Driver assistance software uses a portable data logger and GPS receiver which can interface with the train to log location, speed and notch setting. Software then estimates fuel consumption from the data logs to provide instructions to optimise power according to line segment grade and curvature. Fuel-efficient driving techniques that would result from the use of this technology include slower acceleration towards maximum line speed, coasting and running at a speed lower than the maximum to enable more gradual deceleration prior to braking.

The operation of driver assistance software also extends to advanced train control of multiple locomotives.

‘Consist Manager’, a technology developed through the Department of Energy and GE Transportation funded Locomotive Technology Program takes advantage of existing driver guidance software to continuously monitor and select the optimal throttle positions of trail units using a multiple unit control system based on lead locomotive throttle setting and operating conditions such as grade severity and train length.

Application relevance

Australian product trials have been undertaken and the technology is beginning to penetrate the market. Case studies have demonstrated that additional savings can be achieved on multiple locomotive unit trains when Consist Manager is combined with driver assistance software.

Commercialisation of locally developed driver assistance software is taking place in 2010 for immediate adoption. Once adopted Consist Manager will be able to be retrofitted; however, current technology providers are limited.

Potential benefits

Demonstrated fuel savings are in the range 5–20% without increases in journey times, compared to previous baseline results prior to adoption. Additional fuel savings of 1–3% for each locomotive can also be achieved when used in combination with Consist Manager.

Key implementation considerations

Performance uncertainty exists due to variability of journey characteristics. The ability to improve train performance may be limited if train operation is strictly controlled by signalling and scheduling constraints.

Examples of implementation

Railway Gazette article

This article outlines the concept and expected benefits of an Australian route planning software product ‘Freight Miser’, which provides long-haul train drivers with an in-cab advice system that advises the optimum speed profile for drivers to reduce energy consumption while maintaining their schedule (Railway Gazette 2008).

Optimal control to save fuel 

This 2009 paper examines the fuel savings from ‘Trip Optimizer’ software installed in GE diesel-electric heavy-haul locomotives. While the specific technology may not be the most relevant for Australian rail operators, the concepts of the ‘fuel travel time trade-off’, technical details on the human interface and results of a series of trials may prove helpful for understanding the concept of the technology. Fuel savings achieved range from 4.6%–13% (Houpt et al. 2009).

LEADER website

The New York Air Brake website identifies the functionality of a US technology known as LEADER (Locomotive Engineer Assist Display Event Recorder) via multiple case studies and media articles. The technology uses an on-board computer to calculate the optimum speed at which a train should travel based on line segment grade and curvature (New York Air Brake 2011).

US Department of Energy – Vehicle Technologies Program fact sheet

This fact sheet (Opens in a new window PDF 336 KB) outlines the success of ‘Consist Manager’, a technology developed through the US Department of Energy and GE Transportation funded Locomotive Technology Program. A commercial trial of the technology undertaken in 2004 suggests 1–3% fuel savings (US Department of Energy 2011).

For the full report on fuel efficiency opportunities in the road and rail sectors, see Fuel for Thought – Identifying potential energy efficiency opportunities in the Australian road and rail sectors (opens in a new window) PDF 1.5 MB.