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An Energy-Harvesting Railroad Tie for Improving Track Condition Monitoring and Safety

Researchers at the Railway Technologies Laboratory (RTL) of the Center for Vehicle Systems and Safety (CVeSS) at Virginia Tech have designed and developed an energy harvesting railroad tie, shown in Figure 1, to power trackside electronics and sensors for improving track condition monitoring and safety. As a member of the Rail Transportation Engineering and Advance Maintenance (RailTEAM) consortium led by the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), RTL is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation University Transportation Center program. RTL explores technologies that advance railroad sciences and enable the U.S. rail industry to become more efficient and globally competitive. 

The shortage of electrical power along railroad tracks significantly limits the railroads’ ability to apply intelligent solutions for improving rail safety and connectivity. Much advanced wayside electrical equipment desired by the U.S. railroads cannot be employed readily on tracks due to the absence of electrical power. For example, some railroads use drones as a preferred means of physical inspection of track conditions, but the average maximum battery life for most commercial drones is only 22 to 27 minutes, significantly limit their operational range and length of flight. 

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Last updated: Tuesday, October 5, 2021