Three components of a connected rail eco-system

Three components of a connected rail eco-system

With 200 billion Internet of Things (IoT) objects humankind has today1, connectivity is embedded at every aspect of our lives. When it comes to connectivity within the transportation sector, highway vehicles such as cars, trucks and busses get the spotlight; yet one would think whether trains would be a better candidate to adopt connected solutions given some aspects of operating trains is less sophisticated.

For instance, operating an individual train, in comparison to operating highway vehicles, features less variables in terms of other moving vehicles on the tracks and different routes to take. Trains move on set tracks and in one direction, often without a significant number of intersections. Meanwhile, creating a connected rail eco-system goes beyond the individual trains. In this article, you can find the key components of a connected rail eco-system, and what the future relies on in each of these.

No. 1: Asset-level connectivity; connected locomotives

While the physical look of locomotives has not drastically changed over the last decade, what is beneath that initial look has been constantly changing. Today’s modern locomotives feature hundreds of sensors; these sensors do a variety of tasks ranging from tracking internal attributes such as level of consumables, to external attributes such as wind speed and direction. 

Moreover, many of these connected solutions go beyond just the reactive monitoring. For instance, PrevenTech® Rail, the newest remote engine monitoring solution by Cummins, delivers proactive recommendations that allow customers to increase equipment availability, improve safety, and enhance operational efficiency. 

The future of asset-level connectivity relies heavily on integrating stronger artificial intelligence and machine learning into the already existing network of sensors. This integration will make each locomotive capable of predicting future issues, then execute over-the-air updates or schedule needed preventative maintenance. 

Three components of a connected rail eco-system

No 2: System-level connectivity; connected operations

At the system-level, the focus moves from individual components such as locomotives and railcars to managing the complete rail network and the fleet, whether it is freight or passenger focused. This includes better utilization of rail equipment through scheduling and integrating connectivity established through different elements of the network such as locomotives, stations and tracks.

The future of system-level connectivity is on the ability to harness the data each connected equipment brings on to maximize the efficiencies and safety while lowering costs. For instance, the sensors on a station could track the number of passengers waiting, and communicates this information to the upcoming train. Meanwhile, a third sensor located in between the inbound train and the station could communicate a weather event, requiring the station to dispatch another train. In this example, data from three different assets can be harnessed in real-time. The key enabler for this to work efficiently will be the networking technologies that can harness the data collected, and the computing capabilities that can process the data to create actionable recommendations.

No. 3: Intermodal connectivity; connected modes of transportation

Whether it is passenger or freight focused, rail transportation often is coupled with other transportation modes. Someone might need to take the bus to go to the train station, or containers carried by trains to a depot may require trucks to carry them to their next stop.

Intermodal connectivity entails the integration of adjacent non-rail transportation networks into the connected operations of a rail network. Here’s the good news; much of this non-rail network (air, marine and on-highway based) have also advanced in building their own connected operations within their systems.

The future of intermodal connectivity will be not only technology driven, but also collaboration driven. Unlike the asset and system-level connectivity, rail operators will get out of the boundaries of their businesses and build deeper collaborations with other transportation companies to bring intermodal connectivity to life.

The future of rail is connected, and a combination of emerging technologies, skills and partnerships lay the path to this connected future. The good news for rail operators is the presence of partners they can collaborate with, such as Cummins Inc. that can extrapolate connectivity learnings from many other transportation markets into the rail sector.

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References: 1 Intel. (n.d.). A Guide to Internet of Things [Infographic]. Retrieved from

Aytek Yuksel - Cummins Inc

Aytek Yuksel

Aytek Yuksel is the Content Marketing Leader for Cummins Inc., with a focus on Power Systems markets. Aytek joined the Company in 2008. Since then, he has worked in several marketing roles and now brings you the learnings from our key markets ranging from industrial to residential markets. Aytek lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and two kids.

Learn to overcome power failure with successful generator paralleling for emergency power systems

The centralized power grid may fail but your standby power system should not. With the changing climate and an outdated centralized power grid, the importance of emergency power systems continues to grow. This in turn has increased the need for a highly reliable standby power systems solution. 

