The Technology That Makes the Best Rail Systems in America Great

The Technology That Makes the Best Rail Systems in America Great

In Rail & Mass Transit, Rail Lubrication, Technology by Eric Vantiegham

Rapidly advancing technologies, both industrial and digital, are having a tremendous impact on the safety and efficiency of America’s railroads.

From advanced sensors to complex computer algorithms, technology has embedded itself in the American rail system, and the results have been impressive, to say the least. As one of the safest, most efficient industries in the United States, freight and passenger railroads are once again proving their value, driving economic growth while reducing environmental impact. We can thank the following inventions and innovations for that.


In the U.S., it can be easy to take for granted just how reliably everything works. When you order something online, it arrives at your door within a week — or even on the same day. When you go to the grocery store, you can be sure that the shelves will be fully stocked. And we can all agree that transportation schedules are remarkably on time and consistent. A major player in all of these conveniences is the American rail system and the technologies that drive it onward.

New computerized systems, for example, allow for quick, automated transactions between shippers and railroads, as Clarence Gooden explains, not to mention the way passengers schedule trips and purchase tickets. Modeling software can help predict demand in different markets, conduct operations simulations, and provide construction sequencing, letting companies execute projects in the most streamlined manner possible.

The technology powering up the locomotives themselves is what makes rail the most efficient means of transportation in America. State-of-the-art trains require less fuel than ever before, and come with 20 microprocessors that monitor critical functions and performance to further boost efficiency. Companies like GE have developed algorithms that calculate exactly how much fuel trains need depending on their location along a specific track. Improved rail lubrication techniques are also having an impact by extending track lifespans and reducing energy costs.


The railroad industry is also one of the safest in the United States. For freight rail, 2014 was the safest year on record, with a drop of 7% and 12% in train- and rail-related accidents from the previous year, respectively, according to the Association of American Railroads.

These significant decreases can be attributed to rail inspection technology like ground-penetrating radar and track geometry cars, which help schedule maintenance projects so as to disrupt as little travel and cost as little money as possible. Furthermore, incredible wayside detectors scan rail cars as they pass by to spot defects or malfunctions, such as overheating components, damaged wheels, or deteriorating bearings.

As we look to the future, railroad companies are already investing in a comprehensive safety system known as Positive Train Control. The system will monitor both freight and passenger trains to automatically detect and prevent specific accidents by overriding the operator to stop or slow the train. A number of private railroads and federal agencies have partnered to create the Rail Corridor Risk Management System, which uses sophisticated statistical modeling and analysis to find the safest routes possible.

As these technologies continue to progress and evolve, American railroads will become even safer, with the positive trends of the past few years only expected to accelerate.

Chugging Ahead

In one specific instance, GE and Norfolk Southern are partnering to develop software equivalent to air traffic control for trains, a game changer that would dramatically impact both speed and safety. There is a direct positive correlation between increased investment and improved railroad safety, according to the Association of American Railroads, and the railroads spent $28 billion in 2014 and $29 billion in 2015 on infrastructure and equipment to ensure their progress continues.

To help keep infrastructural investments in the best shape for years to come, Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. has developed the most advanced rail lubrication system in the industry with NASA, a formula that can withstand any weather without harming the environment. These solutions minimize maintenance time and costs while keeping trains and the tracks they run on in great shape, minimizing the risk of accidents.

(Image credit: fancycrave1/Pixabay; Phil Richards/flickr)

Eric Vantiegham is Midwest’s Rail & Transit Specialist. Skilled in product development, new business development, and strategic planning, he enjoys playing ice hockey and coaching his boys' youth teams.