FRA Head Wants to Study Autonomous Track Inspection

The head of the Federal Railroad Administration wants to establish a pilot program that will be used to study autonomous track inspection.

Speaking at the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Conference, Ronald Batory said the pilot would involve a Class 1 railroad and the data generated would be shared with the FRA.

However, he said he doesn’t expect the program to lead to ending physical track inspections by maintenance of way workers.

“It will ultimately reduce the risk and enhance  . . . safety and might require less physical inspection as far as frequency, but will still require physical inspections to confirm and fix,” Batory said.

“We’re going to find ourselves with a safer track structure where those vehicles operate, over the term that they operate, than what we had when it was strictly eye inspection.”

Batory said an autonomous track inspection vehicle might be able to discover more track defects than two workers riding in a hi-rail vehicle and visually inspecting the track.

“And we want to do the same insofar as signal and train control; we want to do it with mechanical inspections,” he said.

The FRA administrator said there is much opportunity to use technology to figure out how to maintain and operate railroads and to do so in better way than those of the past.

“That’s no disrespect to the past. It’s a new tool, and we need to embrace it and use it,” Batory said.

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