BNSF Rail Talk: Forecast calls for clearer wind data

Written by BNSF Railroad Corporate Communications

BNSF uses technology to reduce the threat of high winds to equipment and crews.


Operating across the plains and deserts of the United States, BNSF and other western railroads often experience extremely high winds, some of which are so powerful they can blow up a stationary train. on the side. In this article, BNSF explains how these winds behave and how the railroad is leveraging technology to allow train crews to avoid them.

In Southern California, dry, hot winds are called Santa Ana. On the eastern slope of the Continental Divide in Montana, where the temperature is cooler, they are known as Chinooks. Regardless of their name or origin, hurricane-like gust winds pose significant safety concerns for our crews and trains as they pass through these and other sensitive areas.

At certain speeds and conditions, the wind can be strong enough to derail unloaded coal and grain cars. Stacked empty containers can act like a sail, literally lifting cars up. Damaging winds can also bring down power lines and trees or blow other obstacles into a train or its path.

“When there are high winds at speeds of 80 km/h or more, our trains must slow down and then stop for the safety of the crew,” explained Clark Simmons, director, Transportation. “We have a network of wind stations across the system that measure wind speed, wind direction, air temperature, humidity levels and more.”

Stations send wind warnings to our dispatchers at the Network Operations Center in Fort Worth, Texas, who will advise train crews in affected areas to move to an area where the train can be safely held, until until the warnings have passed. Field crews also have portable anemometers they can use to measure the wind.

“The wind is different from a thunderstorm, which you can usually see brewing on the horizon,” Simmons said. “You can’t always tell how strong the wind is, but wind gauges tell us when we have potential problems – and now we have new technology that can confirm those readings in the field.”

Because train crews have a tablet at their disposal, Simmons said it made sense to put wind information in their hands. Employees from our Technology Services and Network Control Systems teams have designed an application that provides users with real-time wind data.

“Train crews now have wind readings at their fingertips where before it was an estimate or they had to wait for the dispatcher to make the call,” Simmons added. “Now, with the app, they can confirm that the wind has died down and, with permission from the dispatcher, they can get their train moving again, saving time while ensuring safety.”

Simmons thanks Luke Johnson, general manager, Transportation for the Montana Division, for suggesting the app and promoting its benefits.

“We have some of the toughest conditions on our Hi Line subdivision between Havre and Whitefish, Montana, with gusts up to 100 mph,” Johnson explained. “We added more fixed anemometers in our division to give us wind speed, but this information was not always readily available to employees. Now they can view it on their iPad, giving them the ability to compare what they see outside the locomotive to what the readings actually are. »

Developing the app was a collaborative effort, for which Simmons nominated the team for an Achievement Award, which recognizes employees who demonstrate BNSF’s vision and values ​​beyond their normal job responsibilities.

“They saw the need, they defined the project and made a vision a reality,” he said. “As we get more people in our network to use the app, they’ll see the benefits are fantastic.”

These benefits translate into service and security – and it’s not just bluster.

This BNSF “Rail Talk” has been used with permission from the BNSF.

For more BNSF “Rail Talk”, please check out their website.