Expert Corner Insights

Edition #1

Railroads are Implementing New Railcar Inspection Technology ... Is this a Moving Target for Railcar Owners and Users?

The Railroad Technology Initiatives

Over the past few years the Railroads, under AAR direction, have begun a phased implementation of new railcar inspection programs known as Advanced Technology Safety Initiatives (ATSI). These initiatives are leveraging technology tools and processes to improve railcar safety with predicative systems while limiting the need to have people directly conduct the assessments. While these new initiatives have admirable goals related to safety and addressing increased rail capacity demands, they need to be better understood as they can significantly impact the owners and users of the railcars with regard to maintenance and repair costs and railcar in-service time. 


At Chicago Freight Car, we have been proactive in understanding the impact and putting in place our own initiatives that not only support improved safety, but contain costs and ensure our railcars remain in consistent service to our customers as they need them. The following summarizes phase one of the ATSI initiatives and actions we are taking related to this initiative. We will provide updates and information regarding subsequent phases in our next edition of “Expert Corner.”

Phase one of ATSI

Wheel Impact Load Detector (WILD): The AAR introduced the WILD program during the first phase of ATSI on October 1, 2004. This entails collecting and using data from detectors, positioned along the railroad, to monitor the health of railcar wheels.


A WILD measures the force a wheel exerts on the rail as it travels over a section of track equipped with a strain gauge, resulting in a KIP reading (a KIP is a unit of weight equal to 1,000 lbs.). The average force exerted on a loaded car traveling on rail is approximately 40 KIPS per wheel, which includes static and dynamic forces. As KIP readings increase, there is increased stress on the railcar running gear and rails.


At present, there are four levels of alert that require attention to the wheel condition. A reading over 139 KIPs is the highest level or “final alert” which requires the car to be pulled out of service to change out the wheel set. Readings from 90 to 139 KIPs (“AAR Condemnable”) call for removal of the wheel set at railroad repair tracks. Readings from 80 to 90KIPs (“Opportunistic Repair”) are required to have the wheel set removed when a car is shopped for some other service reason in an effort to prevent another shopping of the car as the wheel continues to deteriorate. Between 65 & 75 KIPs (“Window of Opportunity”), an alert is provided to allow a railcar owner/ operator to proactively assess and address the wheel condition.


The Impact of WILD on Railcar Owners/ Operator
The data and alerts associated with the WILD program have clearly provided the industry more information to proactively assess and respond to wheel condition. The program, however, does not provide insight into how the wheel may have developed the deteriorated condition (e.g. slide flats caused by brakes applied too quickly) nor if a wheel could be reconditioned. This is a key issue in light of the major increase in wheel change outs with WILD program implementation. Note in the chart below the rise in relative percent repair bills for 36 inch wheel (standard railcar size) as compared with other repair categories. The combination of required wheel change outs and wheel price increases (up 50% over the last several years) has created a significant financial impact for railcar owners/ operators.

Source: AAR

Proactive Management of Impact of WILD…
Chicago Freight Car has pursued a number of initiatives on this issue…
  • Collecting and assessing the alert data related to our fleet.
  • Communicating to the AAR through the Equipment Health Management System (EHMS) wheel/ equipment maintenance to support industry wide analysis of pertinent data.
  • Proactively installing “sintered brake shoes” on our new and existing railcars to prolong the life of the wheel and maintain high railcar in-service time.
This sintered brake shoe is a unique wheel “tread” conditioning shoe approved by the AAR. It, in effect, polishes the tread back to a normal condition as the brake is operated on the car. The result is that the wheel, in most cases, returns to providing a normal KIP reading. This has saved costs associated with an early wheel change outs and the unnecessary shopping of the car as well as helps keep the car available for our customer’s rail transportation.
We appreciate the communication and collaboration we have with our customers on programs to address changes that are occurring in the rail transportation industry. In “Expert Corner” we seek to provide up to date insights and information that is helpful to you. Please provide any feedback as well as suggestions for topics important to you.

Dennis Weed
Chief Mechanical Officer