Everyone wants to imagine the future of trains as high-speed bullet trains that can take you from one U.S. coast to another quickly. However, the country’s currently aging railroads provide a stark contrast to the future many of us hope for. Before we have any hope of high-speed trains, the current infrastructure needs to receive an update to its maintenance policies.
Unfortunately, rail funding isn’t enough to maintain and update the current system. So how can we move forward in this industry? Let’s take a look at where railways currently stand, what issues it’s dealing with, and what we can do about them to see the future of high-speed systems become a reality.
The State of America’s Railways
Aging railways pose several safety hazards across the United States. Outdated rails are subject to more derailments, which at best can lead to damaged goods.
One such derailment lead to a severe fire when a train shipping crude oil exploded near the Mississippi River. Many of the parts that support the rail itself haven’t been updated for over 100 years. Some of these parts have rotted away and are missing altogether due to railway age.
Who Tracks Railroad Maintenance?
Railroad maintenance is currently being tracked by private rail companies. The government has put the responsibility of maintaining the nation’s track onto the company who owns that railroad.
However, recent cargo trends require the current state of rails to change in order to keep people and goods safe. Federal forecasts estimate a 40% increase in freight shipments in the next 20 years.
How Existing Railway Infrastructure is Maintained
Despite the bleak outlook, railroad companies are working to change how they currently maintain their assets. The stark increase in extreme weather events has shown railway companies that they need to make their current infrastructure more resilient.
These companies have implemented new technologies to help maintain their rails. Innovations include things like collecting data on infrastructure conditions in order to see what repairs need to happen on what kind of timetable. Track geometry cars will also travel over railroads and scan the health of the assets. This information, when paired with maintenance tracking software, will help private companies determine railroad maintenance needs throughout the year.
Lowering the Cost of Railroad Maintenance
Right now, there isn’t enough funding to keep up with current maintenance needs. Fortunately, preventative maintenance is a smart way railway companies can save money on updating their rail systems.
Checking railways before they break and lead to derailment will save thousands of dollars in damaged trains. This kind of preventative maintenance keeps trains at top performance and helps them deliver on time. It also helps passengers and workers alike stay safe, which can also be a great cost-saving measure.
Preparing for the Railroads of the Future
With an expected increase in rail freight on the horizon, the government is looking for ways to take advantage of the existing infrastructure. Highway travel is becoming more cumbersome as roads get increasingly more gridlocked, and air travel is riddled with delays and security threats.
The current way of traveling by rail is incredibly inefficient. Cargo and passenger trains are rarely on time and are often subject to bottlenecks. Trains can’t go faster than 79 mph because of outdated infrastructure.
New Rails for High-Speed Maglev Trains
One of the most promising answers to outdated rail infrastructure is Maglev technology. Maglev is short for magnetic levitation. These types of trains work by placing strong opposing magnets in the rail that keeps the train floating just a tiny bit in the air. This magnetic force is also used to propel it forward.
This technology cuts down on wear and tear and makes travel much faster. These trains can get up to 250 mph, which would greatly speed up ground travel. One of the greatest benefits of maglev trains is that they don’t require an engine. Instead, they rely on the magnetic field that comes from embedded electrical coils in the attached track and wall.
Current railway infrastructure needs to be updated before it can stand up to the upcoming demand of newer, faster train transportation and shipping. Through tracking maintenance requirements, railroad companies can save thousands of dollars necessary for updating the technology to meet the needs of the 21st century.
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