Thursday, September 24, 2015

ACI and AEI: Automatic (Car|Equipment) Identification and RFID

I came across a static display of a caboose that had an ACI plate. I can remember that it took several years for most of the freight cars to get them, and then not too many years later the industry abandoned the technology because the labels got too dirty to read! icrr.net indicates the program started in 1967 and was terminated in 1978. In cs.trains.com a comment by BaltACD explains that heat also rendered the labels unusable --- "labels were routinely burned off on gons used in hot slab loading as well as hoppers that went through the thaw sheds for winter time coal dumping."

RFID (Radio-Frequency IDentification) technology allowed the railroad industry to try again to automate identification. RFID technology has been in development for decades to allow many industries --- freight trucks/containers, retail, libraries, healthcare --- to automate inventory (and pets) tracking. An RFID Tag is mounted on each object to be tracked, and readers are installed at strategic locations. For example, our library now has readers that you must walk through at each of the exists as well as to checkout stacks of books. An important aspect of the tags is that they get the power they need to respond from the beam the reader sends to communicate with the tag. The development of the technology keeps shrinking and reducing the cost of the tags so that they can be more ubiquitous. By the early 1990s, the industry could afford to put a 3 by 10 inch tag on each freight car, container, locomotive, MoW vehicle, etc. In this application, not having a battery was an issue of maintenance rather than size or cost. Since the end of 1994, all items are to be tagged. That includes over 1.2 million cars and 22,000 locomotives. (Trains) The tags are supposed to be on the left end of each side. As an aside, the RFID industry's goal is to make the tags cheap enough to replace the UPC Bar Code. That is, all items in all stores can be read by RFID scanners. Note that scanners can be used for inventory counting as well as checkout.

I don't remember seeing tags on modern equipment so I looked at some of the pictures I took of a mixed freight on April 27, 2015. At first, it was hard to find them. But then it became rather easy to find them. I added a red rectangle around the tags.






(For future reference, a link to freight car history.)

Update:
Mark Hinsdale posted
Photo is from July 1977, at Dolton.
Thomas Kidd  MP 3232 is Northbound and the other is Southbound.Jim Sinclair Mark, not only is this a great capture with lots of human interest, you also captured the ACI scanner, which is seldom seen in older images.

Steve Forrest posted
The "Memphis Big Boy" derrick based out of Johnston Yard in Memphis back in Oct 1973. Kodachrome by Steve Forrest.
Dennis DeBruler That is the best preserved ACI marking that I have seen.
Digitally Zoomed




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