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Increased railroad traffic volumes, speeds, and axle loads have created a need to better measure track quality. Previous research has indicated that the vertical track deflection provides a meaningful indicator of track integrity. The measured deflection can be related to the bending stresses in the rail as well as characterize the mechanical response of the track.
This investigation summarizes the simulation, analysis and development of a measurement system at the University of Nebraska (UNL) to measure vertical track deflection in real-time from a car moving at revenue speeds. The UNL system operates continuously over long distances and in revenue service. Using a camera and two line lasers, the system establishes three points of the rail shape beneath the loaded wheels and over a distance of 10 ft. The resulting rail shape can then be related to the actual bending stress in the rail and estimate the track support through beam theory.
Finite element simulations are used to characterize the track response as related to the UNL measurement system. The results of field tests using bondable resistance strain gages illustrate the system’s capability of approximating the actual rail bending stresses under load.