Join Cummins Power Generation’s free upcoming webcast with Consulting-Specifying Engineer on February 17th for a comprehensive overview of fundamental control features needed to parallel generator sets together and with the electrical grid. Traditional switchgear paralleling is reviewed and compared with the integrated paralleling controls that use distributed logic architecture to help you specify a reliable paralleling system. This course can be attributed to continuous learning credits as attendees qualify for a Certificate of Completion.

This informative seminar will be led by our Global Technical Advisor, Hassan Obeid. Hassan has been with Cummins since 2007 in a variety of roles encompassing power systems design engineering, project engineering and application engineering. His passion for solving a wide range of complex technical problems led him to design several crucial power systems components such as switchgears, controls, paralleling, transfer switches, generator sets and digital solutions for a variety of power system applications. 


Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Cummins Partners with Great Minds in STEM to Provide Scholarships and Support

Cummins Great Minds in STEM - 2021 Scholarships

For more than a decade, Cummins has partnered with Great Minds in STEM™ (GMiS) to provide scholarships that support Hispanic students seeking STEM-related degrees in U.S. colleges, helping to close financial gaps so they can focus on their future. This year’s Cummins Scholarship recipients were recognized during the organization’s virtual conference, held last month, along with more than 80 other outstanding STEM Scholars from around the country. 

Great Minds in STEM - Cummins Scholars
This year's GMiS Cummins Scholarship recipients were recognized during the organization's virtual conference.

"College education costs keep rising year over year, and for some students, this has made the dream of pursuing higher education unattainable,” said Erika Murguia, Data Science and Innovation Director, Quality Analytics, Cummins. "Through our participation with GMiS, Cummins aspires to support and attract top STEM talent that can bring innovation, diverse experiences and insights to our company." 

In order to be eligible for the Cummins Scholarship in conjunction with the GMIS Scholarship Program, students have to exhibit academic achievements, leadership and involvement in campus and/or community activities. They must be enrolled in a STEM degree and have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Each Cummins Scholar received $5,000 and the opportunity to interview with Cummins for an internship or co-op position during 2022.

During this year’s GMiS conference, Cummins Supplier Quality Manager Jesus Escobar was honored with The Luminary Spotlight Award, an honor for those who have made significant contributions to the Hispanic technical community as leaders and role models in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Read more: GMiS Luminary Spotlight: Jesus Escobar of Cummins Inc. - Great Minds in STEM

Cummins also participated in and sponsored several events at the conference including [email protected] in Computing, Speed Networking, College Bowl, a hackathon, a webinar entitled "Things Your Parents Didn’t Tell You," and a virtual career fair.

Great Minds in STEM™ is the gateway for Hispanics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Established in 1989, as HENAAC, Great Minds in STEM focuses on STEM educational awareness programs for students from kindergarten to career. Cummins has been partnering with Great Minds in STEM for nearly a decade.

Read more: GMiS scholarships - Three GMiS 2021 Scholars awarded Cummins scholarships - Great Minds in STEM

Catherine Morgenstern - Cummins Inc.

Catherine Morgenstern

Catherine Morgenstern is a Brand Journalist for Cummins, covering topics such as alternative propulsion, digitalization, manufacturing innovation, autonomy, sustainability, and workplace trends. She has more than 20 years of experience in corporate communications, holding leadership positions most recently within the Industrial Capital Goods sector.

Catherine began her career as a marketing writer for a biotechnology company, where she learned to take complicated and highly technical information and make it accessible to everyone. She believes the concept of “storytelling” is more than a trendy buzzword and loves to find ways for her readers to make personal connections to her subjects. Catherine has a passion for technology and innovation and how its intersection can make an impact in all our lives.

Catherine recently moved back to her hometown in the Hudson Valley, New York after a several decades in Los Angeles and Chicago. She is a graduate of UCLA and enjoys gardening and spending time with her husband and three children.

What is the hydrogen rainbow?

Perhaps you’ve heard of blue hydrogen, green hydrogen, or even pink hydrogen, but what do these multi-hued descriptors actually mean? The colors that make up the hydrogen rainbow tell us a lot about how each specific kind of hydrogen is produced and the effects it can have on our planet.

Hydrogen might be the most abundant element in the universe, but it doesn’t exist on its own. Instead, it is produced through a number of processes that each yield different types of energy, which come with their own sets of benefits, byproducts and uses. The production method is what gives each kind of hydrogen its colorful moniker — though there is no universal naming convention, so definitions can change over time and vary between countries.

