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FRA Deploys New Ultra-Portable Ride Inspection Tool

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July 12, 2011
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Presently, Federal Railroad Administration, (FRA) track inspectors evaluate the ride quality of a rail vehicle by manually noting “rough ride” locations.  Such a process is invariably subjective as to what an individual inspector considers a “rough ride”.  FRA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) has used the SBIR Program to fund the development of an ultra-portable ride quality meter (UPRQM) that can be used by FRA track inspectors to make objective measurements with relative ease.  The system can run on a typical laptop and has an intuitive user interface that consists of a strip of charts that display vertical and lateral acceleration values, a list of exception locations, and a GIS screen that allows the user to pinpoint their location on the track in addition to nearby grade crossings.  Additional software features include data analysis tools that can be used by researchers investigating rail vehicle dynamics.  The hardware consists of a compact GIS unit as well as a compact accelerometer unit, both of which are plugged into the user’s laptop via a USB connection.

The system is designed to measure and analyze real-time ride quality, safety and comfort metric accordance with worldwide standards and eliminates the logistics and costs associated with dedicated test vehicles.  With the system, rail inspectors can monitor, collect, and analyze geo-spatial correlated ride quality data and make safety and maintenance recommendations in real-time from their laptops.  Carriers can use the system to evaluate the ride quality and comfort of passengers, crew and cargo, reducing fatigue, identifying areas of rough ride and improving overall customer satisfaction.

Using the system will lead to improved maintenance, safety and performance standards for trains, tracks, crew, passengers and cargo.  Initially designed as a low cost alternative for railroad inspection, the system is capable of measuring the ride performance characteristics of a variety of moving vehicles and other transportation types including:  rail/track, marine, highway and off-road vehicles.

The UPRQM was funded by FRA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD).  The Phase II project was completed in the fall of 2010.  The Ashburn, VA based company, dFuzion, Inc. has already begun to sell units to railroads and transportation research laboratories. Total SBIR funding provided for this project - $391,719.19.

Number of Awards: 5 SBIR Awards

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