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May 2015

Rail News: MOW

Track inspection technology 2015


Ten suppliers provide information on the latest equipment and services they offer to inspect rail and track components.


ENSCO Rail offers what it describes as a new approach to automated track geometry measurement — the Autonomous Track Geometry Measurement System (ATGMS). The ATGMS offers several advantages over traditional manned track geometry measurement approaches, company officials said.

First, it reduces operational costs because it is installed on revenue cars, so it does not impact rail traffic flow, they said. It also eliminates the need for a manned crew and their travel costs.

Secondly, ATGMS provides increased frequency of surveys. The system is installed on locomotives or freight or passenger cars, so every train movement presents an opportunity to assess the track under loaded conditions at revenue train speeds, which can be higher than traditional self-propelled inspection cars, ENSCO officials said.

The ATGMS also offers significant operational efficiencies to railroads for data management and reporting. Track geometry data measured by the system is streamed over wireless networks and detected exceptions with associated track locations are automatically sent via email to field personnel or directly to railway work order maintenance systems. The ATGMS system also features a web-based reporting system for historical analysis, trending and reporting.

Georgetown Rail Equipment Co.

Georgetown Rail Equipment Co. (GREX) has pioneered what the company characterizes as a revolutionary approach to subsurface defect detection in crossties. Developed via a partnership with the University of Florida nuclear science program, Aurora Xi™ uses patented X-ray backscatter technology to inspect ties from a hi-rail platform at speeds exceeding 20 mph.

The scanning process produces high-resolution X-ray images that can be evaluated using specialized image analysis software. The data combines with GREX's Aurora® machine vision inspection data to provide a comprehensive look at the condition of all ties in a scanned segment, company officials said.

Aurora Xi builds upon the Aurora® track inspection system that has scanned more than 120,000 miles of track throughout North America. While Aurora can accurately identify failure modes present at the surface of ties, Aurora Xi takes inspections even further by adding internal imaging capability, GREX officials said.

Last fall, Aurora Xi debuted on mainline Class I track in southeastern Texas. With the early data collections, GREX initiated and developed a reliable standard for assessing internal tie condition, company officials said. By implementing modeling techniques, metrics such as the severity of internal loss, size of internal voids and proximity to the tie plate were combined with surface condition data to form a single condition grade.

GREX received a notice of allowance from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for this application of X-ray backscatter inspection technology. The company expects the first Aurora Xi production hi-rail vehicles to roll out this month.

Herzog Services Inc.

Herzog Services Inc. has introduced the newest addition to its ultrasonic rail testing product line. Based on a Polaris Brutus UTV, the Series 4000 Rail Test vehicle is designed with the customer in mind.

Packed with features, the compact size of the Series 4000 is designed to test rail in yards, crossovers, sidings and other hard-to-access places, Herzog Services officials said. Powered by a three-cylinder diesel engine and hydrostat four-wheel drive, the unit can be set on and off grade crossings where full-size vehicles can't.

A full complement of transducers inspects both rails simultaneously for internal transverse and longitudinal defects that are displayed to the operator in a scrolling B-scan format. Location is accurately recorded by the use of GPS coordinates and mileage counters.

The Series 4000 Ultrasonic Rail Test vehicle has "all the might" of a full-size inspection vehicle in a versatile and compact package, Herzog Services officials said.

Holland LP

Railroads are under increasing pressure to extract the most life out of rail, their most costly asset, while ensuring that wear does not exceed the prescribed wear limits. Wear measurement data, which is collected annually or more frequently by laser/camera measuring systems mounted on track geometry cars, provides a snapshot of the current wear conditions.

The data in and of itself does not, however, indicate wear rates or forecast when rail will be worn to its replacement limits. Specialized post-processing software is required for this type of analysis.

Holland LP offers Rangecam Software, which turns data from track geometry rail profile, track strength, rail and wheel measurements into useful information — the kind needed to make critical decisions about railway maintenance and planning, company officials said.

Holland's user-friendly software is designed to provide comprehensive reporting of track geometry, track strength, rail wear, rail profile and rail-flaw data, if imported. The data is graphically represented on GPS-derived route maps that can be overlaid on satellite, terrain and street-view maps. The software can generate reports on track condition, exceptions, rate of change/degradation and many other parameters.