Let’s break down the current hydrogen color code and take a look at how one hue of hydrogen, in particular, is leading scientists and manufacturers to the pot of gold — a zero-emission future — at the end of the hydrogen rainbow.

Grey hydrogen

Grey hydrogen is created from natural gas, most commonly methane, through a process called steam methane reformation. While it is currently the most common form of hydrogen production, the greenhouse gases made in the process aren’t captured. 

Blue hydrogen

Blue hydrogen relies on the conventional process of steam methane reforming, but the carbon dioxide produced as a byproduct is captured and sequestered underground.  It is a source of clean hydrogen with a low carbon content. 

Turquoise hydrogen

One of the newer colors to join the hydrogen spectrum, turquoise hydrogen is produced via a process called methane pyrolysis. Its primary outputs are hydrogen and solid carbon. While turquoise hydrogen has no proven impact at scale yet, it has potential as a low-emission solution if scientists can find ways to power the thermal process with renewable energy and properly use or store the carbon byproduct. 

Pink hydrogen

Pink hydrogen taps into nuclear energy to fuel the electrolysis required to produce it. The high temperatures of the nuclear reactors provide an additional benefit — the extreme heat produces steam that can be used for electrolysis or fossil gas-based steam methane reforming in other forms of hydrogen production.

Brown/black hydrogen

If green and blue hydrogen hold the key to cleaner hydrogen production, brown or black hydrogen are the exact opposite and the most environmentally damaging. Relying on gasification of coal to produce hydrogen, this process releases harmful carbon emissions that can have a long-lasting impact on our climate

Green hydrogen

Amidst the hydrogen rainbow, green hydrogen is the only variety produced with zero harmful greenhouse gas emissions. It is created using renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydropower to electrolyze water. The resulting reaction produces only hydrogen and oxygen, meaning zero carbon dioxide is emitted in the process.

While the benefits of green hydrogen are significant, its production is more expensive today. Consequently, green hydrogen makes up just a small percentage of current hydrogen production. But as new advances and innovations in green hydrogen are made, the price will come down, and it will hopefully become common across the globe.

The future of hydrogen is green

Hydrogen has been used as fuel for more than two centuries. Today, thousands of vehicles and machines around the world are powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The emphasis on reducing carbon emissions and working towards a greener, sustainable future has shifted the focus of many power leaders, including Cummins, to investment and innovation in green hydrogen production. It could prove to be the gold at the end of the hydrogen rainbow.

The cost of production has slowed the wide-scale adoption of hydrogen power. Many leaders in the power industry are now putting an emphasis on making hydrogen fuel cells more readily available to consumers. Cummins is building on our industry-leading electrolyzer technology to reduce the cost of hydrogen fuel cells and make it easier to get green power solutions into our customers’ hands. 

Green hydrogen isn’t just taking center stage in the private sector, either. Governments around the world are putting forth hydrogen strategies and passing legislation to encourage the production and use of these green technologies. 

The exciting possibilities of green hydrogen are guiding innovation for Cummins and other power leaders, but the idea of a zero-emission future can’t rest solely on green hydrogen. We’re leveraging all of our alternative power technologies to further global decarbonization and provide the right solutions at the right time to our customers seeking sustainability.

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Types of distributed energy resources

Distributed energy resources, or DERs, have rapidly expanded over the past decade. Their expansion is one of the most significant changes that the power generation sector has experienced in that period. 

If DERs are new to you, don’t forget to check out what are distributed energy resources and how they work before going ahead.

Homeowners and businesses install DERs to reduce their energy bills and to have backup power in the event of a service outage. 

Utilities and independent power producers (IPPs) install DERs as standalone assets on the grid to supply a variety of grid services. Increasingly, the industry is focusing on aggregating residential and commercial DERs to provide services to the electricity grid. There are several benefits of distributed energy resources in these use cases, including transmission deferral and generation balancing. 

DERs include several categories of small and modular electricity generation technologies. Here are the main ones:

Small hydro as a distributed energy resource

Hydroelectricity remains one of the most widely used forms of renewable energy

Hydroelectric plants of all scales exist, from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s enormous dams, to small run-of-the-river turbines which provide a few kilowatts of power. Small hydro consists of units smaller than 5 MW, though definitions vary. Small hydro units usually involve no dam, so they have less environmental impact than large projects, and can be built with less red tape. 

