FRA administrator urges rail community to embrace autonomous inspection as a 'new tool'

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Ron Batory, Federal Railroad Administration administrator
TRAINS: David Lassen
CORONADO, Calif. — Ron Batory, head of the Federal Railroad Administration, was one of the final-day speakers at the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Conference that concluded Wednesday.

At the beginning of his talk, he said wanted to leave time for questions from the audience.

As it turned out, he left time for just one — mostly because he had a lot to say about that one.

Asked for his thoughts about autonomous track inspections, Batory’s answer consumed more than eight minutes. He said the FRA had solicited Class I railroads to participate in pilot programs that would share the resulting data with the agency.

“It will ultimately reduce the risk and enhance the safety,” he said, “and might require less physical inspection as far as frequency, but will still require physical inspections to confirm and fix. …

“We’re going to find ourselves with a safer track structure where those vehicles operate, over the term that they operate, than what we had when it was strictly eye inspection.”

He offered a hypothetical example of two track inspectors covering 10 miles in a hi-rail vehicle.

“Let’s keep it simple,” he said, “and say we come up with 10 defects between the two of us. That autonomous track inspection vehicle that comes behind us? I’m making these numbers up, but it may come up with 40 or 50 various weaknesses, as well as defects.

“So you tell me, what would you rather have? The 10 that you and I found through the windshield, or the 40 or 50 that told us we better … see what we have to do to get these corrected and have a stronger physical plant for the future. I’ll take the latter every day.

“And we want to do the same insofar as signal and train control; we want to do it with mechanical inspections. There’s just so much opportunity for us to seize technology to figure out how to maintain and operate this great country’s railroad network better than what we have done in the past. That’s no disrespect to the past. It’s a new tool, and we need to embrace it and use it.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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