Evaluation of the Brake Piston Travel Sensor System [Research Results]
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Evaluation of the Brake Piston Travel Sensor System [Research Results]

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    The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) successfully concluded its research project to study and measure air brake piston stroke and provide data wirelessly to the locomotive engineer. FRA’s Office of Research and Development funded this four-phase project. A remote sensing mechanism was developed to determine whether the air brakes were applied on railroad freight cars or whether foreign debris is caught between the brake shoe and the wheel of the rail car. Measuring the piston stroke and relaying that measurement to the locomotive engineer in real time will help improve brake efficiency and the overall safety of railroad transportation. Extensive research was conducted to evaluate the appropriate sensor and communication method to measure air brake piston travel. Several sensors were evaluated including piezoelectric films, fiberoptics, Hall Effect, as well as proximity sensors, while considering the challenging railroad environment and cost before selecting the appropriate sensor. In the first phase, a prototype sensor system was developed and installed for a New York Air Brake-type brake cylinder on a Norfolk Southern freight car, as seen below in Figure 1. In subsequent phases of the project, a system for Wabtec and TMB-type air brakes was developed and sensors were installed for four hopper cars on Southern Company cars for the FRA’s Advanced Concept Train program. Another system will be designed and installed on three hopper cars, one container car, and one tank car in Chicago. A sensor was successfully installed to measure brake piston displacement, which is determined when the brakes are applied and the status is relayed to the locomotive engineer, via the On-board Monitoring and Control System (OBMCS). The results of this project will demonstrate the cost effectiveness and safety benefits of remotely measuring brake piston travel.
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