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Finnish Transport Agency to Track Railcar Health Via RFID

An RFID solution from Vilant, linked to a system that monitors the axles and wheels of passing railcars, will allow Liikennevirasto to identify cars that may require servicing, as well as monitor traffic conditions.
By Claire Swedberg
Liikennevirasto began testing the RFID technology in 2009, and then conducted a trial of four fixed readers on its rails during 2011 and 2012. For the pilot, Liikennevirasto and Vilant installed four Vilant Railroad Reader Units at multiple locations along the rail lines, near the cities of Oulu and Mäntsälä. The interrogators were mounted on poles located approximately 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) from the railroad track itself, so they could capture the unique ID encoded to each Ironside tag attached to the sides of passing train cars.

In Vilant's Train Analyzer software, residing on the firm's back-end hosted server, each tag's unique ID number was linked to the car's serial number, as well as to the operator in ownership and other details. In addition to linking the ID to temperature data—based on the read time at the previous reader unit—the Vilant Train Analyzer software could determine how fast the train was moving. In that way, the agency could address any problems involving the trains' speed, by contacting the operator, as well as identifying any problems with the train axles.

According to Liikennevirasto, the permanent solution currently being deployed will consist of 120 RFID reader units, installed along tracks throughout Finland. Currently, there are approximately 11,000 rail cars in use within the country, most with Ironside tags attached to them. Thanks to the RFID technology, Vilant reports, the system will now be able to identify which railcar axle is overheating, enabling the agency's staff to remove that car from the active fleet for repair of any faulty part before it fails. "It allows for pre-emptive maintenance," says Vesa-Pekka Tapper, Vilant's business development director. "For example, you might tell already, beforehand, that it is likely that an axle bearing will fail in the near future, based on the recorded temperature values."

The completed system is slated to be taken live in about 18 months, at which time Liikennevirasto expects that any train cars lacking RFID tags will have tags attached to them. The key benefits that the agency hopes to gain from the system, according to Arlinda Sipilä, Vilant's director of products and marketing, are not just fault detection linked to a specific railcar, but also real-time monitoring of rolling stock—in other words, knowing where all cars are located at any given time—in order to improve traffic and detect any problems.

What's more, the agency plans to share its RFID-based data with the operator companies that own the trains, thereby informing them of the exact locations of their own trains, their arrival times at specific stations, the speed at which their trains are being operated and other traffic-related conditions.

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