There is an interesting blog post over at Bosch.SI.com discussing the use of a new Bosch product used for tracking railcar position and status. This idea has been tossed around for a couple of years now, but it seems that Bosch has actually fielded a commercial product.
The blog post is a bit of a sales pitch, but it does provide some interesting justifications for tracking railcars and the status of key information about those cars. It talks about GPS tracking, temperature sensing and vibration sensing as some of the things that railcar owners or shippers might want to keep track of.
For chemical tank car shipment I can think of a couple of other things that could also be included. Tank pressure and temperature sensors could provide valuable information to first responders at a derailment. Tank cars with rising temperature and pressure because of a localized fire could be monitored for safety considerations. As pressures and temperatures started to increase water streams could be placed on the car to prevent venting or a catastrophic release. As those parameters approached safety critical values first responders could be pulled back to a safer position.
Pressures decreasing on a tank car would be a sure sign of a leak and could allow protective measures and evacuations to be conducted before the leak reached a critical mass.
As with anything else involved in the internet of things (IOT), security has to be designed into to these data reporting sensors at an early stage. While shippers certainly want to know about the location of their products in the distribution chain, so do crooks and terrorists. Know which box car contains high value electronics is certainly desirable information for a gang of thieves wishing to intercept the shipment, but a GPS reporting of where that boxcar is parked on a siding is even more valuable.
A terrorist would bent on using a chlorine rail car as a weapon of mass destruction would love to be able to use a GPS tracker to locate the car to place an improvised-explosive device on it to make it into a very large barrel bomb, but then using that same GPS tracker to allow the device to be detonated at the most effective location would make the attack that much more devastating.
Again IOT devices in chemical transport are a double edged sword. They can provide benefits in product transportation monitoring for the supply chain managers, safety information for emergency responders and potential targeting data for terrorists and criminals. Proper planning and design will enhance the first two and prevent the third.