Positive Train Control, More EVs and Vaccines, and Satellite Navigation Systems

On December 29, the Federal Railroad Commission (FRA) announced that positive train control (PTC) technology was successfully deployed on all 57,536 miles of required track. [1] PTC technology tracks a train's position and automatically deploys braking to prevent collisions, over speeding, and movement into closed work zones or past switches in the wrong position. The federal Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandates installation of interoperable PTC on main lines which move passengers, hazardous materials or a significant amount of freight. [2]

The mandate came after a head-on collision between a freight train and a commuter train in Chatsworth, California in 2008. The accident killed 25 and injured 135. Railroads have struggled to meet the timetable set by the Act and received multiple extensions on the initial 2015 deadline. According to the NTSB, 20 incidents could have been prevented by PTC since the 2008 legislation was passed. [3] In December of 2017, a speeding Amtrak passenger train derailed at a curve along a recently completed section of track in DuPont, WA killing three passengers. After investing $11 billion over the last decade, railroads have now successfully deployed PTC technology on all required tracks—40 percent of the nation's Class I rails. [4]

From rails to roads, interest in electric vehicles (EVs) continues to build. The backdrop to the Biden-Harris Administration’s plans [5] and General Motors’ big announcement [6] is a year in which global EV sales grew by over 40 percent. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), EV sales last year exceeded forecasts with over 3 million sold worldwide—almost a 5 percent market share. [7] This is a 40 percent increase from 2019 in a year when total car sales fell 14 percent. The growth, however, was solely driven by the European car market. France, Italy, Germany and the U.K. all incorporated incentives for EVs in COVID-19 stimulus measures. EV sales in the U.S., China and the rest of the world were flat for the last three years (see chart below). The market for EVs also was dwarfed by the market for sport utility vehicles (SUVs) with almost 30 million vehicles sold last year—a 42 percent market share. SUVs were the only energy-related category for which CO2 emissions grew last year as well. [8]

Finally, with over 1 million vaccines administered each day this week, the scale, complexity and demand continues to challenge state and local agencies. [9] Last week I discussed the weekly allocation and distribution process. This process is managed at the federal level with two technology systems. [10] Tiberius, a system built by Palantir for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is used to plan allocation and track deliveries. The system uses Pfizer and Moderna’s production estimates and population census data to calculate each state’s allotment based on parameters set by federal policy. During the initial rollout, allocation was a simple formula based on adult (18+) population. States have access to Tiberius, so they can run simulations and plan local distribution.

Each week, state allotments are then fed into the separate Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) vaccine ordering portal. The allotments serve as a cap on what each state can order. After states identify how much each distribution site within their jurisdiction will receive, they place these orders in the CDC portal which then sends it to Pfizer and Moderna. Once vaccines arrive at clinics, state and local agencies are using a patchwork of systems to schedule appointments and manage administration to vaccine recipients. Sarasota County in Florida was even using the event management and ticketing website Eventbrite to book appointments. [11] The CDC has a Vaccine Administration Management System which it provides to clinics for free to manage “vaccine administration from the time the vaccine arrives at a clinic to when it is administered to a recipient.” After spending $44 million on the system built by Deloitte & Touche LLP only nine states are using it and two of those are seeking alternatives. [12]

Have thoughts or feedback? Anything I missed this week? Email me at kellen@supplychainweekly.com. You also can reach me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Deep Dive

Applications and Vulnerabilities of Satellite Navigation Systems in Global Freight Transportation

By Kellen Betts in Manifold

The Jin Nui Zou is an oil tanker owned by the China Shipping Tanker Company Ltd. [1] On September 5th, 2019 the vessel entered the Port of Dalian oil terminal in Northeast China. Dalian is the headquarters of two subsidiaries of COSCO shipping which were sanctioned by the U.S. government for importing Iranian crude oil. [2] Like all large cargo and passenger vessels, the Jin Nui Zou is equipped with an automatic identification system (AIS). This system transmits the ship's identity, location, direction, speed and other characteristics to nearby vessels and a network of AIS stations and satellites. AIS tracking of the Jin Nui Zou shows it entered the Port of Dalian on a normal course. [3] As the ship approached the terminal from the southeast, however, the vessel's AIS positions suddenly scatter throughout the port with some showing the vessel traveling at a very high speed. Eventually the vessel's AIS positions settle into a circular pattern centered around a location inside of the oil terminal tank field—on land.

Read the full article (free)

Chart of the Week

Global electric vehicle (EV) sales grew by over 40 percent last year to 3 million vehicles and almost a 5 percent market share. The growth was driven by sales in Europe. EV sales were flat in the U.S., China and the rest of the world for the last three years.

What I’m Reading


[1] https://railroads.dot.gov/newsroom/press-releases/fra-announces-landmark-achievement-full-implementation-positive-train

[2] https://railroads.dot.gov/elibrary/overview-and-highlights-railway-safety-improvment-act-2008-rsia

[3] https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/mwl/Pages/mwlfs-19-20/mwl4-fsr.aspx

[4] https://www.aar.org/news/americas-railroads-meet-ptc-mandate-look-to-the-future/

[5] https://www.axios.com/biden-electric-vehicles-government-fleet-plan-423c41d5-01de-4278-8838-ad0c2345ffd6.html

[6] https://apnews.com/press-release/pr-newswire/science-business-technology-renewable-power-generation-alternative-and-sustainable-energy-510562a7a4c3e2c2c42f950b3712d562

[7] https://www.iea.org/commentaries/how-global-electric-car-sales-defied-covid-19-in-2020

[8] https://www.iea.org/commentaries/carbon-emissions-fell-across-all-sectors-in-2020-except-for-one-suvs

[9] https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/

[10] https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/01/27/1016790/covid-vaccine-distribution-us/

[11] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/coronavirus/2021/01/18/sarasota-countys-new-coronavirus-vaccine-registration-system-coming-wednesday/4173416001/

[12] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-28/-44-million-vaccine-system-from-cdc-gets-few-users-among-states