Technical Papers

Review of Emerging Technologies and Issues in Rail and Track Inspection for Local Lines in the United States


Deteriorated track infrastructure can lead to significant consequences, such as derailment incidents, loss of revenue-service hours, reduced train operation speed, and even failure of the business. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requires thorough and timely rail track inspections to keep trains operating safely. Approaches using advanced and emerging technologies have become more accessible and broadened their applications. Unfortunately, for Class II (regional) and III (short line) railroads (referred to as local railroads hereafter), there are many obstacles for deployment of these advanced technologies, such as budget constraints and lack of workforce skills. Local railroads are actively seeking cost-effective and efficient approaches to replace conventional methods of manual inspection. This paper, for the first time, aims at identifying the key challenges for local railroads regarding the demand for reliable and timely rail track inspection, lack of advancement of emerging technologies, and unique constraints faced by the local railroads. Through a comprehensive review of the common rail and track geometry defects and state-of-the-art track inspection techniques, this paper critically analyzes the knowledge gaps from four key perspectives from the perspective of local railroad operation: finance, technology, standards, and operation. It is found that automated nondestructive evaluation (NDE) techniques and inexpensive alternatives to the Automated Track Inspection Program (ATIP) may still be cost-feasible and effective for local railroads with future technological and operational upgrades.