Open-Source Solutions: The Secret to Railroad Technology Affordability

With recent technological advancements, the rail industry has begun the integration of technology-enabled solutions that benefit their operations. However, before any railroad invests in technology, they must have a handle on the Return on Investment. This is the point where many railroads face the dilemma of needing a technology solution yet finding it difficult to budget the astronomical costs.

In this blog post, we look at the key factors that make technology solutions too expensive to be practical for railroads and how we are working with major railroads to tackle this challenge.

  • The Cost of Updating/Replacing Legacy Technology

The disruptive nature of technology usually means that the new technologies are incompatible with the existing systems – necessitating an overhaul or a replacement, which is never affordable. The path of least resistance in such situations is that the railroads give up the potential benefits of new technologies and choose to keep the existing systems as long as they can manage. This approach is less than ideal and usually results in missed opportunities and lost time/resources spent in keeping up the legacy systems as they need more upkeep with each passing year.

  • The Cost of Specialized Support

For most legacy systems maintenance and repair are usually done by specialized personnel provided by the vendors’ support team. This seems like a convenient arrangement when the systems are initially installed, however it doesn’t take long before the technology becomes legacy or obsolete and the support more expensive than promised. Over the lifetime of a technology system, the vendors may cost the railroads a big chunk of money in maintenance and repair costs not planned at the time of system installation.

  • The Unaccounted Costs

The prevalent approach of technology vendors in the rail industry is to only share minimal information and insights about the technology system with the railroads. This model disadvantages the railroads as they can’t account for the precise cost/value of the systems that they are getting. The lack of transparency leads to an overall expensive package for the railroads that end up accruing unaccounted costs over the lifetime of a technology solution. Among all factors that add to the cost of technology, the unaccounted costs are the most expensive, not only in the monetary sense but also in the sense that they cause a lack of trust between vendors and the railroads. This is the factor that should be eliminated – not minimized, for the best results.

TekTracking’s Approach to Making Technology Affordable and Reliable for Railroads

TekTracking team has been working in the field with railroads that are facing all of the above challenges of expensive technology. That’s why we teamed up with a Class 1 railroad to come up with a new approach to technology solutions, which resulted in our new flagship Yard Automation Technology. This approach could be summarized in just one line: give complete control to the railroads with an open-source, non-proprietary solution that works with railroads’ existing legacy systems. This change makes all the difference in minimizing or eliminating the factors we pointed out above. For example, with our Yard Automation System called Commander Terminal Automation (CTA), we’ve made sure that the system fulfills the following key requirements:

  • Retrofit/Salvage the Legacy Systems

CTA replaces only the legacy control and communication components found in all yard automation systems. CTA retains the existing power switch machine and the existing OS circuit.  This makes modernizing yard automation relatively inexpensive.

  • Eliminate the Need of Specialized Support

The CTA system is simple to set up and includes sophisticated software to assist in network maintenance and troubleshooting.  Replacement components are open source and readily available, even on Amazon! This allows the system to be easily supported by trained railroad personnel, eliminating the need for constant reliance on the system provider.

  • Complete Transparency and Accountability

The vision behind using non-proprietary technology is to give railroads confidence in the new system. When their own team is able to set up and maintain a technology system, the railroads need not worry about lack of accountability anymore. They will have a reliable technology solution that will be supported by their own in-house teams – without any hidden costs or unpleasant surprises down the road.

Want to know more about Commander Terminal Automation System or other technology solutions provided by our team? Book a demo with our consultants.

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