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System would save lives on rail tracks

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February 14, 2001 A McMaster University researcher says the chance to save lives is a powerful motivation to develop a new safety system for rail transit workers, the Hamilton, Ont., Spectator reports. The university and Bombardier Transportation are working together on a C$1.4-million project to develop an automated system that could warn track workers and on-board personnel of possible danger while there is still time to avoid accidents.

"The whole team is
pretty dedicated to the project from that perspective," said Pankaj Sood,
manager of the McMaster lab that is handling the academic side of the project.
"In that environment, if something actually goes wrong, it goes wrong on a
pretty big scale."

The need for greater safety
in the field was emphasized by the deaths of two transit workers Jan. 26 in
Washington, D.C. They were struck by a work vehicle in an accident believed to
have been caused by human error.

"We’re trying to see
if we can come up with a technical solution that can help prevent those things
from happening," Sood said.

The goal of the three-year
McMaster-Bombardier project is to create tags that emit radio frequencies that
can pinpoint the locations of workers in real time in challenging environments
such as curving tracks and tunnels. Today, the safety of inspectors and track
workers typically relies on manual methods, including system-wide radio
broadcasts, warning lights and lookouts.

Ideally, the new system
would be able to warn the workers themselves of approaching danger, he said. The
problem is that radio waves can behave differently along different sections of
the same track, even in different parts of the same tunnel. The technical
challenge is to deliver clear, reliable signals in difficult conditions, said
Sood, who manages McMaster’s radio frequency identification applications
laboratory.

Once it reaches the
marketplace, the research has the potential to create as many as 40 direct and
80 indirect jobs.

The Ontario Centres of
Excellence — a provincial agency that promotes job creation by helping ideas
become commercial realities — is contributing $600,000 to the project.

About 10 students from
McMaster and other universities are expected to work on the project.

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