A number of countries have done this, and the United States and Canada were among the first.
In the 1990s, most North American railway tracks were equipped with active RFID readers, and railway cars were tagged with active transponders. That system has been highly successful, reducing the labor required to track train cars and also decreasing the number of delays, by enabling the cars to be identified quickly and accurately so they can be redirected correctly when necessary.
The Canadian National Railway (CN) took this a step further in 2006, by using RFID to manage trailer chassis. Cargo containers arrive on railcars and are transferred onto trailer chassis, after which trucks haul them away. But with cargo traffic increasing, congestion was slowing things down.
To alleviate this problem, the terminal turned to an RFID-based chassis-rental system that not only freed up traffic at the facility’s cargo-container storage area, but also led to improvements in CN’s chassis-management processes. These improvements, combined with a reliable billing system, generated a return on CN’s RFID investment, to the tune of a half-million Canadian dollars (see Canadian Railway Sees Huge ROI From RFID).
Other nations, including Switzerland, have also turned to RFID tagging. In 2007, Spoornet, a South African provider of rail-freight services, and the region’s largest rail operator, equipped its fleet of 80,000 freight railcars with passive RFID tags, and also installed interrogators at various locations within Spoornet’s 14,400-mile network of train routes (see South African Railroad Switches to Passive RFID).
—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal