Criteria for Selecting a Locomotive Remote Control System

North American Rail Operations

Rail yard in early morning

A range of factors should be considered when purchasing a locomotive remote control system. A thorough review and a clear understanding of your needs and requirements will help ensure that the ideal system is implemented. Converting a locomotive to a Remote Control Locomotive (RCL) is a long-term decision and not easy to change. Here are some key factors that can affect the overall implementation success to ensure you select the right RCL model for your operation. 

Railroad Classifications

  • Class I, Class II and Class III railroads are regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
  • The FRA defines a plant railroad as an unregulated locomotive operation in 49 CFR 234.5. A plant railroad is not required to follow guidelines in 49 CFR but could easily enjoy the higher levels of automation and protective features RCL provides.

Regulatory Considerations

The RCL system must comply with applicable regulatory requirements. Two portions of 49 CFR in the United States affect locomotive remote control.

  • 49 CFR § 229.15 defines RCL requirements and operational rules for the railroad.
  • 49 CFR § 229 Subpart E defines design and process requirements for locomotive electronics.

Cattron locomotive remote control systems that comply with US regulations are:

  • LCS-III: compliant with 49 CFR § 229.15 and Subpart E.
  • Accuspeed: compliant with § 229.15 and grandfathered out of Subpart E.
  • Transport VS: compliant with § 229.15 and Subpart E.
cattron lcs-iii locomotive remote control front view
cattron transport vs locomotive remote control front view

Traction Control

A throttle/brake control system can be considered a wireless extension of the control stand. To reach the desired speed, the operator must manipulate the throttle and brake controls on the operator control unit (OCU). If the remote control operator is not trained to operate the locomotive manually, they should use a speed control system. With a speed control system, the operator selects the desired speed on the OCU while the RCL computer manipulates the throttle and brake to reach and maintain the desired speed. 

Train Brake Control

Train brake control and monitoring functionality should be considered a requirement for locomotive remote control systems unless the locomotive does not have a brake pipe. Train brake control provides a redundant safety channel, even without having cars cut into the brake pipe. 

Systems used on jobs that move heavy or long cuts, work on significant grades, handle hazardous material or work in locations prone to moderate snow and ice conditions should always include the train brake option. Note that train brake control is a requirement under 49 CFR § 229.15. 

Installed vs. Portable Systems

Operators should also consider whether an installed or a portable system suits their operational needs. A portable system, like the Transport QC (Quick Connect), can be installed on a locomotive in minutes by mounting it to the handrail and interfacing it with the locomotive through the 27-pin electrical connection and MU hoses. A portable system does not require that the locomotive is taken out of service for the installation and can be quickly moved to another locomotive if needed. Some advanced features are not possible with portable systems because all access to the locomotive is through the MU connections. It is necessary to balance the short-term benefits of a portable system against the need for advanced features that a permanently installed system provides.

Air Preparation

It is critical to the lifespan of the pneumatic system that the incoming air is as clean and dry as possible. A particle filter should be standard in all RCL system pneumatic packages. If the locomotive lacks a functional air dryer, a coalescing air filter option should be part of the RCL system installation. 

Language Support

Locomotive control systems typically provide text messages to the OCU or on the system display to communicate critical information to the operator. Because of this, it is important to select a system that can communicate in the language of the region. 

Locomotive Control Solutions

Cattron has provided remote control systems for railyard locomotives worldwide for over 40 years. Our proven solutions are packed with various safety and ergonomic design features that enable mission-critical employee safety and improve operational efficiency daily. Learn more about Cattron’s family of locomotive remote control solutions

cattron locomotive remote control family photo