The National Academies

Transit IDEA J-04/IDEA 49 [Completed (IDEA)]

SmartSander Enhancement for Commuter Rail
[ TCRP J-04 (Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis--The Transit IDEA Program) ]

  Project Data
Staff Responsibility: Harvey Berlin

This project tested the effectiveness of an automated, intelligent sanding system in a US commuter rail environment. For a trial in the US, the investigator conducted a test using a SmartSander installation on a Metro-North commuter rail car.
A system with a multi-step or a proportional sand control operation would give more precise management, providing the maximum available railhead adhesion level. Low wheel-rail adhesion continues to be a major issue for many commuter rail operating agencies, particularly during the fall season when many leaves fall on the tracks. The inability to brake effectively in low adhesion conditions has important safety implications and has performance and cost impacts.
Although large strides have been made in the development of better wheel-slide protection systems, these systems can only optimize the prevailing wheel-rail adhesion that is present. What is needed is a means of improving adhesion consistently. This can be provided by reworking AEA Technology Rail’s SmartSander system for the US commuter rail industry.

Completed Investigation

This project was carried out in partnership with Metro-North Commuter Railroad personnel. Using the manufacturer’s drawings and visits to examples of the commuter rail cab cars in the United States, a design was proposed and developed and a prototype was manufactured.

Working with the Metro-North Commuter Railroad, DeltaRail Group supplied a complete installation kit for a Metro-North Commuter Railroad Shoreliner cab car. The pilot design was installed on a sample commuter rail car.

The significant advantage of the SmartSander over regular sanding systems is the ability to deliver sand safely in every brake step. Not only does this significantly improve conditions for the trains that it is fitted to, but also that much more of the commuter rail system receives regular small applications of sand. This improves conditions for all rail cars that use the route. SmartSander is designed to reduce delays to service, reduce unplanned passing of signals, and increase wheel life by reducing the frequency of wheel truings and reducing the amount of material removed during each wheel truing.

Potential benefits for commuter rail:

  Improved safety and stopping during low adhesion rail conditions,
  Reduced wheel truing cost overall by reducing wheel defects due to slide events with a target of allowing four re-turns being made over a wheel’s life rather than three,
  Reduced sand consumption, and
  Improved commuter rail passenger environment due to minimizing noise caused by ­defective wheels.

Product Transfer

Following a successful test with Metro-North Commuter Railroad, the results have been included in the final report for this project and the results will be reported in papers presented to the commuter rail industry by the principal investigator. 

The increased adhesion provided by SmartSander operating at different levels of brake demand mean a commuter rail train operator can benefit from significantly reduced wheel damage.

The Final Report for this IDEA project can be found at:


To create a link to this page, use this URL: http://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=2258