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Indian Railways deploys RFID system to manage 350,000 train cars

Indian Railways deploys RFID system to manage 350,000 train cars


Indian Railways has begun deploying RFID technology on its tracks to capture the location of its train cars. It is reported that a total of about 24,000 cars and some freight cars have been marked. The solution uses the GS1 standard and is configured with a reader, a control center server, and fixed software running on a portable device. The management department can view the latest maintenance location and maintenance history of each car through the reader.


This not only helps to ensure the normal operation of the carriage, but also allows for maintenance and upkeep based on usage, conditions and repair plans. The IT department of the Indian Railways Information System RFID Centre (CRIS) recently completed the first round of field testing and production level testing of RFID tag technology, and the railway organization has also completed testing for handheld readers. At the same time, field tests of fixed readers were conducted in 15 additional locations.


According to data from the International Railway Union (UIC), the Indian Railway is the fourth largest railway network in the world, with a track length of about 41,000 miles (66,000 kilometers), carrying about 230,000 passengers and 3 million tons of freight per day. However, Indian Railways is expected to grow further, and for this, a more efficient approach to the management and service of railcar operations is needed.


To date, Indian Railways has used a combination of manual and IT systems to track the location and maintenance details of its hundreds of thousands of cars. The IT system manages some maintenance procedures, but railway companies usually use pencils and paper to track the position of carriages and their maintenance. Ten years ago, Indian Railways began exploring ways to use RFID to automatically identify railroad cars. In 2008, the railway company installed passive RFID tags on some cars, but the system is proprietary and difficult to promote throughout the car. As a result, Indian Railways sought a vendor-independent solution based on open standards.


“When conducting a preliminary study in 2015, I found that there was no universal COTS solution that met our requirements,” explains Tanmay Mehta, general manager of CRIS. “The complete solution must start from scratch.” Therefore, Indian Railways began GS1 India cooperates to develop a solution based on the UHF Gen2v2 standard. Then the Indian state railway IR chose to use the GS1 standard to develop a system that complies with the GIAI-202 standard. GIAI is a unique identification key that can be used to identify assets worldwide. It consists of a company prefix and a reference ID for an individual item. "Since then, we have never looked back."


In 2017, the first version of the tags was tested at speeds in excess of 180 km / h (112 mph), and these tags were installed in a series of newly produced railroad cars. "This is an important moment to witness 'Made in India'," Mehta said. Indian domestic technology providers provide labels that meet the GIAI-202 and GS1 identification standards, as well as the performance standards required by Indian Railways.


The following year, Indian Railways developed and introduced a portable reader-based solution that allows people equipped with portable devices to read the vehicle electronic product code (EPC) and maintenance data for "area label users" for each car in the area. . Maintenance data does not include dates marked after each maintenance task or other related activity. A year later, the fixed reader solution and related software were in place. Mehta recalled: "Production is still in progress and this is the most difficult part."


The tags have so far been designed and installed on metal by seven different suppliers, transmitting signals using UHF frequencies from 865 to 867 MHz, and encoding railway assets according to the GIAI-202 standard and the GS1 identification standard. The system uses the chip's 3K user memory and standard EPC storage memory. To this end, CRIS developed the data structure on the label and the data ecosystem that uses it.


Related applications developed by CRIS allow organizations to invoke CRUD operations (create, read, update, and delete) on tag data, while supporting the ACID principles of database transactions (atomicity, consistency, independence, and durability). The tag must be able to be read at a speed of at least 100 miles (161 kilometers) per hour, and the reading range should be relatively short: about 1 meter (3.3 feet). "The design of the label must take into account the need for high-quality tilt readings," Mehta said.