The Rangecam Software has the ability to accommodate track geometry, track strength, rail profile and defect data from multiple sources, making it an effective single-source solutions tool for reporting, analysis and maintenance planning needs, Holland officials said.

Loram Maintenance of Way Inc.

Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. offers the Rail Inspection Vehicle (RIV), which has been proven to increase the effectiveness of rail grinding services when used for pre-inspection, the company said. Rail profiles are analyzed by the RIV to determine the locations across the rail head where metal removal is required to most efficiently attain the target profile.

Concurrently, the surface condition is evaluated to determine the depth of cut required to remove surface defects and fatigued metal to prevent crack and/or corrugation propagation. Studies indicate the RIV achieves significant gains in rail quality over traditional methods, all with a reduction in the number of passes required to achieve the desired profile at higher grind speeds, Loram officials said. Precise stone placement leads to higher overall throughput, less track occupancy requirements and less unnecessary metal removed, they said.

Through additional studies, Loram has found the RIV can improve the ability of rail-flaw testing methods to search for internal flaws due to enhanced removal of surface defects.

The company also recently released RAILPRO 2.0 software, which reaches higher levels of efficiency by precisely targeting areas of the rail head that need grinding the most, Loram officials said. The new version of RAILPRO is designed to provide better performance through measuring more profiles per second, allowing enhanced speeds and a higher density of profiles, if desired. Along with an improved user interface and integrated reporting available to the inspector, RAILPRO 2.0 can inject additional factors into the decision-making process and enable users to take full advantage of Loram's rail grinder capabilities, company officials said.


In 2010, 619 level crossing (LC) accidents in the European Union caused 359 fatalities and 327 serious injuries. LC accidents represent 27 percent of all rail accidents, while 28 percent of rail fatalities are caused mainly by human error, MERMEC officials said.

A Level Crossing Obstacle Detection System (LOD) designed and manufactured by MERMEC targets LC accident prevention. Marketed to railways and rapid transit systems, the LOD could also be applied to monitor other possible safety risks, such as by continuously scanning track near station platforms to detect any people and/or falling objects.

MERMEC began developing LOD technology with the Italian Railways to improve operational performance, reduce wait times for pedestrians and vehicles, and — most important — prevent crossing-related accidents, company officials said.

Detection is based on infrared laser technology and involves one or more sensing units, depending on the size of the area to be monitored. A wayside control unit collects the information received by the sensing units and generates alarms based on high-level thresholds. The LOD is also able to integrate with traditional LC protection systems with complete barriers and drives, and communicate with an interlocking system through interfaces based on safety-critical standards.

The LOD is highly reliable and accurate, even when operating in severe weather conditions, MERMEC officials said. Several LOD trial applications have been performed in Europe and the response from railways is "very positive," they said. The LOD not only can help improve safety, but seamlessly integrate with existing signaling systems to provide more value to railroads, MERMEC officials said.

Harsco Rail

In September 2014, Harsco Rail partnered with MRail to provide vertical track deflection measurement systems and services worldwide. Vertical track deflection is directly related to the track stiffness (modulus) and measures the support condition of the rail, which directly affects the stress distribution to the various track components: rail, ties, fasteners, ballast and subgrade. This also includes other track structural components such as joints, turnouts and bridges.

Currently, track geometry cars undertake critical measurements of the loaded shape of the rail to determine the conformance of the track to allowable geometry deviations per appropriate safety standards. Without knowledge of the unloaded rail shape, vertical displacement from unloaded to loaded positions cannot be determined. Using the MRail system, the vertical deflection of the rail can be measured and locations can be identified where vertical track strength and/or the track support structure formation are weakening.

The MRail system is an autonomous measurement system designed to mount seamlessly on a revenue service car. The system is powered by solar panels with battery storage. Data is measured via a mounted sensor head containing a laser/camera based measurement system, and the processed data is ultimately transmitted to a central repository via a cell modem.

"MRail is not meant to replace existing track inspection technologies. Rather, MRail measurements should be used in conjunction with track geometry, rail profile and other inspection methods/analyses to create a complete track inspection program to allow for maintenance planning to increase safety and track component life," said Joe Palese, Harsco Rail's senior director of inspection services and technology.

