Advancements in equipment and technology push detection of rail flaws to new levels.
The past year, be it for positive or negative reasons, has thrust North American railroads' inspection practices into the spotlight. Rail-flaw detection service providers are keenly aware of the responsibility that has been and will continue to be on the industry's shoulders to provide accurate and reliable assessments of a railroad's assets to keep operations running in a safe manner.
According to Phil Huebner, technical sales director for L.B. Foster Salient Systems, the company's RailStress Monitor™ (RSM™) had a number of new developments in the past year, while the INTELLITRACK® Navigator software platform underwent user-driven enhancements for display and alarming.
"Earlier in the year, we completed the development of a new wayside reader that wirelessly collects data from the RSM, uploading it to our INTELLITRACK Navigator. We also introduced the next generation RSM that is lighter, smaller and much more cost effective. The RSM has also incorporated a new guard design that attaches more efficiently to the rail. This version can use pin brazing technology as an option or it can be attached using a backing plate with an adhesive," said Huebner.
The past year also saw the company expand its market presence after successfully concluding trials in South Africa and with a major North American transit system that resulted in the installation of a number of RSMs.
Said Huebner, "High or low rail stress is the invisible rail flaw. Rail stress is not visible to the naked eye. And it can change based on track stability, temperature, curvature, maintenance and rail traffic. The amount of longitudinal stress in the rail will determine whether a rail will buckle or break. But it is impossible to know if you are in danger ofa buckle or break in the track due to high or low longitudinal stress by simple visual inspection."
He continued, "Rail expands and contracts with temperature changes. At RNT (Rail Neutral Temperature, also called SFT, Stress Free Temperature), the rail is neither compressed nor tensioned. Rail is ideally installed at a defined target RNT for a particular track region with the goal of minimizing rail breaks, track movements and rail buckling. RNT can change over time, which creates the opportunity for a rail buckle or break situation. Railroads can judge whether conditions for a buckle or break to occur exist by knowing the actual RNT and moving in a deliberate fashion to manage the potential risk."
Huebner explained that railroads issue slow orders to reduce the velocity of cars at predetermined ambient temperatures when the potential for a buckle or break are high. He said if railroads can identify when there is longitudinal stress inside the rail, they could reduce the number of slow orders that they issue. Additionally, Huebner says rail breathing, when rail moves in extreme temperatures, can be detected by the RSM modules because the action affects RNT.
"By monitoring the RNT, the railroads can administer their track in a safer and much more cost efficient manner," said Huebner. "Managing rail stress using currently available technologies is a time consuming and highly disruptive operation for railroads and transit agencies. Because the ambient temperature and the RNT change over time, the RSM provides real-time track monitoring. Until it was introduced, there was no way for a railroad or transit to monitor rail stress on a continuous basis and take proactive corrective actions. We believe that this product is unique in the way that it functions and communicates. "
Once the RSM device is installed on track, it sends data to either a wayside or handheld reader. All data is then uploaded via cell towers to a data center. The customer can then access this data through INTELLITRACK Navigator, which permits exception based management of sections of track. Huebner points out that stress and temperature are measured once per minute making the technology highly effective and INTELLITRACK Navigator can generate proactive alarms and warnings on a real time basis to designated railroad personnel for corrective action.
Concluded Huebner, "As we continue to enhance our product offerings we are very excited about our future business opportunities."
What some see as "headaches" on track, Herzog Services, Inc. (HSI), says it sees opportunities to solve problems for its customers and provide them with the most efficient service available.
"A solution to one of these obstacles has been in the form of a recordable B-Scan push cart for crossover and yard testing," said Troy Elbert, assistant vice president at HSI. "Beta tested and implemented in the summer of 2013, the new unit has proven to be a rugged and reliable machine with the follow-up unit being tested and implemented into revenue service within the first quarter of 2014. The new B-Scan push cart has recording capabilities with GPS tagging of testing data. The single RSU has a full complement of transducers for optimal testing in a lightweight, portable package. We look forward to full integration of this new unit within our Portable Testing Fleet throughout 2014."
HSI is readying the final phase of development of its 2020 Ultrasonic Rail Testing platform following successful testing this past summer. Elbert says work is currently underway to refine the user interface to closely mimic current data presentation, which will greatly reduce the learning curve.
"Intuitive interaction, such as real-time 3D modeling of the sound reflectors within the rail, will further help the chief operator make more informed decisions, reducing the amount of false positives, reverse movements and stop times to verify indications by hand. This will result in an increased average test speed and daily production," said Elbert.
He expects the upcoming year to be a productive one for the company's development projects.
"Both products [B-Scan push carts and Herzog Services, Inc., 2020] are aimed at increasing productivity, reliability and detection of internal defects. Additionally, services such as light geometry, joint bar inventory and inspection services centered around fasteners and other fixation devices can be integrated into both current technology, as well as future technologies," said Elbert.
He notes that a nine-percent reduction in available track time from 2012 to 2013 has the company looking at ways to become more efficient with its on-track movements in order to maintain a consistent level of productivity and meeting its customers' expectations.
