How to Identify and Minimize the Hidden Costs of Asset Inventory

Many transit agencies in the US are scrambling to identify and quantify the state of good repair for infrastructure assets like rail, turnouts, switches, frogs, roadbed, interlockings, grade crossings, catenary poles and wire, and the dozens of additional capital assets utilized in operating a railroad today. Typically, each category of assets has an inspection and maintenance department overseeing the health and good repair of the asset type. But, there’s a catch in adopting this approach: the hidden costs. We’ll discuss few of these hidden costs in this approach and then share a solution to this challenge.

Historically it made sense for each department to set up its own approach to identifying assets, retaining key information regarding the asset life and any significant maintenance events that may have occurred in the history of the asset.  Most departments have a customized approach to meeting the inspection schedules mandated by the federal government, and the data is retained (on paper) in case an FRA inspector requests to see proof of maintenance or inspection. This approach to asset inventory management does not support the dynamic demands of ensuring ‘state of good repair’ due to the deterring hidden costs described below.

Hidden Costs of Retaining the Legacy Inspection and Maintenance Regimes

Cost of Digital Processing on Legacy Data

Legacy systems don’t create digital information for future machine analytics processing. The legacy information is typically paper or spreadsheet-based, with little to no concern about actively using this data in the future. If a company wants to use this data for analytics, they’d incur cost to digitize the data in order to make it suitable for machine analytics.

Cost of Extracting Siloed Data

Legacy information is siloed in the department’s filing system, rarely to be shared with other internal departments. The hidden cost here is the loss of efficiency created when data is not analyzed in context or consideration of peer department data. Problems are left to finger pointing and repairs are incomplete, only to have to be reworked in the future.

Cost of Managing Large Volume of Data (on Paper!)

The sheer volume of information siloed in rail operations is daunting to manage at the least. The untold cost of assigning a staff member (or team of members) to begin the arduous process of identifying, inventorying, and measuring the condition of each asset is high. This is especially true if the team members are diverted from regular inspection/maintenance tasks in order to meet the government mandated requirement.

Cost of Manual Inventory Inspection

The largest hidden cost is the decision to pare down assets of interest due to the laborious, manual inventory process. So the question becomes what equipment, device, or component shall not be inventoried and monitored as state of good repair practice dictates? There is no way that we could know today the future importance of monitoring a specific asset. But for sure, to not inventory an asset because it would be hard to do is not a smart way to select assets requiring inventory and monitoring.

We’ve a possible solution to minimize these hidden costs that’s already being implemented in Europe. The solution is to capture all assets on high resolution video by running an equipped track vehicle across the infrastructure to be inventoried. The high-res video is post-processed using automated machine recognition of assets, and each identified asset is marked with the unique identification (provided by the rail operator), as well as its geospatial coordinates, its milepost location, and its offset from the track. In other words, every asset on the rail infrastructure is captured, catalogued, and placed on a map; creating a single unique instance of each asset the railroad desires to collect.

Following are the advantages of this approach:

  • Digitized Inventory Mapping

No transit employees are engaged to create the dynamically mapped inventory. The worker remains focused on tasks required to keeping the public safe.

  • Visual Data with Diverse Usages

The video collection service runs at normal track speed, usually on a revenue train. The post-processing of the images requires a few weeks of machine crunching, then a day or two for manual cleanup of the information. The deliverable to the end user is a fully catalogued inventory of every rail infrastructure asset, documented with high resolution video. The video alone is valuable in that it can also be leveraged for driver training, signal sighting exercises, and for project planning not requiring a field visit.

  • High Quality Data Collection and Sharing

The data collected during the video capture ensures the consistency of the data. This allows for data sharing among peer departments, giving engineering personnel the full view of issues traditionally crossing multiple disciplines. The ability to crush data silos is inherent in video-mapping of physical assets.

Video capturing as a means of data collection and asset inventory management is one of the most innovative technologies that railroads can leverage for safer, faster, and cost-efficient rail operations. At TekTracking, we are committed to solve the challenges faced by railroad companies with the use of innovative technologies. You can contact our experts to know more about these and other technology solutions we are bringing to North American rail industry.

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