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Every day, Norfolk Southern utilizes an interactive network of sensors, smart devices, and communication systems to collect and transmit data in real-time across our 19,500-mile rail network. These advanced technologies provide high-level visibility into rail operations, enabling NS to monitor conditions, predict maintenance needs, and prevent potential issues from occurring. 

Some of these devices are fixed, positioned alongside the railroad tracks to monitor train movement and infrastructure conditions. Other tools are designed to operate on the move.

Prior to the 1980s, train crew members rode in the caboose car at the end of each train to observe defects, operate track switches, monitor the air brake system and train movement, and apply brakes in an emergency. The caboose has since been replaced with more sophisticated, automated technologies that work together to enhance the safety, reliability, and efficiency of daily operations. 

Several of the caboose’s functions now are performed via end-of-train telemetry, through a high-tech electronic device mounted on the rear of a freight train in lieu of a caboose. This portable end-of-train device is equipped with GPS, an event recorder, and other software that tracks the status, health, and history of the equipment and monitors the train’s brake-pipe pressure. The device transmits this information to the locomotive cab, where equipment receives, decodes, and displays the EOT data.

With this information, the locomotive engineer can monitor and control the train’s braking system and other conditions essential to safe operation. But the flow of information is not a one-way street. Using the EOT device’s two-way telemetry system, the engineer also can communicate back to the end of the train, signaling the EOT device to apply brakes from the rear of the train in an emergency.

Looking to the future, the data-collection and communication abilities of EOT devices have the potential to unlock even more technological possibility. To that end, NS is hard at work exploring opportunities to leverage and integrate EOT data and technology into the larger PTC network, further increasing network visibility and connectivity. The result: safer, more efficient operations on our continually reimagined railroad.