent states. Installing a traditional telephone wireline data circuit to track the location of trains in these often idyllic but very remote areas of the country would be cost prohibitive. However, with advances in wireless technology and the Internet of Things (IoT), we now are saving both time and money with the use of train monitoring technology and programs. And Verizon is helping make it happen.
In today’s competitive commercial railroad industry, knowing where your trains are at all times is crucial. P&L’s modern system, relying on cost-effective wireless connections, enables us – and our customers – to know the location of railcars and engines in real time. The system keeps the order of the cars in each train, helps us plan regular locomotive maintenance and enables us to control railroad switches remotely.
We use Automatic Equipment Identification (AEI) tags on cars and engines. These radio-frequency based sensors function much like barcodes, and can be read by AEI equipment installed along the track. The information is transmitted wirelessly back to headquarters, enabling dispatchers and customer service representatives to ensure that the correct cars get delivered to customers in a timely manner, and in the order that customers want them.
Dispatchers for P&L and EWR trains are able to control track switches automatically in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana from the dispatching center. These Centralized Traffic Control switches mean the conductor doesn’t have to stop, get off the train, and manually reposition the switch. The system makes the train crew members’ jobs easier, greatly reduces wear and tear on equipment, uses less fuel and improves efficiency. The dispatchers can monitor train movement for all three railroads on a network map from their headquarters in Paducah, so they know where every train and crew is at any given time.
Our customers and crews also rely on wireless connections. P&L’s customer web portal, PAL Connect, is mobile friendly, so customers can use their smartphones and tablets to check on the status of their freight from virtually anywhere. And the track maintenance crews use wireless modems in the field for their laptops.
All of these functions require a stable wireless connection. Back in 2009, during intense ice storms that shut down wireless service for other carriers in Western Kentucky, our employees with Verizon phones were able to communicate throughout the frigid week. The fact that Verizon had emergency power generators fueled and ready to go to keep their cell sites up and running was a determining factor in our decision to switch our corporate cell phone service to Verizon once the storms were over.
But it was the strength of Verizon’s rural network that turned us to Verizon for our train monitoring and remote track switching systems. We conducted a test where we rode the whole length of our tracks using automated software that measured the performance of two carriers. Verizon beat the other carrier by a wide margin, both in terms of signal availability and signal strength. Even in West Virginia, where we use Verizon for on-board computing throughout terrain where a cell phone signal can be challenging, we have been pleased with the quality of Verizon coverage.
Verizon’s rural network helps us to remain competitive in today’s railroad industry by providing the route alternatives and responsive rail service our customers want.
Tom Garrett is President of Paducah & Louisville Railway, Inc.