CSX says deployment of train inspection technology going smoothly

A photograph of a train coming out of the fog.

Eastern U.S. railroad CSX’s (NYSE: CSX) use of a train inspection portal (TIP) to look for defects as a train is going full speed has been a success so far, company representatives said, with the technology developing algorithms to catch potential flaws.

CSX has been using the TIP, which has been set up in the Jessup subdivision running between Jacksonville, Florida, and Waycross, Georgia, since Dec. 31, 2019. CSX chose that area because of the range of commodity traffic that uses that portion of the network. Waycross is the location of CSX’s largest hump yard.

CSX’s train inspection portal. Image: CSX

“This is one of the major roads going into town,” said Kim Bowling, CSX’s director of car monitoring and diagnostics. Bowling, who has been with CSX for 29 years, served as the lead for the TIP project.

The portal consists of 23 cameras that scan and take images of a whole train as it passes the portal at full speed. The cameras collect images of trains moving northbound and southbound. Trains run every hour between Jacksonville and Waycross, 24 hours a day.

To spot potential defects, the technology uses algorithms, or computer programs, to review the images. CSX aims to develop 20 algorithms, which will catch defects or flaws such as missing bolts, open boxcar doors and open patches underneath a railcar.

The TIP’s scan of the top of a railcar. Image: CSX

A typical inbound inspection involves a carman who will walk around the train once it reaches the yard. If the carman detects any defects, the railcar goes to the shop for repair.

But the inspection technology allows CSX to see parts of the railcar that a carman can’t normally see, such as the tops or bottoms of the cars.

“It allows us a 360-degree view of the railcars to support what the carmen are doing in the yard, and catching a defect before it becomes critical,” said CSX spokeswoman Sheriee Bowman. The images get sent to the back office for review so we can get the car to the front for needed repairs, she said.

The data gets processed onsite, and images that show defects make it to the back office.

A covered hopper gate leaking sand. Image: CSX

The TIP is part of a technology suite of “machine vision systems” that CSX uses for train inspections, Bowling said. Other machine vision systems employ predictive analytics and examine wheel impacts and acoustics, among other issues. CSX typically installs these other systems at the same sites because of the data requirements needed to deploy all these tools.

CSX co-locates these systems and installs these detectors at its “supersites.” The railroad has eight supersites throughout its network and one supersite in the works, Bowling said.

All these detectors allow CSX to see conditions that are happening only when a train is in motion, such as how couplers are performing, Bowling said. CSX plans to install another portal on the north side of Waycross, she said.

A TIP scan showing an open boxcar door. Image: CSX

“All of this is part of the broader efforts that CSX is taking to modernize the railroad to be more efficient and more reliable for our customers and to keep our network fluid,” Bowman said.