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Digital Train Inspection: Artificial intelligence boosts safety

By Carl Swanson | June 25, 2024

| Last updated on July 18, 2024

Deep-learning algorithms look for early signs of equipment failure

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A train passes through a tall, gray, open-ended shed
Norfolk Southern’s Digital Train Inspection Portal (DTI) in Jackson, Georgia, uses artificial intelligence to scan for signs of impending equipment problems on passing trains. Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern is installing Digital Train Inspection (DTI) portals at key locations on its 22-state network. Each portal features sensors, stadium lighting, and an array of ultra-high-resolution cameras mounted above, below, and on either side of the rails. As trains pass through the portal — at speeds up to 70 mph — images from the cameras are combined to form a detailed 360-degree view of each car consisting of about 1,000 individual images.

The hardware, designed in cooperation with Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), is strategically placed to capture potential issues that are difficult to detect with the human eye during stationary inspections. In addition, capturing images while the train is in motion can capture defects that would likely go unnoticed when the train is stationary.

“Improving the human condition is a core tenet of GTRI and Georgia Tech,” said Dr. James Hudgens, Director of GTRI and Senior Vice President of Research at Georgia Tech. “This represents another example of what GTRI has been doing for 90 years: tackling the hardest engineering problems to develop solutions that benefit the state of Georgia and citizens nationwide. Our partnership with Norfolk Southern has been a privilege and it is extremely gratifying to see the portals being deployed across their rail network.”

An interior view of track passing through a tall open-ended shed housing cameras and lights
Digital Train Inspection portals are equipped with an array of high-speed cameras that together capture about 1,000 ultra-high-resolution, 360-degree images of each passing railcar as they pass at speeds up to 70 mph. Norfolk Southern

Data captured by the system is analyzed by about 40 advanced deep-learning artificial intelligence algorithms developed by Norfolk Southern’s in-house Data Science/AI team. The software looks for early signs of equipment failure. If any potential equipment issues are flagged, the system automatically notifies Norfolk Southern’s Network Operations Center. Experts there review the automated alerts and initiate appropriate responses. Critical defects are flagged for immediate handling. According to NS, the algorithms are proving highly accurate and generate few false alarms.

“We prioritize railroad safety at Norfolk Southern, and we have an unwavering commitment to raising the bar when it comes to safe operations,” said Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan H. Shaw. “Partnering with the GTRI on these DTI portals further exemplifies our dedication to being the gold standard for safety in the rail industry.”

Norfolk Southern’s first DTI portal was installed in Leetonia, Ohio, in October 2023. Norfolk Southern will have six DTI portal sites in operation by the end of 2024, and an additional 11 sites operational by 2026.

3 thoughts on “Digital Train Inspection: Artificial intelligence boosts safety

  1. Seems like a major expense if these giant sensors will be placed close enough not to miss major problems that will always occur BETWEEN them. 8+|

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