Now you see 'em, now you don't
I have always had issues with my eyes. When I was very young, my left eye turned in and I was that weird cross-eyed geeky kid you knew. I got older and had coke bottle bottoms glasses. Older still I had my lens replaced when corneas got loaded with cataracts. Clearly, vision is something to be cherished. But vision is not all that it appears. Magicians relay on perceptual weaknesses to make things appear and disappear. Clearly, we can’t always believe what we see.
With respect to trains, an engineer at the helm must perceive the signals with utmost accuracy because his trains operation depends on it. He is driving a 10,000 ton missile at 60MPH that cannot turn to avoid an accident. Add human frailty and weather conditions such as snow, rain, fog, lightning can make these signals difficult and sometimes impossible to see.Stray lighting, reflections, and motion can make an object hard to see, especially from a distance. Constant vigilance is needed to perceive all that is there. It is entirely possible to misread something as obscure as a group of signal lights over a train track from 2 miles away. A cleverly aligned lights of various colors and flashing lights minimize the possibility of error but it certainly exists.
I often think about the responsibility the driver feels when he has hundreds of people on board and he can barely make out the signals directing him. He must have eyes like an eagle and nerves of steel.
Argenia thinks that if the engineer had these signals right in front of him and alarms to indicate failure to take appropriate actions and ultimately stop a train in danger that it would be much safer to operate. Furthermore, the cost of maintaining the wayside signals and powering them year-round must be quite high, probably enough to offset the cost of new in-cab technology.
Argenia has a system that connects to the existing signal and detect their lit condition and relays that to the train. The system can collecs speed limit information and slow-orders and relays them to the train as well. Addition information from railway crossings such as signal status, gate status and pedestrian/vehicle detection systems can also be sent to the train engineer so he can govern the speed of his train appropriately.
A final feature is live video of the crossing being sent to the train. This is useful so the driver can detect obstacles such as cars, busses and animals in the vicinity of the crossing. The system has an added benefit of sending train speed and direction back to the crossing to act as a secondary method of activating the crossing warning devices should the primary method fail.
More accidents happen at crossings than any other place in the railway. Technology can certainly help in the quest to reduce accident. If you can see a potential accident you have a better chance of avoiding it. It’s what you don’t see that causes the problems.
Argenia thinks about these accidents and how different kinds of technologies can be used to eliminate the carnage on the rails.
Brian is a chief engineer at Argenia Railway Technologies and is responsible for technological solutions.