Railway Express: RFID in Rail Transport

Technology Trends

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is an effective technology for automatic equipment identification that can greatly enhance information visibility and availability. It is the leading automatic identification technology used in the transportation industry. 

In railways, for example, information on rolling stock is crucial for safe and efficient operations. RFID technology can support this by scanning rail wagons or locomotives, including discrete parts such as wheels, axles, and doors. This scan can provide information on both condition and any events along with the date, time, and data from the RFID tag(s) that caused the event to occur. To achieve this, RFID tags placed on each side of the locomotive or wagons provide information about their identity and location. This information is widely used in applications to support asset management, improve safety, streamline, operations, and enhance customer satisfaction.

RFID, a wireless technology, consists of readers and transponders combined with software for analysis and data processing. This wireless technology enables rail wagons and locomotives with RFID tags to be identified and located quickly and efficiently. This information is made available to railroad operators for a variety of purposes, including rail asset management, operation and maintenance, and real-time location tracking of the train. Operators are then able to provide customers and passengers with useful, real-time information on the train’s status. These data enable operators to optimize their vehicle availability planning, asset management, and ticketing; increasing accuracy, enhancing visibility, and reducing costs.


Since most rail assets are exposed to the weather, RFID tags for railway applications must be environmentally robust. Typically, they are totally encapsulated and require little or no maintenance. They must be designed to withstand environmental factors such as temperature, moisture, shock, and vibration. These tags must be water- and dust-proof (IP67) in a UV-stabilized encasing. They provide a frequency range of 860 MHz and above e.g. ultra-high-level frequency (UHF) and have a working distance of 0.5-meter to eight meters.

Stationary RFID rail readers are suitable for installation on linear assets, such as track-side, stations, or maintenance sheds. They can read the tags at high speed and distances of up to six meters. RFID in rail applications is especially valuable for international freight transport since the technology supports electronic data exchange. Compared to other technologies, RFID offers higher scanning speed and is easier to integrate into automated systems.

Vehicle Identification

Vehicle identification is the most common application for RFID technology in rail. For example, Indian Railways uses RFID tags to track its wagons, coaches, and locomotives. Indian Railways plans to extend the usage of the technology to increase operational efficiency further by tracking the movements of its freight trains from the border stations throughout the entire rail network.  

Rail Asset Management

Rail is an extremely asset-intensive industry. Locomotives and other rolling stock require constant monitoring and frequent maintenance to ensure asset availability and safety. Many rail operators are also responsible for maintaining the condition of the rail network, including tracks and signaling and safety systems. This represents a large expense.

RFID allows operators to improve efficiency (and thus help reduce costs) through preventive and condition-based maintenance. Tags allow operators to collect data generated by the configuration of wagons within the train. These data can be integrated with other systems such as track inspection systems or train axle management systems to cross-check the data consistency with the actual condition of the assets. 

For more information about this and other key trends you can read the ARC Report on Rail Asset Management.  


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