Since the 1990’s railroads across the United States have turned to electronic means of maintaining track inspection records. Railroad Software’s own Vice President of Business Development, Mr. Tim Elsberry, utilized these early tools and has seen the industry develop new tools rapidly in promoting accessibility, functionality, and usability. Progressive Railroading wrote a piece on the tools available from eight suppliers back in 2011. Some of those companies and tools remain in place to this day while other new suppliers have jumped into the space and brought innovative approaches and ideas to push the industry forward.
When understanding what makes a good track inspection software, it is important to define what the end users desire to get out of the system. Based upon interactions with the industry and the experiences of Railroad Software’s own members with systems, the key takeaway is the accessibility of the data so that decisions that promote safety and longevity of rail assets can be made consistently, thereby saving the railroad time, energy, and money. Many of the systems in the past struggled with the accessibility of data. The numerous pages and queries users had to jump through served to waste more time.
Many of today’s applications utilize web-based systems allowing both inspectors and managers to access important data while being out of the office or even in the field. This is a vast improvement over former practices of having only a couple of employees that had the expertise to access the data and having to be confined to one terminal in the office to do so. Furthermore, those employees would need to sort, correlate, interpret and distribute the inspection data. A web-based application that can generate notifications based upon important criteria greatly reduces the time that was formerly spent in accessing, reviewing and distributing inspection findings while also reducing the opportunity for error or oversight.
In promoting accessibility, two other aspects that make up a good track inspection system come into play. Functionality is one of these key components and it must deliver for users to get the most out of a system. The key functions of a track inspection system are the ability to create track inspections, conduct inspections, and review track inspection records. Additionally, having the ability to monitor defects over time is an important functionality of any system. As the rail assets age, the number of work orders, part changes, and entire capital projects on track assets increase.
Most of the earlier systems focused only on track defects and there really wasn’t any scheduling and assignment functionality. Typically, you were restricted to adding new defects or modifying existing ones. In the example at the top of the blog post, each selection would take you through multiple pages.
In later years these additional functions were added as well as work order and parts management. Having a mature track inspection system not only simplifies data entry and reporting but it is an integral part of operational and capital budget planning for track and maintenance of way operations.
The last key component in completing a great balanced track inspection system is usability. Finding a solution that is not only easily accessible and contains the key functionality that is required but also puts a user friendly interface in front of the user is arguably just as important as the other two components. Systems from the 1990’s delivered functionality, they might have delivered accessibility, but from a user interface perspective, this has been one component that has seen the most change since the software was first adopted. User friendly track inspection software is constantly evolving and as the industry adopts software more to solve issues done by paper, this component becomes more and more crucial to implementing across all railroads. Railroads that currently do not maintain asset and inspection records digitally in one space will run into the issue of not being able to review live information in real time and report on the data. By having a system that is easy to navigate and interact with users are quickly able to identify key information on track segments, rail defects, and visualize the inspection cycles to ensure compliance.
Early systems circa 1990’s, required specialized expertise in many of the first database applications in order to extract and import the data into a usable form for the track inspector and the management team.
The front-ends required track inspectors to traverse multiple screens in order to add or update a defect. This proved to be a challenge at the time due to most track inspectors having never utilized a computer before. This resulted in some apprehension and need for specific training.
Some systems today claim to be an “all-in-one” solution but be careful as it may result in a loss of the specialized functionality exclusively built for track and maintenance of way asset management.
The history of track inspection software solutions includes some great innovations and added functionalities that promote safety and efficiency within track departments. Railroad Software has made it a priority to deliver a solution that hits each of these three major components. TrackAsset is a map-based asset and inspection management system that is used to conduct track inspections and other maintenance of way asset information and inspections. In terms of accessibility, it is viewable via a web browser. Functionality includes the ability to schedule, assign and conduct inspections, review inspections records, update asset information, log track geometry and linearization information, and create and close out work orders. For usability, TrackAsset was designed specifically for end users to have a straightforward and user friendly interface to log into daily to carry out the necessary inspection work. As the industry continues to adopt new software services and improve on current solutions, take a look at Railroad Software’s TrackAsset. A free demo and quote for any railroad is only a few clicks away.
Located in Cumming, GA, Railroad Software has provided personalized service from rail experts since 2012. For more information about Railroad Software and its products, visit our RTMS, TrackAsset, and TrackHOS pages. To learn more about our team, click here.