Editorial Feature

Using Defect Sensors to Detect Signaling Problems on Train Lines

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Trains are a key mode of transport in most developed countries around the world. Sadly, train collisions are often catastrophic and result in severe damage to life and property. Thanks to technological advancements, many train collisions are now preventable.

Causes of Train Collisions

Some of the major causes of train collisions include:

  • Mis-signalling due to mist or fog.
  • Accidents on slopes.
  • Collisions involving a moving train with a standing train.
  • Derailment on bends and curves.

Microcontrollers and embedded technology, used in coherence with relays and sensors, can be used to prevent all of these issues. Several inexpensive, power-efficient wireless sensors are now also available which can assist with train detection.

Vibration Sensor Integrated Collision Avoidance System

Bissa GA et al (2013) have designed a train collision avoidance system that includes a gap detector for sensing the gap between the rails of different paths, in curves and bends.

A sensor detects vibrations in the rail with respect to the arrival and departure of trains using the piezoelectric effect. The system also includes a LASER detector which is able to determine the presence of a train in front of a moving train.

The sensor detects the input and transmits a signal to the microcontroller. The microcontroller in turn responds to the input by sending a command to the particular component with a predefined algorithm. The sensors then provide an alarm and prevent a disaster occurring.

Infrared Train Obstacle Detection System

Passarella R et al (2011) proposed an early warning detection device that can detect a potential collision or accident using an infrared system. An object detection sensor is mounted at the front of a train to detect obstacles whilst the train is moving forward.

Two LED displays are installed inside the driver’s room. A green LED indicates an obstacle has not been detected and a red LED indicates that an obstacle is within the range of the sensor.

The infrared system emits light that strikes the object and reflects signal back. The reflected light signal is then collected by a lens and focused on a photodiode contained within a sensor unit.

The shift phase of the reflected light is then compared with the reference signal in order to calculate the distance between the object and the train.

Applications of Train Detection Systems

The applications of train detection systems include:

  • Warning the operator of an incoming train to a station through announcements.
  • Level crossing solution.
  • Automatic track warning systems in order to ensure safety of railway workers.
  • Automatic track lubrication systems in order to reduce damage caused by lateral forces, switch wear and curved rail wear.
  • Sensing overheating rail wheel bearings caused by strong frictional forces.

Sources and Further Reading

This article was updated on 17th February, 2020.

Alexander Chilton

Written by

Alexander Chilton

Alexander has a BSc in Physics from the University of Sheffield. After graduating, he spent two years working in Sheffield for a large UK-based law firm, before relocating back to the North West and joining the editorial team at AZoNetwork. Alexander is particularly interested in the history and philosophy of science, as well as science communication. Outside of work, Alexander can often be found at gigs, record shopping or watching Crewe Alexandra trying to avoid relegation to League Two.


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