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Building Brains For 21st Century Trains

naPost was originally published on GE Transportation CEO Jamie Miller’s LinkedIn.

When GE built its first locomotive over 120 years ago, trains represented industrial might. They were iron horses galloping west. But today’s digital-first economy calls for locomotives that are more like a 200-ton self-aware vessel traversing networked rails while achieving unprecedented levels of velocity, efficiency and reliability. 

So how do we move from steed to smartphone? It starts by integrating and connecting everything from locomotives to switches to yards into one thriving digital ecosystem.

Next week at InnoTrans 2016 in Berlin, GE Transportation will announce several strategic partnerships, as well as the latest advancements across this ecosystem built on our industrial-strength Predix platform, which moves data between people and machines, seamlessly and securely. Eventually, every one of GE’s 21,000 locomotives across more than 50 countries will connect with Predix, igniting the biggest shift in industry where everything is being transformed - mobile, sensors, data and analytical algorithms.

The Power of 1 MPH

For rail operators, there’s few things less costly than a parked locomotive, yet the U.S. freight rail industry suffers from 500,000 delays a year and one of every four trains on the rails experiences some kind of unplanned downtime. Simply increasing their average speed by 1 mile per hour, and reducing the amount of time they’re parked by 1 percent, could generate some $4.7 billion in savings.

At GE Transportation, we’re driving new levels of improvement with intelligent digital solutions across our RailConnect 360 software suite. It starts with the brain of the train - GoLINC, a mobile, eight-terabyte data center inside the locomotive that ensures information – whether it’s data or high-resolution video – gets where it needs to go.

Then there’s Trip Optimizer, our automated cruise control system that monitors fuel usage and power output, while analyzing routes versus the train’s payload to find the most efficient operating speed. It will even set individual locomotives to idle if a train doesn’t require them to maintain velocity. Over the last seven years, Trip Optimizer has helped customers save over 90 million gallons of fuel, gain roughly 10% in fuel efficiency, and surpass a record 150 million miles in auto control mode

While Trip Optimizer already lives within some 7,000 GE locomotives, it’s also designed to work with locomotives from other manufacturers – breathing new life into old iron and keeping costs down for rail operators.

But why stop there? Other parts of RailConnect 360, like our Movement Planner and Yard Planner apps, use advanced algorithms to provide an air traffic control system for trains, to maximize a railroad’s entire network. Our Smart Intermodal Solution is our next generation Terminal Operating System – architected on Predix and managing over 100 terminals and over 300 million containers a year. At InnoTrans, we’ll highlight a new frontier in digitizing the entire rail yard and spreading the power of GE Transportation’s network to a broader universe of machines.

These aren’t white-board concepts – they’re proven solutions. GE’s software expertise goes to work every day, in thousands of trains, helping engineers and rail managers make the most of their resources … and drive real productivity and efficiency gains.

We know better than anyone that the next century of freight rail will ride on data, not just steel and iron. 

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