A theme cutting across virtually all the R&D program elements is the use of sensors, computers, and digital communications to collect, process, and disseminate information to improve the safety, security, and operational effectiveness of railroads. Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) for highways and mass transit are based on these technologies, as are the new air traffic control and maritime vessel tracking systems. Military services, major parcel delivery companies, pipeline operators, and police, fire, and ambulance services also use these technologies. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the railroad industry are working on the development of Intelligent Railroad Systems that would incorporate the new sensor, computer, and digital communications technologies into train control, braking systems, grade crossings, and defect detection, and into planning and scheduling systems as well.
The new Intelligent Railroad Systems are key to making railroad operations - freight, intercity passenger, and commuter - safer and more secure, reducing delays, reducing costs, raising effective capacity, improving customer satisfaction, improving energy utilization, reducing emissions, and becoming more economically viable. The systems can be implemented as independent systems, in which case their benefits will be limited, or they can be implemented as integrated systems, in which case the benefits will be compounded. FRA, through its R&D program elements, is encouraging the railroad industry to adopt the integrated approach when implementing these systems.