IBM at times can remind us of what it’s like to explore a historic and vibrant city — with its fond glance back in time and march into the future with new ideals. And one of the pleasures in reading through the 100 Icons of Progress is coming across storylines from the past that illuminate the present and future.
For over a century railroads have served as the vanguard in transportation — redefining what it means to travel, to transport goods, and to link together cities, states and nations around the world. From the first steam-powered locomotives of the early nineteenth century to the high-speed commuter trains of today, railroads have been a great engine powering growth.
They are also one of industry’s earliest examples of an interconnected system — made up of many critical parts that require a special kind of ingenuity to make them work.
Since its earliest days as a corporation, IBM has been helping railways around the world manage critical aspects of their business — from understanding passenger travel patterns, to controlling the movement of rail cars, to collecting and interpreting data gathered from minuscule devices on the wheels and tracks.
Travel all the way back to 1896 — before there even was an IBM — and there’s the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad keeping track of all its operations with the help of tabulating equipment invented by Herman Hollerith’s Tabulating Machine Company, a predecessor of IBM.
Jump ahead to 1928 and IBM is putting its IT prowess to work in Italy, helping Ferrovie dello Stato automate its administrative processes for the organization of spare parts and the scheduling and allocation of trains.
We’re in the 1960s and IBM is still at it, introducing new, advanced systems for managing traffic and maintenance scheduling and tracking, yard assignments, inventory control and other things. These become a foundation for the modern rail system.
We reach the present, and IBM is working harder than ever to help railroads become smarter in tackling their information, infrastructure and operational challenges — only now this has stretched to networks of intelligent rail systems that crisscross all over the world.
And then we experience that dual feeling of reassurance that bits of yesteryear are still here, and the thrill that innovative and important breakthroughs are still happening far and wide.
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