Railroads Achieving Digital Transformation with Mobile Devices
Written by Ian Slack
America’s rail system is a huge economic engine for the country. According to facts and figures from the Association of American Railroads, one-third of all U.S. exports and about 40 percent of long-distance freight shipments move along its 140,000 miles of track annually. Until recently, much of the logistics work for all the trains was still done on pen and paper—especially for workers out in the field. Like other critical—and highly-regulated—industries such as airlines and the energy sector, digital transformation was slow in coming. That’s changing fast.
An Example of Railroad Digital Transformation
Stratix recently worked with one of the nation’s largest railroad systems to help it leverage mobile technology for its conductors to assemble trains and manage pickups and drop-offs along routes. The railroad needed more than 8,000 iPhones® for the program, and there were unique technical challenges to overcome. Because of federal regulations, train crews are not allowed to send or receive phone calls or text messages. That meant the devices had to be locked down for data only. Before starting the configuration process at our Mobile Configuration Center, the Stratix team did extensive testing. We were able to make changes to our proprietary ProCheck automated configuration tool to test each device to ensure it couldn’t make outbound calls or accept calls. Similar tests for texting were added. Our testing also revealed issues with the railroad’s mobile device management platform and its purpose-built train management application, which were resolved before they could cause any post-deployment problems.
The Right Resources for the Job
Partnering with Stratix took the pressure off the railroad’s internal IT team, which didn’t have the capacity to take on such a large-scale project. With our resources, we were able to cut the deployment time from an estimated 12 months to six. Now that they’re in the field, the iPhone with the train management app is giving the railroad higher efficiency, increased accuracy, better real-time reporting, and improved data quality. Conductors like the iPhone because it’s powerful and a device they’re already familiar with from their personal lives.
The digital transformation has not only improved railroad operations, but it’s dramatically enhanced the customer experience. The real-time information on the status of shipments means customers know exactly where things are and get updates on problems like delays. It enables companies to get a more holistic view of their total supply chain. With the arrival of 5G and more Internet of Things technology for monitoring and data gathering, railroads are also automating other workflows like the maintenance of engines, rail cars, and track infrastructure. Tracking the condition of assets more closely means railroads can stay on top of routine maintenance, predict problems, and minimize service failures.
Digital transformation might have been slow to arrive, but now that it’s here, it’s driving efficiency, safety, security, and competitiveness across the railroad industry.