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The National Academies

Safety IDEA Project 36 [Active (IDEA)]

Onboard High-Bandwidth Fiber Optic Sensing System for Broken Rail Detection

  Project Data
Funds: $100,000
Staff Responsibility: Velvet Ftizpatrick
Research Agency: Intelligent Fiber Optic Systems Corp
Principal Investigator: Richard Black
Fiscal Year: 2018

There is a need for novel, technology-based techniques for improving rail safety through improved understanding of system and component failure modes, drivers, and timing. Detection of rail breakage under trains that does not lead to immediate derailment until further damage occurs at the fracture meets this need. The project objective is to develop an innovative onboard broken rail and defect detection system based on fiber-optic sensing technology that enables detection and repair well before the rail has reached a state which could lead to derailment.

IFOS is exploiting the broadband and high-speed nature of its broadband fiber Bragg grating (FBG) sensing interrogation technology to enable measurement of dynamic strain, shock, and vibration signals as indicators of rail condition autonomously while the train is in motion. The work is being approached with four technical tasks: (1) Design fiber-optic sensor array and data collection hardware and software. (2) Test onboard high-bandwidth FO sensor system in simulated broken rail condition. (3) Develop algorithms for broken rail detection. (4) Perform computer simulation of the train- rail system. This project will provide unprecedented rail breakage detection capability with high resolution (order of 1 mm at 65 mph train speed), and high sensing accuracy at high monitoring speeds (order of 1 Mega-samples per second, per sensor). IFOS’ proposed onboard FO sensing system provides the ability to detect rail breakage where inspection tools such as non-destructive testing (NDT), hand-held inspection, visual inspection, and signaling are either unavailable or impractical.

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