Technical Reports

Feasibility Study of Fiber-Optic Technology for Broken Rail Detection

  • 18
  • Oct
  • 2013
AUTHOR: Matthew D. Holcomb and W. David Mauger
OFFICE: RPD
REPORT NUMBER: DOT/FRA/ORD-13/44
SUBJECT: Rail and Infrastructure Integrity, Track, Tracks & Structures
KEYWORDS: Fiber Optic, Broken Rail, Acoustic, Seismic, Rail Break, Wayside Systems
ABSTRACT: This report describes the activities and presents the results of a feasibility study to examine the viability of using fiber-optic acoustic technologies to detect broken rails in railroad tracks. A fiber-optic test bed was constructed at Transportation Technology Center (TTC) that consisted of fiber-optic cable (and related electronics) installed alongside the track of the High Tonnage Loop (HTL) at TTC’s Facility for Accelerated Service Testing (FAST). The cable was used as an acoustic detector to monitor acoustic energy transmitted by the HTL track through the earth to the cable. Data from the acoustic detector was then analyzed to see if acoustic events from the track could be correlated to broken rails when they occurred during train operations at FAST. During the study, analysts were able to identify and locate rail breaks. Follow-on efforts should focus on enhancing the existing capabilities of the fiber-optic test bed to enable it to detect additional acoustic events such as flat wheels and other railcar defects, as well as train position (including head-end and end-of-train detection), train velocity, length of train, braking issues, and the presence of railway trespassers.

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