By Shelley Solheim  |  Posted 2004-07-19 Print this article Print

-Range Bluetooth"> The UP solution comprises Symbols 8100 ruggedized handheld computers, which are equipped with Bluetooth CompactFlash cards and LinksPoint Bluetooth GPS receivers.

Tie spotters now use the GPS receivers to mark the locations of bad ties. Once that data is captured, it is automatically transmitted to the handhelds via Bluetooth wireless short-range technology.

Because the precise location for bad ties is now available, the process of determining target locations for unloading replacement ties is much easier and far more accurate, said UPs Holder.

Typically, a GPS point is marked when a tie-spotter team counts its 15th bad tie. The locomotive carrying replacement ties arrives and, via crane, unloads 15-tie bundles. UP fieldworkers on the ground then replace the ties in the locations marked with GPS.

In addition to location information, the handhelds allow spotters to download project information at the work site and answer questions about the project in the field, said Holder.

Its an important aspect, considering there is no formal science to inspecting ties, Holder said. "What you might think is a bad tie, I may not," he said.

Generally, however, spotters are on the lookout for signs of plate cutting, tie deterioration or hollow ties, he said.

Before the mobile system was implemented, bad ties were marked for replacement with flags or paint, said Holder. "Now the system automatically does that; it takes a GPS reading," he said.

Siemens claims it has made a wireless tracking breakthrough with a triband module that integrates GPS with two other systems. Click here to read more. From start to finish, it took LinksPoint about four months to implement the solution systemwide, Holder said.

"First, we identified small groups of three or four people to implement the system for about four to six weeks to test for issues or problems," Holder said.

UP experienced minor software problems, but they were quickly rectified, Holder said. In addition to the mobile system, UP worked with Symbol to develop a special "ticker" to help tie spotters count bad ties, which resulted in a couple of months of extra development time for Symbol.

But that kind of support left UP and Holder with a positive feeling.

"Symbol even had special case manufacturers come in to develop cases for the workers," Holder said. "And LinksPoint developed special drivers because of the Bluetooth."

The mobile system is saving UP time and money and improving safety.

And as for the tie spotters, at the end of their 12-mile hikes, the whistle blows. "Now, when they get off the track, theyre done for the day," Holder said.

The solution has been so successful that the railroad is now exploring other ways to make use of the technology. For example, Holder is looking for the company that unloads the ties to implement a weight-based sensor on its cranes that will automatically drop ties 15 at a time, without the ties having to be bundled first. UP currently spends several million dollars a year just to have its ties bundled with heavy metal banding, said Holder.

The added savings would make any old hand proud.

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