"We're seeing a spike in projects and when you start moving people and trains at 350 kilometers an hour (218 mph), you need to start focusing on smarter trains and higher levels of safety to operate effectively," said Keith Dierkx, business development executive for travel and logistics at IBM's Global Technology Services consulting arm.
The U.S. rail network right now uses RFID tags to help railroad operators keep track of some inventory as trains roll past RFID readers. But a more sophisticated network of wireless sensors providing real-time updates will be increasingly important to the spread of high-speed rail, said Robert Goodwin, transportation industry analyst at Gartner. Amtrak's Acela line, which goes from Washington D.C. to Boston, tops out at 150 miles per hour, a speed that's limited by twisting tracks through most of the journey.
"These trains move so rapidly, you can't afford to have any errors so you need current feedback," Goodwin said. "There's a lot you can do based on what you didn't know 10 seconds ago. It gives you a chance to be more nimble."
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