Improving an energy harvesting device for railroad safety applications

Abolfazl Pourghodrat, Carl A. Nelson, Kyle J. Phillips, Mahmood Fateh

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

15 Scopus citations


Due to hundreds of fatalities annually at unprotected railroad crossings (mostly because of collisions with passenger vehicles and derailments resulting from improperly maintained tracks and mechanical failures), supplying a reliable source of electrical energy to power crossing lights and distributed sensor networks is essential to improve safety. With regard to the high cost of electrical infrastructure for railroad crossings in remote areas and the lack of reliability and robustness of solar and wind energy solutions, development of alternative energy harvesting devices is of interest. In this paper, improvements to a mechanical energy harvesting device are presented. The device scavenges electrical energy from deflection of railroad track due to passing railcar traffic. It is mounted to and spans two rail ties and converts and magnifies the track's entire upward and downward displacement into rotational motion of a PMDC generator. The major improvements to the new prototype include: harvesting power from upward displacement in addition to downward, changing the gearing and generator in order to maximize power production capacity for the same shaft speed, and improving the way the system is stabilized for minimizing lost motion. The improved prototype was built, and simulations and tests were conducted to quantify the effects of the improvements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationActive and Passive Smart Structures and Integrated Systems 2011
StatePublished - 2011
EventActive and Passive Smart Structures and Integrated Systems 2011 - San Diego, CA, United States
Duration: Mar 7 2011Mar 10 2011

Publication series

NameProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
ISSN (Print)0277-786X


ConferenceActive and Passive Smart Structures and Integrated Systems 2011
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego, CA


  • Energy harvesting
  • Railroad safety
  • Railroad track displacement
  • Track health monitoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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