IBM figures rail transit is going to get faster and cleaner

High speed rail transit is happening in many lands. IBM is part of the action.
Written by Harry Fuller, Contributor

I recently spoke with IBM's Ken Donnelly, the company's world-wide industry leader for transportation. IBM is busily working with major rail systems all over the globe: China, India, Taiwan, South Africa, Brazil, even in the U.S. IBM's smart transit services are suited for metro area rail lines and bus lines as well. IBM's system offers asset management, real-time monitoring of conditions of trains, signals and rails.

It's exciting to hear about the state-of-engineering rail lines. Taiwan's new end-to-end system transects the island on a north/south axis. It can travel at 300 KM per hour. With thirty minutes for stops the train goes end to end in Taiwan in 90 minutes. And their on time record: over 99%.

What's on-time in Taiwanese? Here in the willy-nilly world of U.S. rail a train within two or even three minutes of its scheduled time is considered "on time." However, in Taiwan the leeway is exactly six SECONDS.

Taiwan high speed train. Courtesy IBM.

The IBM management system used on the Taiwan high-speed rail system monitors the cars, the rails, the signal system and measures the crucial vibration effects along the route. Taiwan, like California, is prone to earthquakes which can threaten rail system safety.

Speaking of California, it is estimated a north-south high speed rail system there will cost over $50 billion. The current stimulus plan has eight billion to spread around the U.S. Meanwhile, the Chinese government is going to spend a quarter of a trillion dollars on their high speed rail system. Donnelly says the technology for high speed rail now exists, and like the highway system the U.S. began building in the 1950s, high speed rail will bring great economic rewards if it is built.

Most large nations are investing heavily in rail services. Russia. India. In Brazil they're preparing for the summer Olympics in 2016. They hope to have a high speed rail service connecting Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro when the Olympics come to town. Earlier I blogged about the new consortium doing rail research and planning, in a center based in China.

All the new technology of high-speed rail is electric-powered, said Donnelly. In many areas railroads run their own power-generation plants and electricity is carried on overhead lines or ground-level third rails. The trains, rails, bridges, signals are all metered and data is constantly fed into the IBM management system that then sechedules maintenance and replacement, measures wear on parts, watches for failures of equipment and manages the necessary invrestory of new parts. Donnelly said the efficiency of rail systems is crucial if they are going to attract and maintain heavy daily use or replace air travel for medium distance travel. In Taiwan you can go 300 KM in 90 minutes, faster than you can get checked onto an airplane in most airports. At that level of service, you take the train and avoid the plane. Trains are far more fuel-efficient than trucks, cars, planes.

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