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Industry in talks to roll out self-powered wireless sensors at level crossings

Researchers at the University of Huddersfield’s Institute of Railway Research (IRR) will hold talks with industry partners to help bring its DfT-backed rail crossings project into fruition after demonstrating the feasibility of using wireless sensors.

The IRR had won funding from the DfT to investigate innovative methods of crossing control. It pitched a ‘network’ of tiny wireless sensors that could both improve safety at crossings and cost significantly less to install and maintain, since they would draw their electrical power from track vibration.

The bid was drawn up by the IRR’s research fellow Dr Farouk Balouchi, who specialises in “energy harvesting”, or drawing electrical power from external sources like track vibrations. This would provide a “free” power source for relatively inexpensive sensors that could be attached to tracks in the vicinity of a crossing, which would then form a wireless network to send a message to lower or raise the gates.

The institute’s research successfully demonstrated through extensive testing and modelling that the project could make “massive” savings. In some locations, for example, a conventional detection system could cost up to £500,000 with high running costs. Using a wireless sensor network in the same scenario could be installed for the less than £20,000 and would be self-powered by vibration thereafter. The network would also be “self-healing”.

Dr Balouchi explained: “If one sensor fails, the others talk to one another and create another network, creating another route for the information to travel.”

Wireless sensors can also be fitted quickly, he added, with no requirements for conduits or wiring vulnerable to theft or rodent issues, therefore keeping service disruption to a minimum.

And, since the sensors respond to vibrations, they would not only detect incoming trains but also be used to monitor the condition of the track and the track bed.

While the technology would be completely novel in the rail industry, it has already been tried and tested in the oil and gas industry and some safety-critical applications such as medical devices, the IRR added. Across rail, the institute argued the technology would have “global potential”, with the UK alone having almost 6,600 gazetted level crossings.


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Pdeaves   16/08/2016 at 13:01

What's a "gazetted level crossing"? (end of article)

Jerry Alderson   16/08/2016 at 17:22

This is exactly the kind of cost-saving innovation that the railway desperately needs. The government and rail industry cannot keep punishing the passenger with above-inflation fare increases (CPI-measured inflation plus 1.3% on 2 Jan 2017) because of the railway's laziness or inability to control costs.

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