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Rick Shapiro
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New Fiber Optic Technology Can Detect Dangerous Railroad Accidents Before They Occur

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downloadLeaps and bounds in innovation and technology are continually making our world a better place to live in.  Now technology is making railroads safer and preventing serious crashes from occurring in passenger and freight trains.  The new technology consists of a string of fiber-optic sensors that run along the train track.  In Hong Kong the technology has already taken more than 10 million measurements over the past few years in a demonstration that the system can help safeguard commuter trains and freight cars against accidents.

How does this new technology work?  The sensors monitor contact between trains and tracks and can detect potential problems.  In fact at least 30 times during the seven-year period, the system detected potentially dangerous vibrations.  In a few cases, the vibrations turned out to be early warnings of dangerous emerging conditions that could have led to train wrecks. The technology is so precise that one vibration due to the use of the wrong type of lubrication oil in axle boxes was detected.  This type of technology could easily be added to railroads in the United States if companies are willing to pay the price.

Companies can get a look at this revolutionary new railroad safety system at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) Division of Laser Science in Florida.  However based on the slow rate that railroad companies are implementing current safety requirements, like positive train control, I doubt they would spend a dime more than they had to even if it meant saving lives and money in the long run. 

Our railroad injury firm, Shapiro, Lewis, Appleton and Favaloro has represented clients who were catastrophically injured when a train derailed as well as clients harmed while working for the railroad and we have seen firsthand the reluctance of railroad companies to claim accountability in any accident.  The outlook for a safer and more efficient railway looks promising if these companies can move past the blame game and start thinking proactively about safety even if it costs them upfront at first.

CT