Safety Technology and Innovations

Union Pacific's rail equipment incident rate in 2017 improved nearly 3 percent from 2016. We know there is room for more improvement. Innovative technology can enhance safety, and we remain focused on improving processes and investing in new technologies to keep our employees and our communities safe.

These technologies include:

  • Big Data Variability Analysis. We analyze top causes of rail equipment incidents and identify where and when to focus efforts to reduce them.
  • Subdivision (a specific section of track) Sensitivity Studies. Sensitivity studies identify the risk of incident through computer modeling. These models pinpoint worst-case scenarios within identified subdivisions where exposure may be the greatest if an incident occurred. We use this data to enact countermeasures that proactively address risk.
  • Post-Derailment Simulations. The use of computer modeling allows us to further define the cause of A derailment after an incident and fully understand what occurred to prevent future events.
  • Distributed Power Units. These locomotives operate in the middle and/or end of trains instead of only at the front. This placement makes trains less prone to derailments and facilitates more even braking that, in turn, reduces wheel and track wear. This technology also improves fuel efficiency, resulting in fewer emissions.
  • Ultrasonic Wheel-Defect Detection. Our robotic system scans each wheel in our coal-car fleet every 60 to 90 days to eliminate derailments caused by broken wheels.
  • Wayside Detectors. Our systems analyze daily 20 million data points collected at more than 4,700 special detectors deployed across our network. This helps us more accurately identify and repair potential failures in rail equipment components. We continue to maintain, install and improve our wayside technology infrastructure. For wheel impacts, this translates to further definition of our defect thresholds. It also helps us improve our wayside detection network coverage based on changes in our traffic volume, ensuring we have the right detector(s) at the right place at the right time.
  • Hot Bearing (“Hotbox”) Detectors. These detectors use infrared sensors to measure the temperature of bearings as a train rolls by allowing us to identify faulty bearings that could result in a derailment.
  • Acoustic Bearing Detectors. Sound plays a role in determining the safety of bearings. Acoustic bearing detectors feature a shutter that opens just prior to the passing of a train. The open shutter allows an array of microphones to identify bearing defects.
  • Wheel Profile Detectors. The wheel profile detector uses a laser similar to a supermarket checkout scanner to capture a crosssectional snapshot of the outline of a wheel as it rolls by. Based on this data, wheel defects are identified, reported and addressed.

Locomotive Cameras

After careful consideration, Union Pacific decided to install in-cab cameras aboard its locomotives. The inward-facing cameras join the locomotive fleet’s outward-facing cameras, called Track Image Recorders (TIR). Since 2005, TIRs have provided images of track, crossings and signals directly in front of locomotives. The video is used in conjunction with the locomotives’ event recorder data, which records train speed, throttle and brake settings, traction power levels and horn use.

Through the years, the TIR/event recorder data has validated the professionalism of train crews and the same results are expected from inward-facing cameras.

Combining inward-facing camera recordings with TIR/Event Recorder data is another step toward preventing the most catastrophic incidents. Video reviews of accidents and performance can increase understanding of crew behaviors to improve training and coaching.

In 2014, Union Pacific began installing inward-facing cab cameras in the first of more than 5,000 locomotives scheduled for the technology, a process that is expected to continue through 2016.