DAQ, PDAs boost RR track maintenance, safety

It’s the middle of the night. You’re riding on a train only a few miles from home. Settling deep into your seat, you start to fall asleep. A noise snaps you awake. Is that what you think it is? Loud screeching fills the train car and it begins to shake violently. Suddenly, the train tumbles off the tracks… Accidents do happen and trains derail due to weather or human error.

03/11/2004



Longitudinal Stress Detector (LSD) mounts directly to railroad track to record temperature and stress levels up to once an hour. Device acts as an early-warning system to alert railway technicians to potentially hazardous track sections. Technicians download data into PDAs for analysis using wireless data acquisition technology.

It’s the middle of the night. You’re riding on a train only a few miles from home. Settling deep into your seat, you start to fall asleep. A noise snaps you awake. Is that what you think it is? Loud screeching fills the train car and it begins to shake violently. Suddenly, the train tumbles off the tracks… Accidents do happen and trains derail due to weather or human error. But sometimes an unforeseen culprit is to blame.
"Believe it or not, simple things like rail temperature and stress can lead to horrible accidents," says Jim Bilodeau, CEO of DataTraks, a developer of railroad industry software and instrumentation and remote monitoring systems. "It’s a scary thought, but significant fluctuations from the track’s neutral temperature or excessive stress is all it takes for rails to malfunction."
Sunlight, heat, and rail traffic can cause these variances. A track’s neutral temperature is the temperature of the rail when not under compression or tension. Rail temperatures significantly above a track’s neutral temperature can cause the rail to buckle or kink. How can such variances be avoided?
"It’s a matter of proper monitoring," Bilodeau continued. "But until now, there hasn’t been an efficient way to keep track of the stress levels or neutral temperatures of the tracks."

However, a new wireless device, developed by Instrumentation Services/DataTraks of Fort Collins, CO, may be the missing link. The device acts as an early-warning system, alerting railway technicians about potentially hazardous sections of track.

Working with distributor MSI Tec of Centennial, CO, DataTraks developed the patent-pending Longitudinal Stress Detector (LSD). The LSD is mounted directly to the track where it records temperature and stress levels up to once an hour. Technicians then download data into PDAs for analysis. The system uses wireless data acquisition technology from Advantech Automation and is based on the company’s line of ADAM products. Included are the ADAM-5510 stand-alone data acquisition controller, along with ADAM 5017, 5018, and 5068 to monitor track temperature and stress while acting as a power supply.

"But we didn’t want to stop there," said Bilodeau. "We wanted to make sure these things worked all the time and we could put them wherever they’d do the most good, so we converted them to run on solar power. And we wanted technicians to be able to use them easily, so we had the information wirelessly download to a PDA. They don’t even need to get out of their car to examine the rail. [The device] does it for them."

Information for this article was provided by Chris Olson, MSI Tec.

—Edited by Jeanine Katzel, senior editor, Control Engineering, jkatzel@reedbusiness.com





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