Nordco Inc.

Nordco Inc. offers the One Pass Rail Flaw Detection System as a portable solution for manual rail inspection. The company bundled its latest sensing and processing technologies in a compact, comfortable-to-use rail test unit to bring its leading detection capabilities to hand testing applications, Nordco officials said.

Applications include testing of switches, crossings, and inventory and replacement rail, testing of yards and verification behind rail-flaw detection vehicles. The system utilizes Nordco's advanced XL9-11 wheel probe to inspect rail integrity with 11 transducers designed to sense defects at multiple angles. Defects are represented in a "B-Scan" view while defect verification is supported with an onboard hand test kit in an "A-Scan" view.

Inspection technology also incorporates pattern recognition, run-on-run testing capabilities and reporting on a Windows 7 platform. Results are viewable on a Panasonic CF-H2 Toughbook touch screen with integrated GPS. Additionally, Nordco offers online reporting for post-test auditing and review.

The One Pass system includes a built-in couplant tank and features the SmartFlow Couplant Delivery system. The SmartFlow software offers control when the couplant is applied to the wheel and adjusts flow depending on operating and environmental conditions.

The One Pass system is designed ergonomically with a detachable side handle that mounts left or right for more convenient pushing when walking next to the rail. Push handle height is adjustable to accommodate operators of multiple heights and a lift handle located in front eases unit handling.

Plasser American Corp./KLD Labs Inc.

Many passenger-rail and transit systems utilize an electrified third rail as the power source for their revenue trains. Third-rail electrification has many advantages, including less maintenance, and is better suited for short station spacing and high acceleration versus catenary systems.

Ensuring the third rail achieves a long useful life can only be accomplished through continuous monitoring and maintenance. From a maintenance standpoint, network operators generally are interested in the following measured parameters: the third rail's vertical and horizontal position relative to the adjacent running rail to ensure consistent shoe positional contact; distance between cover board and sliding surface to ensure proper spacing and no shoe contact; the third rail's temperature to locate areas of current loss or bad joints; and the amount of the rail's vertical wear.

To measure the dimensional parameters, Plasser American Corp. and KLD Labs Inc. have successfully deployed measuring systems that are based on the same technology as rail wear measuring systems using non-contact optical techniques. The systems are a major leap forward for third-rail inspection because they replaced a manual inspection process with an automated process that both improved accuracy and safety, Plasser officials said.

Third-rail temperature can be measured in different ways, such as by using a thermal imaging system that can visualize hot spots and provide temperature images of track surroundings. For the visual evaluation of power rails, Plasser couples a video system based on a line scan camera. The images provide a visual evaluation of the complete third rail without accessing the track.

Land Systems Corp./Railscout

Next month, Land Systems Corp. expects to begin testing its Railscout® unmanned track inspection vehicle at two major U.S. ports.

The manufacturer of advanced electric unmanned ground vehicle platforms and applications in June plans to begin trials of pre-production Railscout vehicles on railroads serving ports in Los Angeles and New Orleans.

The trials will provide "sufficient real-world durability" and performance data to enter full production and commercial deployment in early 2016, Land Systems Corp. officials said in a press release. Demonstrations are also scheduled for later this year in Spain, Poland and Canada.

Railscout is an autonomous, rail-bound lithium-electric vehicle designed to reach a maximum speed of 100 mph and an operating range of approximately 300 miles. The production version of the system, which is manufactured by Land Systems Corp. in the Port of Los Angeles, can operate in extreme weather conditions.

The system can be operated remotely by tele-operation or deployed autonomously using onboard control systems similar to those found in driverless cars. Obstacle avoidance, localization and auto-navigation algorithms enable safe operation in "dark" zones, such as tunnels and canyons, according to Land Systems Corp.

Railscout provides railroad maintenance-of-way and inspection teams with supplemental track condition intelligence that can be critical to ensuring efficiency and safety in increasingly high passenger- and freight-rail traffic areas.

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Browse articles on ENSCO Rail Georgetown Rail Equipment Co. Herzog Services Inc. Holland LP Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. MERMEC Harsco Rail Nordco Inc. Plasser American Corp. KLD Labs Inc. Land Systems Corp. Railscout

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