NS Develops New Track Inspection Technology

Norfolk Southern is touting progress that it has made in track inspection technology that it says will improve safety and enable it to operate more efficiently.

NS said it is the first railroad to develop and use an autonomous track geometry measurement system mounted on a locomotive.

“With our locomotive-based system, we use an existing asset to increase the frequency of our track inspections, without adding another piece of equipment that has to be run across the railroad,” Ed Boyle, NS vice president of engineering told Railway Age magazine.

“This innovative approach enhances our safety practices by permitting us to have precise and quality track inspections done under load at track speed. With this system, Norfolk Southern will provide service safely, efficiently and cost-effectively.”

The autonomous system provides information that the railroad uses for track maintenance programs and capital budgeting.

It is currently being used in a pilot study between Portsmouth, Ohio, and Norfolk.

NS chose that route because its profile varies between hilly and flat, straight and curves, and because it hosts high-tonnage traffic.

The system is mounted in a box under a six-axle road locomotive between the snowplow and first set of wheels. A computer located in the cab’s electrical locker collects the data.

Mike Allran, the NS manager of track inspection and development, said the system operates anytime a locomotive is pulling a train.

“This gives us more robust data for use in predictive-modeling to determine track maintenance intervals, which enables us to maximize efficiencies that will generate significant cost savings,” he said.

Most autonomous track inspection systems used today are placed on converted freight or passenger rail cars and require an external power source to operate.

The track system mounted on a locomotive was developed by the NS track inspection group, which used components acquired from defense industry companies.

The components include lasers, gyros, accelerometers and global positioning system sensors that detect defects or anomalies in track geometry, including track gauge, and the elevation and curvature of track.

Data is transmitted to office locations where track geometry engineers confirm potential defects and notify track maintenance personnel.

Additional locomotives will eventually be equipped with the system and plans are the works to increase its inspection capability to include fasteners, rail welds and switch points.

The locomotive-based inspections are intended to supplement and not replace inspections performed by hi-rail trucks and track geometry cars.

NS has produced a video about the new system that can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpa85Vx9JTc

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