Explore the top benefits of big data analytics for railways

As we run full-steam into 2019, we are faced with navigating a world where big data and analytics are not only topics for conversations in the boardroom but are also impacting everyday operations – anything from train scheduling software to railroad crew transportation.

The science of big data analytics is transforming business practices globally in ways that would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago. In fact, Forbes reports that at least a third of all data will pass through the cloud by 2020. Because of this, more and more companies are turning to analytics to extract insights and strategies from data that can not only improve efficiencies for companies but also generate significant savings.

The rail freight industry is also getting on board and joining the momentum.

The reality is that big data and the railroad aren’t too far removed from each other. In fact, big data can impact every decision and every process within a railroad company, from the board room to the freight yard to what goes on in a train itself.

By harnessing the power of your big data in a cloud-based analytical platform, you can leverage data-driven insights and strategies to save costs and increase efficiencies. As a result, you create an intelligent railroad system.

The science of big data analytics: defined

What is the science of big data analytics anyway? It’s a term that you may have heard is now making the rounds of the railroad industry, but it’s not a term confined to data scientists. Let’s define it:

The science of data analytics is the practice of gaining additional insights and data from statistics, predictive analysis, machine and deep learning. The process of obtaining these insights within a cavernous data warehouse or data lake is accomplished through a cloud-based computing platform that can help you organize your data and then inform you on how to make decisions that are going to help your railroad run most efficiently.

How does big data impact the railroad industry?

It’s important to recognize the volume of data – or large data sets – that is generated by railroads, as well as what data management looks like for railways right now.

For example, let’s start with the sheer number of freight cars that U.S. railroads handle and monitor daily: a mind-boggling 1.5 million cars a day, according to leading railroad authority Lyndon Henry. Stretching out across a rail network of over 140,000 miles across North America, the amount of data produced just from these operations alone is significant.

But there’s more. Railroads manage data from scale-out infrastructure, operational data streams from IoT sensors, unstructured data from social media, and online feedback – which combined, present a complex, intimidating picture to railroad companies.

The reality is that from routing, sorting, and blocking cars, to scheduling and assigning locomotives, to smaller tasks like remote diagnostics and real-time monitoring of rail yards, every business decision and operation is facilitated by machine learning and data analytics.

The question is whether this facilitation is being optimized and is helping you work more efficiently or if it’s bogging you down in a swamp of data that seems unmanageable.

Make your data work for you

Have you heard of the concept of the ‘Internet of Trains’? It was developed by Siemens, one of the world’s premier providers of railroad infrastructure globally. The term is used to describe the harnessing of big data, sensors and predictive analytics to guarantee close to 100 percent reliability and ensure that trains are never late.

Without making big data work smart for you, you’re left with a large volume of information that you can’t harness for your own benefit. You face missed opportunities, inefficiencies that don’t go away, and cost savings that aren’t capitalized on.

You’re probably aware of these repercussions. Instead, you want solutions – and you’re not alone. With the modernization of railroads, new opportunities are opening to create what is called intelligent rail systems. Think of these as “smarter” uses of transportation networks. More recently, rail infrastructure management, train operating companies, and rail maintenance companies started storing data to monitor assets and rolling stock.

At the core of this intelligent rail system was a goal to centralize your data in one place and interpret to inform a course of action. And by using data to predict what will happen in the future, railroad companies are becoming empowered to shape what happens next.

The benefits of big data analytics, harnessed through the cloud

Over the years, CloudMoyo has worked with several large railway network solutions that address the question of how railroad companies can best utilize their big data. We’ve seen how the industry is changing and modernizing and have witnessed the benefits of advanced analytics in motion – including for leading Class 1 railroads.

Some of these benefits include savings in up to 25% of freight costs, a 5-15% improvement in asset utilization, reductions in inventory, and an improved ability to acquire capacity. Railways are better able to respond to unexpected issues like unplanned delays, urgent maintenance and accidents through big-data analytics that feed real-time information into a system constantly.

All of this is enabled under a cloud native product, empowering you to achieve faster adoption and deployment, improve service, reduce costs, and create a positive revenue impact. Plus, you differentiate yourself from your competition.

We recognized this need and have created Azure-based analytical systems that not only analyzes large rows of data, but also interprets the data for you with visually appealing Power BI dashboards. All these systems – like Crew Management, Fleet and Asset Management, and Contract Management – use big data analytics to unlock efficiencies for you and your railway company. As your partner, CloudMoyo wants you to leverage large amounts of data into business intelligence that that can inform action.

To achieve this optimization, we use services from the Microsoft Azure stack like the Data Lake and Azure Warehouse. The beauty of these services is that they allow you to not only accumulate large chunks of data, but also employ analysis to gain intelligence from them through Machine Learning.

Once this intelligence has been gleaned, we create a visually-appealing dashboard using Power BI that will translate this info in a way that can inform your decision making. Metrics in the categories, crew and locomotives, utilization ratios, and deadheads are presented to your leadership as actionable insights.

The conversation doesn’t have to end here. If you’re interested in getting started with Big Data but aren’t sure where or how to start, you can book a 5-day workshop with our experts to kick start your rail analytics journey.