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AI to assist railway companies combat problems with snow accumulation

Kyodo

Japanese railway companies are turning to artificial intelligence to help tackle potential problems for their shinkansen bullet trains caused by snow accumulation.

West Japan Railway Co. is developing an AI system to gauge the amount of snow that collects on Hokuriku Shinkansen trains that travel through Niigata, Toyama and Ishikawa prefectures adjacent to the Sea of Japan.

The railway operator currently decides how many personnel to deploy for snow clearance a day beforehand, based on information from meteorological data providers and past experience, but it is often not very accurate.

AI will be used to gather data from images taken of moving trains with accumulated snow, study weather conditions and predict the number of personnel necessary needed for clearance work.

Test operations have returned positive results so far and the system is set to be fully deployed next winter.

Other shinkansen operators are also tackling how to deal with wind-blown snow that accumulates on the undersurface of train carriages.

East Japan Railway Co. introduced new snow-melting technology in December on its shinkansen trains that connect Tokyo with Akita Prefecture.

The new system was introduced at Okama Station in Iwate Prefecture, where bullet trains stop before moving on to the terminus at Morioka Station in the prefectural capital.

Sensors and cameras detect whether to spray heated water onto the undersurface of the train cars to remove clumps of snow that may have accumulated.

Such accumulation can ricochet with gravel off the tracks after dislodging from speeding shinkansen, damaging train cars or nearby machinery.

Central Japan Railway Co., operator of the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, which connects Tokyo and Osaka, has cameras attached beneath some cars to check for such accumulation.

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