Small hydro units are built wherever streams, rivers and other water resources are available, which naturally results in a highly distributed development model.

Solar as distributed energy resource

Solar panels are one of the fastest growing power generation technologies. 

In the residential, commercial and industrial sectors, the growth of solar power has been promoted by feed-in tariff and net metering policies, as well as rapidly falling prices for solar arrays. Under feed-in tariffs, utilities are required to purchase solar electricity from homeowners and businesses, usually at an attractive rate. 

Net-metering policies, meanwhile, allow solar producers to credit the electricity they produced, against their consumption, on their utility bill. Where such policies are in place, significant quantities of solar DERs have thus become integrated into the broader electric grid.

Demand response as distributed energy resource

Demand response schemes have also existed for a long time. 

Traditionally, they consisted of agreements between utilities and industrial sites with large electric loads. When the utility called, the factory would shut down a set of large machines or heaters, thus alleviating the load on the grid. 

Lately, demand response schemes have trended towards an even more distributed form. 

Changes in the regulatory environment have enabled homeowners and small businesses to become participants in demand response aggregates. The load from a single home is not significant in terms of balancing the grid. When aggregated, however, the load from several thousand homes constitutes a DER which utilities have come to value highly.

Battery energy storage as distributed energy resource

Battery energy storage has been growing at a rapid pace since its appearance in the power sector as a mainstream technology in 2016. 

Most stationary battery systems in service or in construction today use lithium-ion batteries—the same kind that power phones and electric vehicles, but other types of stationary energy storage technologies are sometimes used in power applications. Flow batteries, for example, are an emerging category of energy storage batteries which use a liquid electrolyte, and can be made to last a very long time, overcoming many of the technological challenges of lithium ion batteries.

Battery energy storage systems of all scales exist, from large centralized systems with several hundred megawatt-hours of capacity to home battery packs rated for a few kilowatt-hours. The latter can be included in virtual power plant aggregations along with demand response contracts. Residential energy storage aggregations are actually an innovation that has only recently been deployed at scale.

Power generators as distributed energy resources

Standalone power generators are a popular choice for many businesses and homeowners. Residential and commercial generators are typically used to provide backup power. 

Types of distributed energy resources

For data centers, hospitals , air traffic control centers and many other types of activities, a power outage can lead to significant negative consequences, so backup generators are kept on-site in case of a grid outage. 

Some facilities also use on-site generators during normal times to optimize their energy profile. Most of the time, these generators serve the facility’s own needs and are not interconnected to the grid in a way that allows them to export power. 

Increasingly, however, facility managers are able to enter into power purchase agreements (PPAs) with the utility, or with private off-takers to whom they supply power via the grid. From an economic standpoint, this makes a lot of sense. Why leave backup generators doing nothing more than 99% of the time when they could be used to make money instead? 

It’s not just large industrial generators that can be used to export power to the grid. Small-scale commercial and residential generators can also potentially be aggregated into virtual power plants in the same way that demand response schemes and battery systems are.

Upcoming technologies of distributed energy resources

Distributed energy resources belong to a field which is rapidly evolving.  

Several upcoming technologies are likely to achieve broad appeal in the next decade or two. Fuel cells, for example, rely on technologies that are well understood. Though their cost remains prohibitively high for mainstream applications, many companies and research institutions are developing more affordable fuel cells. In a home, a fuel cell could run on either natural gas or hydrogen and could provide electricity, heat and hot water, all in the same package. Fuel cells could, like generators, also be interconnected to the grid and serve as DERs.

Some see the utilization of electric vehicles to provide energy storage on the grid as a sort of Holy Grail of DER technology. Electric vehicles contain lithium-ion battery cells that are very similar to the battery cells used in home battery packs and in large-scale energy-storage applications. When they are plugged in, their batteries have the potential to serve as distributed energy storage assets for the grid. There are various technical and practical obstacles to overcome before this can be the case, but this is an area of active research and development. 

Sign up for Energy IQ to receive energy focused insights in markets ranging from data centers and healthcare facilities, to schools and manufacturing facilities, and everything beyond.

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

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