How Augmented Reality is Innovating Freight Train Inspections

Francesco Benvenuto
December 31, 2020

Safety, efficiency, and information collection are all extremely important in the rail industry whether linear, fixed or rolling assets. In order to achieve these goals, rail workers must have an optimized inspection process for freight trains using AR. Augmented and Assisted Reality support freight train inspections providing digital work instructions, virtual repository of information and the option of remote support calls.

What are Augmented Reality and Assisted Reality?

Augmented Reality and Assisted Reality both provide visual aids in the field of view of a user. Augmented Reality is a graphic overlay on the real world through the use of a screen whether a tablet, phone or head-mounted device (HMD). Similarly, Assisted Reality is text, image, or video that is used, often, hands-free as a heads-up-display, but does not interact as an overlay.

Augmented Reality when used in a head-mounted device is often with binocular, two eyed, smart glasses, while Assisted Reality uses monocular, single eye, smart glasses or a device. In both cases of AR, users may visualize information such as digital work instructions, tutorials or have remote support calls with an expert.

The have the option to use visual remote support, through video sharing is an important feature which can be used for inspections of freight trains. Much like other video calling tools AR video sharing allows users to see through another person’s camera. However, remote support applications in AR typically utilize annotative abilities such as drawing on the field of view, uploading schematics, diagrams, models, or other visual aids.

Challenges of Inspecting Freight Trains

Rail carriers are often faced with challenges performing inspections using manual systems such as paper or even tablet. Maintenance inspections on freight trains require extreme attention to detail, accuracy, and efficiency. Finding a reliable way to conduct routine or specialized maintenance checks can be challenging. Rail workers are often out in the elements and are working against the clock.

One of the main challenges is the inspection of the trains mechanics as well as their cargo. Rail technicians may be lacking the digital tools necessary to properly document and prove the status of cargo upon its departure. Moreover, the need for knowledge transfer in the trades also creates a unique challenge, since experienced workers who are nearing retirement hold a great deal of knowledge that needs to be passed on to the new generation of freight train workers.

AR Uses for Inspecting Freight Trains

Rail companies around the world have taken up Augmented Reality and Assisted Reality to support their workers with real-time information, which are particularly useful when it comes to inspecting train cars in the freight industry.

New tools such as Augmented Reality software and head-mounted devices support workers by allowing them to work hands-free receiving real-time instructions. This user friendly, and intuitive method supports the rail workers in their tasks through step-by-step procedures, accessing a digital repository of information, and remote support.

OverIT RealWear Augmented Reality Trains Inspections Field Service Maintenance

Digital Work Instructions

Step-by-step visual work instructions, diagrams, videos and pictures provide critical support to workers in the freight industry. AR work instructions can be created easily by supervisors and then assigned to workers. The documentation is a great benefit of using AR and HMDs, because it ensures that the rail workers properly keep track of what work has been done, and who conducted that work.

Remote Support

If a worker gets stuck on a particular challenge while inspecting a train car, they can call an expert off-site, whether in another location or country to get real-time feedback. Remote support also helps field workers troubleshoot, ensuring that workers have access to a wider network of knowledge utilizing their colleagues and supervisors as needed.

Virtual Repository

AR applications also provide a repository for collecting videos, pictures, diagrams and other media for knowledge sharing. Rail workers are able to carry out tasks with any machinery they encounter as long as there is information in the repository. The support of information accessible through voice activation and able to be viewed hands-free means workers can continue their job in any weather condition while maneuvering around machinery.

Record Work Process

AR-based tools allow for workers to record their whole work process, verbally narrating what actions they are taking, as a training tutorial. These work process videos can then be turned into step-by-step guides as mentioned above by utilizing AI tools that recognize visuals and suggest tags, to identify specific tasks within the video. These tools also provide transcription and suggest how to create sections and segments of the content so that it is easy to follow. Experienced workers can carry out their tasks and use the AR tool and recording features to capture their knowledge and skills in an immersive and engaging way.

Benefits of using Augmented Reality for inspecting freight trains

The benefits of using AR for inspections of freight trains are efficiency, safety and knowledge capture and sharing.

  • Through the different digital tools and applications that AR provides, freight train workers can carry out their tasks quickly without missing any important steps;
  • When workers are able to complete tasks faster, it also helps the punctuality of the train schedules, reducing downtime;
  • The option to have documentation through videos, pictures and voice to text also creates a benefit of accountability which enhances safety for rail workers;
  • Finally, AR supports freight train workers for learning on the job or getting help with troubleshooting due to the digital work instructions and the remote support calling capabilities.


AR-based tools aid frontline workers in the rail industry with real-time information and hands-free vocal commands, improving inspections on freight trains. These tools introduce innovative practices that increase safety and provide the best support for rail workers, as well as to boost productivity and drive success to companies operating in rail transportation.

autor profile image
Carly Kroll
Director of Education | Content Marketer | Speaker | Educator
Carly Kroll’s diverse background includes education, research, and communication. She is passionate about emerging technologies and their effects on the workforce. She holds a Master’s in Education from National Louis University, and a Master’s in Communication Technology from Marquette University. Carly works daily creating written content about Augmented Reality in Field Service and industrial processes. Her previous experience in the field of AR dealt primarily with improving technology acceptance of Augmented Reality among Utility workers.