2017-049 – Total Reference-Free Displacement Estimation Using Simplified, Low-Cost Sensors for Railroad Bridge Management

Background In effect, structural health monitoring seeks to provide accurate information about the status of structures. There are obvious safety and economic benefits associated with this concept of monitoring systems and providing sufficient warnings, so that problems can be avoided and solved. Today, the U.S. freight rail network is widely considered one of the most dynamic freight systems in the world according to the Federal Railroad Administration. In addition, U.S. rail network’s importance is enhanced by its 140,000-mile system that moves more freight than any other system worldwide, and by the jobs and public benefits it generates across the country. The structural integrity of bridges that carry railroad tracks is important to the safety of railroad employees and to the public. Therefore, routine inspections are prescribed to detect superficial signs of deterioration. Usually, according to the Department of Transportation, the routine controls consist on visual inspections conducted by the bridge engineers and bridge supervisors, sometimes not even being close to the bridge and having to be performed with binoculars for difficult to reach areas. The high-cost and unreliable nature of visual inspections can limit the use of the approach to a full-scale bridge. It is also needed to monitor dynamic behaviors of a railroad bridge in the presence of train loadings since inspections are almost always carried without any train load, which adds more uncertainty about the bridge structural health. Technology Description Researchers at the University of New Mexico have developed an inexpensive structural health monitoring method that employs low-cost sensors for railroad bridge reference-free displacement monitoring and live load monitoring of railroad bridges. By using an inexpensive microcontroller and an accelerometer, bridge vibrations and various frequencies and amplitudes were simulated and tested. The values obtained by the microcontroller were very similar to those of commercial accelerometers while being sixty times cheaper. Andrew Roerick aroerick@innovations.unm.edu 505-277-0608

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