• ACI Tags (Sticker on Phase II F40)

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by Stephen B. Carey
Today on Railpictures.net I saw a picture of the first F40ph AMTK 200. The picture was taken just before the locomotive was put into service, my question is about the strip about 2/3's of the way down the engine that seems to have something written in red with a black background. I have seen this before on other F40's in the same paint scheme and I was just wondering what it was, from afar it almost looks like some kind of fuel gauge.

Here is a link to the photo: http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=292976
  by DutchRailnut
Its a colored Barcode , it gives the equipment numbers to wayside equipment reading device.
These days it is done by electronic transponders almost like easy-pass at a toll plaza.
  by John_Perkowski
Those were on an awful lot of equipment from the late 1960s into the 90s.

They were high-speed technology in their day.
  by Otto Vondrak
See also:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_ ... tification
Starting in 1968 all rail car owners were required by the AAR to install ACI labels on their cars. This requirement lead to the full scale implementation of the ACI system in the early 1970s. By 1975 90% of all railcars were labeled. The read rate was about 80%, which means that after 7 years of service 10% of the labels had failed from a variety of reasons such as physical damage, and dirt accumulation. The dirt accumulation was most evident on flatcars that had low mounted labels. The AAR had recognized, from their field tests, that periodic inspection and label maintenance would be a requirement to maintain a high level of label readability. Regulations were instituted for label inspection and repair whenever a railcar was in the repair shop which statistically happened every two years. Unfortunately the maintenance program never gained sufficient compliance. Without maintenance the read rate failed to improve, and the ACI KarTrak System was eventually abandoned by the late 1970s. Because of this failure, the railroad industry did not seriously search for another system to identify rail cars until the mid-1980s.
  by NellieBly
Let me add a bit to Otto's quote above, since when I joined AAR in 1977, the board of directors had just voted to end the ACI labeling requirement.

The multi-colored bar code was developed by Sylvania for the railroad industry in the late 1960s. It lives on as the single-color bar codes (black and white or green and white) on most food and beverage products. But of course food package isn't used multiple times; you throw it away, so there isn't much problem with the labels getting dirty. Unfortunately, freight cars aren't disposible and they don't get washed very often.

The industry tried washing labels and also coating them with Teflon (or something like it) to repel dirt, but nothing really worked. In the meantime, railroads had started installing video cameras on tracks entering yards, and making a recording on a VCR of each train as it came in. A clerk couuld then review the tape, checking off each car number against a computer-generated consist list. This worked pretty well, and largely obviated the need for an automated system, which is why the industry didn't look too hard for an alternative to ACI.

In the late 1970s, Fairchild Space and Electronics developed a passive tag containing a computer chip that could be interrogated by a microwave transmitter. No energy storage mechanism was needed; the microwaves themselves provided enough energy to the chip to enable it to transmit a code back to the interrogator. Fairchild approached the railroads with this technology, unfortunately just after they had agreed to end use of ACI and Sylvania had filed an anti-trust complaint against them.

But eventually the message got through, and in the 1980s Burlington Northern began testing a microwave-readable tag on a fleet of ore cars. This led, in the fullness of time, to the adoption of a labeling requirement by AAR in 1993. These are the same types of transponders as are used on toll tags for cars, but they were invented for the railroad industry.

When AAR required the labels, private car fleet owners were quite upset about the cost of labeling (some of them remembered the ACI debacle). A group of car owners even took AAR to court. They lost; the judge rendered a wonderfully amusing opinion. He said, "Of course you're right; AAR can't make you label your cars, but then they don't have to agree to operate cars that don't meet their standards". Truly Solomon-like; private fleet owners don't have to label their cars, and the railroads don't have to agree to use the unlabeled cars.
  by Stephen B. Carey
Wow I had no idea that it was a barcode. I had never heard of this before, I know trains today are monitored by the electronic tags but I did not know that there was a system before that. It also seems like there was a lot that could go wrong with these things.

Thank you very much, and sorry for posting this in the wrong forum I thought the sticker might be an Amtrak since I only recall seeing them on the Amtrak units.
  by Cowford
Excellent history, Nellie. Comparing today's passive RFID tags to toll tags such as EZ-Pass is pretty appropriate, as the main supplier (TransCore) serves both markets. TransCore also owns Intellitrans, which is a leader in railcar/intermodal tracking and management web applications used by shippers (and some railroads).
  by alchemist
Nice trip down Memory Lane! When ACI began to happen there were letters in the modelling magazines just like the first post above. Then there were articles in the mags explaining the system, and Champ and Walthers began selling sheets of scale-sized decals of ACI labels. If it happened today, I wouldn't be surprised to see somebody with more smarts and spare time than most of us come up with a working system for model railroads! :-D
Everyone: Good information by all on this topic-I wanted to know the origin of those rail scan
tags myself - I remember back how equipment had them and the large scanner that would read them. I figured that problems in reading them led to their discontinuance and their eventual replacement by the transponders used today which need much less visibility or at all to scan.

That pic of a brand-new Amtrak F40PH #200 is a good one not only being the first F40 from EMD but it also shows the code tag quite well! A good memory there...

I also remember that rapid transit systems like Washington Metro and Chicago's CTA used
a similar sort of bar code of a smaller size also.

Thanks again all-MACTRAXX