Friday, March 30, 2001
With bright sunshine and blooming flowers, the first days of
spring can bring a smile to the most winter-weary face. But the change of
seasons can also spell trouble for industry.
Railroad tracks across the country often sink as the frosted
ground beneath them thaws, and later the tracks can buckle under the heat of the
summer sun. This can lead to cracked bolt holes and to invisible weak spots in
the rails. And when a heavy train comes rumbling through, there's a predictable
and sometime tragic result - derailment.
Now researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (www.unl.edu/pr/science.html) and
Marshall University (www.marshall.edu) are
suggesting a solution-radar. Typically used by boats and airplanes to detect
objects in the water or the air, radar has never been used for train safety
because it hasn't been able to penetrate the sand and rock laid down in rail
beds. But the Nebraska researchers think they've found a way to peer six to ten
feet underground by loading the radar on an extra train car. Electronics on the
radar car could then call repair crews to fix any problems.
This would be an improvement over current methods, which are
sporadic and less accurate: digging bores and trenches, doing visual inspection,
or using electronic detectors.