The Swedish Transport Administration, known as Trafikverket, oversees the country's state-owned 13,000-kilometer (8,077-mile) network of trains and track. Keeping its heavily used mechanical equipment from breaking was a formidable challenge. The Swedish railway operates 150 detector stations to monitor wheel damage and other problems on railway vehicles (or wagons), but the system could only issue a general alarm and could not identify individual vehicles. If a problem was detected, the train would have to stop at the next station, so the driver could visually check and touch the wheels to ascertain if any were hot. The government agency knew that preventative maintenance was key to providing uninterrupted service and controlling costs, so it developed a radio frequency identification solution to monitor the condition of wheels, axles and other equipment.
"In the past, we had only visual inspections in place, and no reliable statistics or measurements connected to individual vehicles," says Gunnar Ivansson, a consultant at LearningWell AB, which helped the Swedish Transport Administration develop the monitoring system. "By identifying each vehicle with RFID and obtaining exact measurements, it is now possible to detect problems early. There is a huge cost savings related to avoiding damage to tracks, and there is a diminished risk of a derailment due to an equipment failure."
Trafikverket has begun a full rollout of the RFID solution, which is expected to last a couple of years. Each of the 150 detector stations will be equipped with an RFID reader, Ivansson says. In addition, the organization will rely on standalone RFID reading points, to track and trace vehicles for logistic companies, as well as for terminal and harbor operators. In all, 630 reading points will exist along tracks throughout Sweden. To date, the organization has RFID-tagged more than 800 vehicles.
The project managers took a global approach, since rail traffic in Europe is international; approximately 60 percent of all wagons come from other European cities. The RFID solution is based on GS1's Electronic Product Code (EPC) standards for tags, readers and sharing information. The organization believes the solution will be used to track and trace wagons not only in Sweden but also throughout Europe.
The end goal is to build a data-collection network that will be employed by train operators, logistics companies, transport firms and customers to manage everything from maintenance to cargo transport. In addition, more effective operations promise to lower the carbon footprint for rail transportation. "The technology will play a key role in taking railways into the 21st century," says Lennart Andersson, the Swedish Transport Administration's RFID project manager.
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