HSI has implemented new protocols to alert production managers in the event of extended periods of "wait" time, which could be from train delay or other delays. The company also adopted a heightened preventative maintenance program to address any potential problems the onset of cold weather would bring.
"Safety is always a concern for Herzog Services, Inc., as well as our host railroads. Increased communications to the field from the safety department, increased training requirements, certification tracking and heightened situational awareness have been the top focus for 2013 and will continue to be a focus in 2014 and beyond, " said Elbert.
Nordco Inc. says it continues to enhance its flagship Flex rail-flaw detection system, by improving both hardware and software components. Nordco explains the latest feature for the system is an integrated vision system, which has cameras mounted under the Flex truck to allow the operator to ensure carriage alignment before and during testing operations, improving the overall reliability of test results.
The company is developing an easy-to-ship, easy-to-deploy rail-flaw system, known as the skid-mounted Flex. The system will have all the components of its Flex rail-flaw detection system – testing carriage, connections, computer/monitor, etc. –fitted into a shipping box that fits in the back of hi-rail pickup vehicle and can also be shipped through commercial shipping services. Nordco says the skid-mounted Flex can be unpacked, set up and fully operational in an hour, allowing the Flex to be truly portable, a good fit for its customers with geographically dispersed testing needs.
"Our testing software now includes a track permit validation enhancement," said Bob Coakley, director of sales and marketing at Nordco. "When the operator receives the track time information from the railroad, either/both the mile poles or times are entered in the system. Shortly before the track permit parameters are met, e.g. 10 minutes before time expiration, the operator receives a warning message. This allows the operator to either quickly exit the track or call for a track permit extension. The testing software automatically shuts down if the operator does not respond to the warning message."
Sperry Rail Service says it continues to advance its core technologies, as well as adjacent technologies to enhance its portfolio of services, which include ultrasonic, electromagnetic and vision-based inspection technologies.
"By continuously enhancing our core portfolio of products and systems, we are able to offer our customers heightened testing quality which directly correlates to a positive rate of return on investment. Additionally, utilizing our core ultrasonic/induction expertise coupled with adjacent technologies, we are able to offer a greater resource to the customer while reducing our footprint," said Ron Davis, Sperry's business development manager for North America.
The company reports a global interest in the concept of high-speed testing following the launch of its SRS119 non-stop testing vehicle.
Frank Stillman, who manages the Eastern United States and Canadian territories, states, "Our dedicated team supporting the SRS 119 non-stop testing vehicle has driven a marked increase in track coverage. Along with increased speed, our advanced guidance system allows for automated control of test integrity and has allowed us to test upwards of 200 miles per day with this vehicle while seamlessly utilizing remote analysis and posttest verification. The result has been a dynamic shift in the way both Sperry and some of its customers view the future of rail testing and the efficiencies we are seeing with this model. By adding adjacent technologies to this proven concept, we can now take this process to the next phase, further enhancing the customers track utilization and ROI modeling."
Sperry's remote analysis team is dedicated to the non-stop testing model, which allows its field teams to focus their efforts on collecting data and accurately and timely verifying rail defects to be taken out of service. Sperry says this provides the opportunity for the railroad, based on its own requirements and needs, to achieve the lowest-cost, highest quality contracted service.
Sperry has also introduced a prototype Yard Test Vehicle (YTV) the company says is specifically designed to be a more cost-effective platform to support yard testing, allowing customers to optimize the use of full size vehicles on the main track corridors.
Simon Broomhead, director of engineering, commented, "The YTV... is a clear example of our ongoing focus to reduce the footprint of the technology and process occupying the railroads infrastructure, thereby consuming track time. The key is that the specific inspection technology available across the product range is not compromised to achieve the logistical objectives of the service offering. That is where 'fit-for-propose' drives the innovation process."
Sperry's DCS Live, a real-time reporting program with GIS mapping, offers various configurable options that can support an array of customer specific requirements, allowing them to optimize RFD asset utilization, while providing real-time test results.
Tim Hance, West Coast regional manager, points out, "identifying inefficiencies in real time, enhances our ability to engage the customer immediately; ultimately increasing productivity."
In addition to new products, Sperry launched a safety-focused program, Sperry Action for Excellence (SAFE), aimed at reducing inefficiencies and variability within its business. Sperry says the program, which is built on the industrial improvement models of "Lean" and "Six Sigma," will prioritize both what is important to its customers, as well as its business, attacking those areas where it can affect positive change.
"Sperry's number one metric of safety, along with our new focus on SAFE, will continue to be fundamental to what we are about," said Jamie O'Rourke, general manager. "As Sperry continues to position our products and services around the world, the best way for our customers and our company to advance further is to do so operating from an effective and efficient business platform. This is how we will ensure we have a safe, productive and exciting future that benefits all of us."
Sperry aims to be an integral partner in its customers' asset management and says its integrated approach continues to refine the RFD footprint to better support customer needs with various forms of track inspection technologies, defect trend analysis and optimization of test segments.