Warning System for Safety and Maintenance of Freight Railways

Quarterly Reports Other Documents Final Report
December 2011
March 2012
June 2012
September 2012
December 2012

Primary Investigator

Dante Fratta, PhD, PE
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1415 Engineering Dr. – Madison, WI 53706


One of the main concerns facing the freight rail industry in the US is the increasing maintenance costs and inspection efforts due to the surface deformation of railway tracks. Surface track settlement and misalignment is mainly caused by progressive generation of fine particles and moisture in ballast in a process known as ‘fouling.’ During the fouling process, the structural integrity of fouled ballast can be compromised leading to track deformation and ultimately train derailments. Because of the serious consequences of fouling in railway operations, costly ballast maintenance (i.e., undercutting, tamping, and shoulder cleaning), are routinely performed. The cost and effectiveness of track maintenance operations are related to the frequency and effectiveness of track inspections. The risk involved with the functional or mechanical failure of a rail track between two inspection events is solely based on judgment and experience of rail professionals. The mismatch between maintenance need and the lack of a measurement-driven and systematic inspection methodology also explains the current imbalance between corrective and preventive maintenance activities in railways. In fact, a reliable, systematic, continuous, and sustainable inspection methodology has yet to be developed, and demand for new technologies is increasing among the rail society. Electromagnetic (EM) surveying coupled with fiber optic sensors (FOS) is proposed to deal with the ballast fouling problem. FOS arrays create a continuous and remote sensing technology to provide a warning system for inspection and maintenance activities during the track service life. The EM technology is aimed to create the image of track cross-sections in critical spots identified by FOS. Coupling of these technologies provides information for strategic and sustainable maintenance activities and increases the safety of our national freight rail transportation network.


Assess the feasibility of using electromagnetic surveying and remote fiber optic sensing for railway track inspection. The proposed methodology is expected to increase track safety by also developing a warning system for track inspection and maintenance.


  1. Evaluation of EM Properties of Fouled Ballast Using TDR
  2. GPR Profiling of Rail Track Cross-Sections
  3. FOS for Railway Warning System
  4. Final Report and Dissemination

Project Information

  • Duration: 12 months
  • Dates: September 1, 2011 – August 31, 2012
  • Budget: $113, 325 (with 33,225 in matching funds)
  • Student Involvement: One graduate student and one undergraduate
  • Modal Orientation: Rail
  • Project ID: CFIRE 05-11
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