The National Academies

Transit IDEA J-04/IDEA 55 [Completed (IDEA)]

Warning Device for Rail Transit Personnel for Approaching Trains
[ TCRP J-04 (Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis--The Transit IDEA Program) ]

  Project Data
Staff Responsibility: Harvey Berlin

IDEA Concept and Product
This Transit IDEA project has developed and tested a device to warn rail transit personnel of approaching trains. Two additional devices have also been examined: a device to detect trains that are operating over speed and approaching a track work zone and a device to activate an automated portable train stopper.
The devices to detect and alert transit track workers of approaching trains have been designed to help prevent accidents by giving rail transit personnel advance warning of approaching trains. The devices have been designed to enhance the safety of track workers. The devices include the portable train detection and warning unit with wireless safety LED lights and horns. A personal arm band alert device to directly alert track work crews and a supervisory flagger alert device have also been developed.
The two types of warning devices are the Portable Train Detector unit with horns and lights, and the Train-Mounted Device that is installed in an operators cab. These two complementary devices would detect an approaching train and then immediately send a protected signal to turn on a set of wireless safety lights and horns (set in the work zone) and/or personal arm band devices to be worn by track workers, flaggers, and trackwalkers. The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in Boston, and the Maryland Transit Administration in Baltimore have participated with their staff and equipment in testing on their transit facilities.
This project included development and prototype testing. Key elements of the investigation found the most reliable technologies available and incorporated them into the system.
Testing was done at various locations that included different types of curves, tunnels, and obstructions.
Product Payoff Potential
Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) data from between October 2005 and April 2007 show a significantincrease in the number of rail transit worker fatalities and a significant increase in injuries. In 2008, there were an additional eight track worker fatalities.
These devices have been designed to enhance the safety of transit track workers. Such technology can give track workers an early warning of oncoming trains.
Following the development and testing of these devices, other applications have emerged, such as restricted speed location warnings, train reverse direction warnings, and advance warning for transit police and emergency responders.
Project Results
The development and prototype testing of the devices to warn transit track workers was done at a number of locations at different transit agencies. Site testing was performed at a Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) blind curve, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) 36th Street double S curve, and on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Red and Green line. The prototype tests demonstrated that the devices to warn rail transit personnel of approaching trains worked effectively.
Product Transfer
Following this project, the GCRTA in Cleveland, MBTA in Boston, SEPTA in Philadelphia and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority (LACMTA) also purchased additional devices that were developed in this project for subsequent pilot testing and evaluation by the transit agencies under their operating conditions on their transit facilities. The Maryland Transit Administration is implementing this technology on their Metro Subway rail rapid transit line in Baltimore.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended use of appropriate track-worker alert technology in their January 2008 report on how to prevent future track-worker fatalities on WMATAs Metrorail system. NTSB staff demonstrated early warning technology that was developed in this Transit IDEA project at their public board meeting when they released their report in January 2008 (NTSB Report R-08-04).

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