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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
Jul 18, 2012Following the conclusion of a one-year pilot, Liikennevirasto, the Finnish Transport Agency, is installing a radio frequency identification solution designed to improve the safety and efficiency of trains throughout Finland. The agency is employing a solution provided by Vilant to connect the unique ID number assigned to each rail car with information related to that car's axles and wheels, as well as the electrical contacts on a pantograph (the extendable arm that a train utilizes to connect with overhead power lines)

The system capitalizes on an installation of Vilant's RFID technology undertaken by train operator VR Transpoint, which is using the Vilant system with Confidex Ironside passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID tags attached to VR Transpoint's fleet of railcars to track work processes within its rail yard (see Finnish Railroad Streamlines Operations).

A pole-mounted RFID reader antenna identifies each passing railcar, while a hot axle-box detector (HABD), installed under the tracks, senses any overheated axle bearings.

Liikennevirasto manages and maintains the rails, as well as traffic on Finland's entire network. This includes ensuring that the railcars are in proper working condition. The firm spends approximately €135 million ($166 million) each year to maintain 5,919 kilometers (3,678 miles) of track, as well as ensure that each car's wheel axles are not overheating, and that the speeds fall within approved limits. For example, passenger trains should not exceed 220 kilometers per hour (137 miles per hour), while freight trains may only travel at up to 120 kilometers per hour (75 miles per hour).

The agency conducts inspections of railcars, and may require the replacement of parts that it expects to fail. To aid in this effort, Liikennevirasto installed a temperature-detection system that can measure the axle temperature of every passing railcar. Hot axle-box detectors (HABD), installed under the tracks, are designed to sense any overheated (and, thus, faulty) axle bearings of cars passing overhead.

At some locations, the agency also uses pantograph detectors to spot wear or damage to the contact strip of an electric locomotive's pantograph, and wheel impact load detectors to determine irregularities in a wheel that could damage the tracks and decrease ride quality. This information can also be linked to the unique ID number of a car's RFID tag. Currently, however, the system can determine only that an axle bearing, pantograph contact or wheel is in need of repair—it cannot identify which car on that train is experiencing the problem.

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