JR West testing first AI-assisted train for track inspections

HIGASHI-OSAKA, Osaka Prefecture—West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) is testing a new train that uses cameras and artificial intelligence to inspect utility poles, traffic lights and other railroad items while zipping along the tracks.

Conventionally, workers walk along the rails to conduct visual checks.

According to JR West, the new inspection system will streamline the process and help to increase profitability.

Trial runs, the first in Japan, started earlier this month. Full-scale operations are planned for the business year ending in March 2026.

 JR West testing first AI-assisted train for track inspections

The new inspection train is installed with 50 cameras, each of which can take 10 photos per second. Overhead cables and other railroad equipment can be photographed while the train travels at the top speed of 100 kph.

About 100 items can be inspected at a time.

The images are analyzed by AI to check for rust, cracks and other abnormalities.

Workers will continue their visual checks for the time being to verify the judgments made by the AI system.

JR West’s earnings have plummeted with the nosedive in ridership due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The company does not expect passenger numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon, so it is scrambling to improve its profit structure.

Inspections have put a strain on its operations, so the company plans to use the AI-assisted system and other measures to reduce manual inspection tasks by 10 percent by 2030.

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