Innovation and the Modern Railways

When it comes to modern railways, it’s not hard to miss the word innovation in the discussion. After all, when it comes to the subject of transportation, not too many methods can claim the distinction of having been around for more than 100 years. Further, although there has been much improvement to railways in that time, there has also been distinctive drawbacks to the way they are managed and maintained. Of particular note is the fact that virtually all records related to track inventories are in paper form, a holdover from long before the computer age. As a result, when it comes to tracks being effectively operated and maintained, it quickly becomes a matter of what you don’t know can hurt you.

Fortunately, modern railways are benefitting from a relative newcomer to the computer age, a system that records information about tracks and other railroad facilities on computerized maps called a GIS, or a geographic information system. And to make things even more exciting, GPS or global positioning system, that same tool that you use to get you from point A to point B on a family drive, is now being used to keep better track of where railway lines are, their condition, and even the entire maintenance history.

For years, railway managers have understood that the state of their railway records have led them to be deficient in their ability to know exactly where their railways are and what condition they are in. In fact, finding these long lost railways is often a matter of being unaware of their location until they are found by chance. With GIS and GPS technologies, along with concerted efforts to find these tracks and uncover maintenance records, railroad executives can better allocate funds that they can use to ensure that tracks are maintained effectively.

This benefit is not only benefitting the conditions of tracks but also many other assets and facilities of the railways. This includes switches and other a facilities. In fact, virtually anything that can have any sort of geographical connection whatsoever can be mapped and tied to their attributes. These include not only maintenance records but records having to do with property ownership, schedules and much more. After these records are computerized in a GIS, managers who want information about these locations need to simply touch a mouse on a screen to draw up virtually anytihng they want to know. All it takes is the click of a button.