The reader is usually installed between train stations (called the inter-station interval). Mehta explained: "Choose stations based on proximity to key functional locations, such as pits, service areas, or loading and unloading stations. Equipment is then installed at a distance of approximately 30 to 45 minutes of train travel time from each station. In fact, The reader forms a closed-loop reading on all tracks connected to a specific key location. In this way, the system detects each train and each carriage as it enters and exits the station. "


In addition to the identification of the train on the track, each tag also stores maintenance data, including the last and next maintenance of the train. Labels are attached to both sides of each carriage and to the railings at the bottom (a stringer that extends to both sides of the rail vehicle). A fixed reader is installed on the side of the track, and the train tag will be located 1 meter from the device. Each antenna is mounted on a pole on either side of the track, several feet high. The reader captures the tag ID of each car and uses its built-in computer to manage the read data and sends it to the IR central control center server via a GSM or DMA cellular connection. Workers use a portable reader to read and write data and connect via Bluetooth.


As the carriage enters the reading range of the reader, the unique ID number encoded on each tag will be captured, then sent to the host server through a variety of connection technologies, and the data will be sent to the application on the personal mobile device. This way, when the train enters the station, the staff will receive an alert, so they can take steps such as preparing for maintenance. When the train leaves the station, the reader collects the vehicle ID to update the software.


Armed with this data, Indian Railways can identify safety and reliability issues found by trackside detectors or staff in near real time, while historical data visualization can provide support for analytical purposes. The RFID system will enable Indian Railways to have a so-called "Rolling Stock Master Data System", which can manage the condition, location and trajectory of each car throughout its life. Mehta said this is important for rail services because it ensures timely and secure transportation; from the perspective of "asset verification", it is also in the interest of different stakeholders.


Mehta said that using the GIAI-202 encoding method, the data on the label can be alphanumeric, and no additional steps are needed to convert the digital code on the label into real data. The portable reader reads the ID of each car and displays it in English, so it can be used directly. For example, IDs can be converted into useful data without having to connect to background software. Therefore, all dependencies on the connected infrastructure are eliminated in one simple step.


In this way, no network connection is required to read the tag data. However, writing data to the tags requires the user to enter a password for each tag, including any other updates obtained from the back-end software and sent from the back-end. "All of this is sent to the user's mobile device as an" asynchronous program "and is mostly done during the 30-45 minute travel time before the train arrives." So when writing data to the tag, the connection was not Crucial, but it is essential before that.


Since there is no need to send the cabin ID to the back end through a network connection, maintenance personnel can read the ID of a specific vehicle and update the status of the maintenance service directly on the RFID tag, even if no network is currently available. This is an important feature, Mehta said, because network connectivity can become an issue in some parts of India.


When the connection is available, the system will automatically download the relevant information in the background. This allows staff and managers to view maintenance and other data for each carriage to identify when preventive maintenance or repairs are needed. The entire infrastructure of fixed readers can be centrally managed.


Indian Railways plans to test fixed reader solutions at selected 15 stations over the next two years before rolling out the technology to train lines. "The size of Indian Railways is large, so the solution requires multiple suppliers to provide them over a period of time. Indian Railways wants to avoid relying on only one or two suppliers. Supplier neutrality is key," Mehta said. It's about $ 1.50 each. Indian Railways has created and completed an approved supplier list, and these companies must submit tags for type testing. Upon successful removal of the test, the label company will be approved as a supplier.


In order to ensure that suppliers comply with GS1 international technical standards such as GIAI-202, Indian Railways has created a system through which the supplier can verify compliance with these standards. This verification process is currently applicable to tags and portable readers, while verification methods for stationary readers are still being developed. Indian Railways' goal is to enable RFID technology to be applied to all of its 350,000 rail cars and private locomotives, with an estimated increase of about 15,000 cars per year.


The project is a collaboration between CRIS, GS1 India and several private companies. So far, RFID tags have been deployed in 23,000 freight cars and 1200 passenger cars, and a total of 3,500 fixed readers are currently planned to be installed using the GS1 low-level reader protocol. By 2021, Indian Railways is expected to label all of its 350,000 cars.

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