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NS Railway to develop 3-D map of entire infrastructure

USA: By early 2011, Norfolk Southern Railway expects to begin using a three-dimensional, digital database of its entire infrastructure to better manage assets.

The Class I has contracted a survey company to produce a Geographic Information System (GIS) database pinpointing the location of all infrastructure, including track centerlines, switches, signals, grade crossings, bridges and tunnels, according to NS’ December newsletter. Estimated to cost about $18 million, the GIS mapping project also will provide a computerized database of 22,000 miles of mainlines in 22 states and the District of Columbia, and 10,000 spur tracks. Locations will be accurate to within one foot, NS said.

Since September, the contractor has been using a helicopter equipped with a laser device, digital video and still cameras, and a Global Positioning System (GPS) to collect data, including track infrastructure elevation. By year’s end, NS expects to obtain information on 4,400 miles of track in South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and the western portion of Pennsylvania.

“From what we can find out, this is the first time that anyone — a railroad or any other company — has done this kind of mapping to this degree of accuracy and magnitude,” said Brent Mason, NS’ system engineer-mapping and utilities and the mapping project’s manager, in the newsletter.

The dispatch, transportation, engineering, information technology, marketing, real estate, police/security, infrastructure maintenance and planning, and yard management departments will use the database and GIS applications. For example, the engineering department will access the data to obtain an accurate inventory of signals and trackage.

“This database is going to help us revolutionize the way we run the railroad [and] will give us a world-class roadmap of our rail assets,” said Mason.

System engineers are developing software that will enable engineering field supervisors to update the database on infrastructure changes — such as a new switch or relocated signal — using a handheld GPS device, NS said.