Union Pacific Highlights Derailment Prevention Efforts

Written by Kyra Senese, Managing Editor
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The EC-4 Geometry Car’s optical gauge measuring system produces real-time track geometry images.
Union Pacific

To help keep trains on the tracks, Union Pacific employs technology, optimal response and maintenance methodologies, and an aggressive capital renewal strategy. Total Union Pacific derailments have decreased by 21% from 2019 to last year.

UP’s network of more than 7,000 wayside detection devices continuously monitors the condition of freight cars and locomotives, according to a report by Shane Keller, senior vice president, Engineering and Mechanical. Wayside detectors are electronic sensors installed along railroad tracks that measure strain, temperature, acoustic signature, and dimensions of various components such as bearings, wheels, trucks, and braking systems. 

The alerts are used to enhance UP responses to determine safe rolling stock handling and repair, the report said. The effective use of wayside detectors greatly improves proactive risk identification and repair capabilities, Keller wrote.

Keller noted the use of multiple types of wayside detectors, including hot box detectors, wheel temperature detectors, acoustic bearing detectors, wheel impact detectors, wheel profile detectors and machine vision systems.

Every day, the wayside detectors generate more than 16 million data points for UP, the report said. Temperature, vibration, stress/strain, acoustics, vision, and shape data provide a comprehensive evaluation of equipment condition and help the railroad take necessary action. The conditions are sent as alerts associated with specific vehicles. The appropriate risk-based response is taken based on the severity of the alert, Keller wrote. 

Responding to identified equipment conditions in a timely manner helps address risk with minimal disruption to customer shipments and keeps trains on track to their destination. UP also shares alerts with other railroads, railcar owners, and the American Association of Railroads, the report said. 

Keller wrote that UP’s track-caused derailments have decreased by 55% in the last decade. Derailment prevention can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but when dealing with track issues, it all comes down to inspection, assessment, and capital renewal.