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Trains have largely been displaced by cars, trucks, buses and planes within the United States. Trains as an option for traveling is typically used as a last priority, except for those who commute daily from the suburbs to the city.

…firefighters would be able to assess the situation before they have to enter the impacted area. This innovation could help save the lives of firefighters, trapped citizens, and emergency response teams.

In Europe and parts of Asia, particularly Japan and South Korea, there are modern high-speed train systems which commuters prefer for the faster travel time, comfort, and excellent service. In these countries, there is a real dependence on consistent train service. However, one problem that rail systems have in common with roads and highways is that accidents still happen, even in a controlled environment.

The Transportation Technology Center is a place where train safety is currently under study. They have a 52 square mile training and research facility in Pueblo, Colorado. Their aim is to develop new innovative technologies in order to prevent accidents and future derailments. The facility has train tracks where train accidents are simulated. These include various types of trains at different speeds, as well as cargo and weight configurations. The Center is isolated from the general population, and as a matter of policy, no cameras are allowed except those which are used to record the experiments.

Detecting Cracked Train Wheels

Some of the most important research being done deals with detecting cracked wheels. The stresses on a wheel sometimes can cause it to break. This is due to microscopic stress points on the wheel itself. Trying to detect these stress points can be tedious, considering the number of wheels, cars, flat beds and vans. In order to be cost-effective, and to make sure that all the wheels are inspected, the method of inspection has to be quick and give a high probability of being correct. There are several methods for this, including thermal imaging.

train and broken rail

When a wheel cracks while the train is rolling, it leaves more work and pressure for the other wheels to compensate. In some instances, the wheel breaking up can also cause the cab to jump off the tracks. Depending on what happens to the wheel, the cab and the rest of the train can completely halt, derail, or even uncouple.

Nowadays, ultrasound pictures are taken to detect cracked wheels. This is a fast and easy method and could easily be used to prevent any unforeseen accidents.

Another important safety aspect that the Center is studying involves positive train control. This is a computerized procedure where the train slows down automatically when it approaches a curve, or a red light. Due to the nature of the tracks and curves, signals are used to inform the train engineers when there is another train on the track, track conditions, as well as warning lights.

The Center is also studying the use of sensor-dropping drones which can be used to evaluate fires or chemical spills. These complications can cause clouds of material or smoke to appear, hindering the use of cameras. Utilizing the sensors, firefighters would be able to assess the situation before they have to enter the impacted area. This innovation could help save the lives of firefighters, trapped citizens, and emergency response teams.

These are just a few of the bold technologies which can be used for safe train travel, as well as for rescue and firefighting. These technologies are all tested on site before they can be deployed in the field. As the transportation industry continues to evolve, it is critical for technology to take a bold action into train innovations. Without these ideas being implemented successfully, we will carry on seeing a steady decline of trains across the US.

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