By putting technology to work, freight rail is focused on the present while shaping the future, committed to keeping the American economy on track.

Technology fuels America’s freight railroads.

  • Safer than Ever

    We are living in the safest era ever for U.S. railroads thanks in part to rail technology, which allows railroads to inspect their track and equipment with greater frequency, efficiency and reliability.

  • Green Innovations

    U.S. freight railroads can, on average, move one ton of freight 479 miles per gallon of fuel, making rail the most environmentally friendly way to move freight over land.

  • Moving Efficiently

    By applying advanced software and technologies to operations, railroads move freight more efficiently and cost-effectively than ever before.

Get up close and personal with the future of freight rail.

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Take a Deeper Dive into Freight Rail Tech

Thanks to steady, substantial spending on infrastructure, equipment and technology — $100 billion over the last four years alone — America’s freight railroads move more freight more efficiently, safely and cleanly than ever before.

Positive Train Control

What is the future of freight rail technology? Positive Train Control (PTC). PTC is a set of highly advanced technologies designed to automatically slow or stop a train under certain circumstances, will address a leading factor in train accidents: human error. By December 31, 2018, first generation PTC will operate on approximately 80% of the required Class I rail network, well beyond the amount mandated by the federal government. The system will be fully active and interoperable by 2020. This technology will serve as the foundation for future innovation to enhance the safety and efficiency of the network.


Railroads are taking to the skies and mastering technologies once found only in the pages of science fiction novels. Railroads use drones to inspect bridges and other areas of their network that are difficult for employees to safely reach. Today, Class I railroads across the nation are deploying drones for a variety of safety and environmental purposes. In remote areas, drones are exploring thousands of miles of track to ensure that freight trains continue to safely traverse unforgiving terrain. Railroads also use drones to inspect bridges.

Ultrasound & Radar

Tracks, rail ties and ballast (the stone bed tracks rest on) are the foundation of the private, 140,000-mile rail network. Together, they must support 6,600-ton trains as they move across the country. Tiny flaws imperceptible to the human eye can lead to accidents, so railroads rely on technology, such as ultrasound and radar, to look deep inside a track. Radar allows employees to peer into a track while ground-penetrating electromagnetic radar detects any abnormalities in ballast. Railroads use this data to proactively schedule preventive maintenance, helping to keep small issues from becoming big problems. Thanks in large part to technologies such as these, mainline track-caused accidents have dropped 54% since 2008

Machine Visioning

Can you imagine taking thousands of images in one second? That’s something railroads do every day with trackside machine visioning technology, which captures 50,000 images per second of nearly every component on a passing train. Specialized software analyzes the images in real-time and alerts rail personnel to anomalies that require attention.

Recently a team of researchers at the Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI), a technology subsidiary of AAR, developed an advanced machine visioning system that can inspect ballast, the rock foundation tracks sit on. The current process is slow and labor-intensive, but with this new iteration of machine visioning, railroads will be able to perform evaluations quicker and identify potential problems sooner.

Data Analytics

Using a combination of smart sensors, industry-wide data sharing and advanced analytics software, railroads monitor the health of the network and equipment in real-time. For example, thousands of smart sensors, known as wayside detectors, positioned along rail track throughout the country, monitor the integrity of railcars as they move at up to 60 MPH. Using a host of technologies, such as infrared and X-ray, the sensors assess the health of bearings, axles, wheels, springs and other equipment components in real-time. This information allows railroads to react quickly, preventing bigger repairs and even accidents.

Preventive maintenance also allows railroads to schedule repairs and fixes at optimal times and places, so trains stay as close to schedule as possible. And with fewer breakdowns, more trains are out on the tracks delivering goods and raw materials, instead of in the rail yard waiting for repair.

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