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RFID Helps Greek Rail Service Save Money

TrainOSE is using a UHF RFID system from Trinity Systems to track the locations of freight cars, in order to improve logistics and reduce the fees it must pay if third-party railcars are not returned to their owners on time.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 22, 2016

TrainOSE, Greece's rail service provider, is employing a radio frequency identification-based solution to track freight cars. While the company is still reviewing the results since the system was taken live last year, it has already determined that the technology is reducing rental costs for cars that should be returned to third-party owners.

Trinity Systems provided the passive EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags that were attached to railcars, as well as the RFID readers that were installed at key locations along the tracks. The company also installed and integrated the system with TrainOSE's software and trained TrainOSE's personnel in its use. The solution employs RFID to identify passing cars, determine dwell times at each station and calculate transit times between stations. The agency hopes that knowing this information will help it to better manage logistics scheduling.

TrainOSE attaches an RFID tag near the serial number printed on each side of a freight car.
TrainOSE is the sole provider of passenger rail service in Greece and the major operator for freight trains throughout that country. The company operates its own domestic railcars (known as wagons), as well as those that it rents from providers in other nations that move freight around or through Greece. The Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), TrainOSE's former parent company, owns the tracks, rail stations and domestic rolling stock.

In many cases, third-party railcars loaded with freight arrive in Greece from such places as Germany or Austria. Europe's International Wagon Regulations (RIV) limit the number of days that those railcars can remain in Greece, requiring TrainOSE to pay a daily rental fee once that time has been exceeded, until the cars are returned. TrainOSE often uses such foreign wagons to deliver freight—for instance, a wagon from Austria is emptied, reloaded with goods from a Greek company, and rerouted perhaps to Austria or another location.

Such a system can be highly complex and difficult to manage for TrainOSE and other providers. For example, if a wagon is not returned within the allotted span of time, TrainOSE must identify where that wagon is located and determine why it is delayed. The company typically tracked the locations and statuses of wagons via written reports faxed to dispatchers and TrainOSE managers as those wagons arrived at each station.

The Greek railroad operator wanted to improve the visibility of wagons—both rented and its own—according to Aris Kotsas, the director of TrainOSE's rolling stock directorate. Therefore, in 2014, it began seeking a technology-based solution as part of a wide-ranging project that TrainOSE had under way to modernize its data management. "TrainOSE, for the past few years, has invested in developing its own online platform for managing all operations," Kotsas says. "Automated asset tracking of the rolling stock using RFID technology was one of the last parts that were incorporated to our online freight-management platform."

"This was a complicated and challenging project," says Theodore Vasiliadis, Trinity Systems' co-founder and CEO. The railway company wanted to use RFID to track the wagons initially at 40 sites, such as in rail yards, maintenance facilities and stations. At some locations, the readers would need to be installed in clusters (multiple readers in a small area, each sending data to a gateway device), while at others, they would be at very remote locations, making the transmission of data to the server challenging.

Trinity Systems and TrainOSE opted to attach Confidex Survivor tags to approximately 100 wagons, near the serial number painted on the side of each car, with each wagon's ID number encoded to the tag's memory. They started with a pilot deployment, during which they installed six Kathrein RFID RRU4-ETL-E6 readers, with Kathrein WIRA-70 antennas, along tracks in the railway network's northern section. Then, Vasiliadis says, after running the pilot project for six months, the companies expanded the deployment last summer to a total of 20 Kathrein readers at trackside, "just outside the [clearance] safety zone of each track." While TrainOSE acquired 40 such readers, it found that it currently needs only 20 to provide the data required. The other 20 will be installed as necessary to enhance the entire system's tracking resolution.

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