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Railroad Monitoring Systems - A DPS Client Shares Best Practices

By Andrew Erickson

October 22, 2023


Remote monitoring systems have transformed the way industries manage and operate their infrastructure. With the capability to gather and analyze data from multiple sources, these systems give you many useful insights.

During a recent visit to one of my railroad clients, I learned about their experiences with remote monitoring, getting a unique perspective on best practices and challenges.

Here's a detailed overview of what I learned at this meeting, including best practices you can and should use in your own operation:

Regulatory Compliance and Remote Monitoring

One of the primary reasons businesses invest in remote monitoring systems is to ensure compliance with industry-specific regulations. For instance, our client had purchased two other railroads. Due to the CFR regulations from the federal government, they were required to keep recordings of dispatch audio for three years. To meet this requirement, they, like many railroads, turned to the NavTech radio console.

The NavTech radio console is a sophisticated tool predominantly utilized in the railroad sector for communication and recording purposes. This console enables seamless two-way communication, critical for coordinating activities and ensuring safety in rail operations.

As I mentioned above, it also includes advanced recording capabilities. This feature allows railroads to adhere to CFR regulations by keeping an auditable record of dispatch audio for a prescribed period - typically three years. The console's user-friendly interface combined with its robust performance makes it a solid asset in remote monitoring systems.

The Importance of User-Friendly Systems & Customization

Remote monitoring systems should be intuitive and user-friendly. Our client's experience with a certain monitoring system highlighted the importance of this. Although they had invested in RTUs and a master system, the support was lacking, and the user interface was not intuitive.

This led them to question if they were the first users "caught in the trap" by this vendor. Regardless of your precise attitude toward customer service, this is never a good feeling.

Moreover, while T/Mon was described as "great", they had one graphical recommendation. This client suggested that a "Dark Mode" color scheme option might improve the interface. I noted that for the DPS engineering team back home.

This client focuses on monitoring temperature, battery bank voltages, and propane for generators using T/Mon. While they see new incoming alarms and respond appropriately, they rarely look at the T/Mon COS screens and seldom acknowledged alarms.

They have a unique approach to managing alarms, which is something that T/Mon's flexibility accommodates.

Ensuring Security in Remote Monitoring

Our client faces potential security challenges with three parallel networks at every site. Recent minor audits conducted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), including comprehensive network scans, have raised significant concerns about future compliance with industry standards and regulations.

To effectively address these concerns, it's crucial to implement secure connection types such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) v1.2 and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) v3. These protocols play a vital role in ensuring the utmost security in remote monitoring systems, especially as industries become more interconnected and vulnerable to cyber threats.

I'm seeing particularly high interest in TLS 1.2 among my government, power utility, and rail clients.

Encryption is increasingly a must-have in today's world, both practically and due to new regulations. It's becoming increasingly important to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to security protocols.

That's especially true with small embedded electronics like RTUs, where processors are relatively small and may require a hardware upgrade to support new encryption standards.

Optimizing Data Collection and Visualization

The client's very specific radio project provided an intriguing look into data collection and visualization. They collect GPS coordinates output from radios every 60 seconds.

The goal is to display radio locations on a map and view RSL (Radio Signal Level/strength) historically.

Grafana, an open-source platform that now also offers enterprise licenses, is used to visualize this data.

There have been some challenges, however. The collection process gets interrupted at times.

The potential to collect data with their existing T/Mon master station and generate heat maps, offers exciting possibilities for data analysis. This is very similar to a Track Geometry Car (TGC) RSSI project I'm doing currently for another railroad client.

Challenges in Remote Monitoring Implementation

While remote monitoring systems offer numerous benefits, there can be challenges in implementation.

Writing custom scripts, as our client pointed out as one example, can be laborious.

Creating these scripts for their "in-house solution stack" was described as a task that would "take forever" to complete, indicating the potential complexities involved. This is an ideal opportunity for the engineers at DPS to build something that eliminates a lot of pointless busywork for this client.

Embracing the Future of Remote Monitoring with PTC

The Positive Train Control (PTC) system, a revolutionary advancement in rail technology, is a prime example of the future of remote monitoring. With transit trains utilizing the Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES) and Freight trains utilizing the Interoperable Electronic Train Management System (IETMS), this cutting-edge system enables operators to remotely monitor and control trains, ensuring enhanced safety and efficiency

By providing the capability to remotely stop unresponsive trains, the PTC system presents an unprecedented level of control and responsiveness in the rail industry.

You Must Understand Remote Monitoring to Guide Your Company Forward

Remote monitoring systems have revolutionized most industries, providing unmatched insights and control. During our recent client visit, we discovered the importance of carefully selecting the right system that aligns with your needs. Additionally, ensuring robust security measures and effectively navigating the implementation challenges are crucial for successful adoption.

By thoroughly understanding these nuances, you can make well-informed decisions and unlock the full potential of remote monitoring for your company or agency.

DPS Telecom Will Help You Plan Your Remote Monitoring Project

At DPS Telecom, we understand the complexities and challenges involved in implementing a remote monitoring system. Our team of expert engineers will work closely with you to develop a customized solution that meets your unique requirements while ensuring seamless integration and maximum efficiency.

From user-friendly interfaces and advanced recording capabilities to secure connections and optimized data collection, we'll help you establish unparalleled performance and reliability.

Call DPS at 1-800-693-0351 or email sales@dpstele.com to get started now.

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...