How Trains Use GPS For Tracking and Optimization

GPS is key to the modern world. It has become so ingrained in our daily lives that we take it for granted. GPS is used in almost every industry, from agriculture to automobiles to education. It’s also being used to track and optimize trains. 

Locating trains with GPS units

Trains are a major mode of transportation in the United States, and they use GPS to keep track of their routes and locations. The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration is testing the so-called High Accuracy Nationwide Differential Global Positioning System. That’s a mouthful, but it essentially means that the US DOT is testing enhancements to traditional GPS for improved location accuracy, which is crucial for trains. 

After all, trains carry an immense amount of valuable cargo to keep our country running. As PopSci reports, around $50 billion worth of goods were transported as freight cargo every single day in the United States in 2013.

Locating trains with GPS is important for several reasons. First, trains can be delayed or even derailed if they’re not where they’re supposed to be. Second, trains can become temporarily lost and stranded in remote areas if their GPS is malfunctioning, so it’s vital to use robust and accurate GPS.

Reducing train delays with GPS units

Locomotives themselves easily cost $1-2 million, and cargo delay costs quickly run up to thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. GPS systems to reduce train delays are being rolled out from the United Kingdom to Sri Lanka.

By reducing tracking and signaling faults, the use of GPS can reduce delays. Trains are often forced to follow inefficient routes because they’re not able to take the most direct route. This is especially true when trains are traveling through remote areas. The ability to optimize train routes with real-time information from GPS systems would be invaluable.

Further, GPS can be used to forecast if a delay will occur, by seeing if a train is already late on its route. This allows for more accurate planning and better management of resources. Passengers who are waiting for delayed trains can also be given more accurate arrival times.

Decreasing train stopping distance with GPS units

Trains have extremely long braking distances, which can be problematic when trains are carrying valuable cargo. The longer a train has to stop, the more likely it is that the brakes will overheat and need to be replaced.

According to Minnesota Operation Lifesaver, a freight train traveling at 55 miles per hour “can take a mile or more to stop.” While most cars have a stopping distance of around 200 feet, heavy locomotives naturally have a far longer stopping distance, which increases further with faster speeds and heavier cargo.

GPS systems can help reduce braking distances by providing real-time information about traffic patterns or other obstacles along the tracks so trains can avoid them if possible. This also helps prevent delays by allowing trains to get back on schedule faster.

Not to mention, long stopping distances can be a serious danger to train crews and passengers. Unfortunately, there have been many deadly incidents involving trains due to their long stopping distances. 

One such incident involved a Metrolink commuter train running head-on into a freight train, killing 25 people. This incident prompted investigators to call for the use of GPS to “track where trains are, constantly feeding the computers in the locomotive cab with information about how fast the train should be going and what is happening on the tracks ahead.”

These advancements in GPS technology will make it possible to improve train operations and reduce costs for businesses and governments.

Are you ready to learn more? Talk to a Fleet Advisor today.

Powering train tracker maps with GPS

Communities of “trainspotters” devote their leisure time to watching trains, and they’ve developed an entire culture around it. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “trainspotter” as “One who follows a train or trains for pleasure.” In the past, these enthusiasts would have been limited to using printed schedules and static displays to track trains. Not anymore!

Trainspotters can use GPS systems to track trains on their mobile devices via web browsers. These power train tracking maps like Amtrak’s “Track a Train”, the Track Trace Train Radar application, and various other Trainspotter applications.

Trainspotter communities have even developed their own lingo to describe the trains they follow. Trainspotters use GPS systems to predict where trains will be during certain times of the day. These communities often photograph trains in action, sharing their images on forums and websites.

In this way, trainspotters are a perfect fit for GPS systems. For example, a GPS system can help a trainspotter predict when a train will pass by a certain location, giving them time to get off the road before it arrives. It can also tell them where trains will be at specific times of the day so they have an opportunity to photograph them while they’re passing through town. Clearly, GPS is a valuable tool for even niche audiences.

The future of trains?

As we’ve explored, GPS is not only useful for tracking trains; it’s also being used to optimize them. Today’s trains are using GPS technology to improve efficiency and cut costs for both passengers and the transit company itself. The future of all trains may very well include using GPS technology for monitoring. 

To learn more about how GPS Trackit can help you increase productivity, improve safety, and reduce costs for your business, speak with one of our knowledgeable Fleet Advisors at 866-320-5810 or get a quick Custom Quote.

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