Intermodal (IM) trains are typically the fastest freight trains operated in North America. The aerodynamic characteristics of many of these trains are often relatively poor resulting in high fuel consumption. However, considerable variation in fuel efficiency is possible depending on how the loads are placed on railcars in the train. Consequently, substantial potential fuel savings are possible if more attention is paid to the loading configuration of trains.
North American railroads and the United States Department of Transportation (US DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) require periodic inspection of railway infrastructure to ensure safe railway operation. The primary focus of this research is the inspection of North American Class I railroad mainline and sidings, as these generally experience the highest traffic densities.
To ensure the safe and efficient operation of the approximately 1.6 million freight cars (wagons) in the North American railroad network, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requires periodic inspection of railcars to detect structural damage and defects. Railcar structural underframe components, including the centre sill, sidesills, and crossbearers, are subject to fatigue cracking due to periodic and/or cyclic loading during service and other forms of damage.
Locomotive and rolling stock condition is an important element of railway safety, reliability, and service quality. Traditionally, railroads have monitored equipment condition by conducting regular inspections. Over the past several decades, certain inspection tasks have been automated using technologies that have reduced the cost and increased the effectiveness of the inspection.
Before North American trains depart a terminal or rail yard, many aspects of the cars and locomotives undergo inspection, including their safety appliances. Safety appliances are handholds, ladders and other objects that serve as the interface between humans and railcars during transportation. The current inspection process is primarily visual and is labor intensive, redundant, and generally lacks “memory” of the inspection results.
One machine vision system researched by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), under sponsorship of the AAR’s Technology Scanning Strategic Research Initiative, demonstrates that machine vision can be used for inspection of railcars. The UIUC prototype system inspect wheel, truct, and brake system components by automated, machine vision-based systems. Machine vision-based wheel and brake shoe inspection systems are already or will soon become commercially available.