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Indian Railways Deploys RFID to Manage 350,000 Railcars

The solution, which is being tested at 15 sites, will eventually include 3,500 fixed readers, as well as handheld readers, to capture each railcar's data in accordance with GS1's UHF standards.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 25, 2020

Indian Railways has begun deploying RFID technology on its tracks to capture the location of its rolling stock; a total of about 24,000 passenger cars, as well as some freight cars, have been tagged. The solution employs GS1 standards, with fixed and handheld readers and software running on the control center server, as well as on handheld readers, to enable the organization to view the last maintenance location for each car, along with its maintenance history.

This helps to ensure that railcars are not only properly dispatched, but also maintained according to usage, condition and maintenance schedules. Indian Railways' IT arm, RFID Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), recently completed its first round of technical, field and production-level testing for RFID tags, and the rail organization has also completed testing for handheld readers. Next, field testing of fixed readers at 15 other locations will be carried out.

According to the International Union of Railways (UIC), Indian Railways is the world's fourth largest railway network, based on the length of its tracks—approximately 41,000 miles (66,000 kilometers)—and transports approximately 23 million passengers daily, as well as three million tons of freight. The railway expects to grow further, however. To accomplish this, it required a more efficient method to manage both railcar operations and service.

To date, Indian Railways has used a combination of manual and IT-based systems to track the locations and maintenance details related to its hundreds of thousands of railcars. Its IT systems manage some maintenance processes, but the rail organization generally tracks railcars and their maintenance via pen and paper. A decade ago, Indian Railways began exploring ways in which it could use RFID to identify railcars automatically. In 2008, the organization deployed passive RFID tags on some cars, but the system was proprietary and would have been difficult to scale across its entire fleet. Instead, it sought a vendor-agnostic solution based on an open standard.

"While doing an initial study [in 2015], I discovered that there was no COTS [common off-the-shelf] solution that fulfilled our requirements," explains Tanmay Mehta, CRIS's general manager. "The complete solution stack had to be established from scratch." Therefore, Mehta says, the organization began working with GS1 India on a UHF Gen2v2 standards-based solution. IR then opted to use GS1 standards to develop a system following the GIAI-202 standard. The GIAI, a unique identification key that can be used globally to identify an asset, consists of a company prefix, along with an individual asset reference ID. "From then on, we never looked back."

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