On-track testing of a power harvesting device for railroad track health monitoring

Sean E. Hansen, Abolfazl Pourghodrat, Carl A. Nelson, Mahmood Fateh

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

11 Scopus citations


A considerable proportion of railroad infrastructure exists in regions which are comparatively remote. With regard to the cost of extending electrical infrastructure into these areas, road crossings in these areas do not have warning light systems or crossing gates and are commonly marked with reflective signage. For railroad track health monitoring purposes, distributed sensor networks can be applicable in remote areas, but the same limitation regarding electrical infrastructure is the hindrance. This motivated the development of an energy harvesting solution for remote railroad deployment. This paper describes on-track experimental testing of a mechanical device for harvesting mechanical power from passing railcar traffic, in view of supplying electrical power to warning light systems at crossings and to remote networks of sensors. The device is mounted to and spans two rail ties and transforms the vertical rail displacement into electrical energy through mechanical amplification and rectification into a PMDC generator. A prototype was tested under loaded and unloaded railcar traffic at low speeds. Stress analysis and speed scaling analysis are presented, results of the on-track tests are compared and contrasted to previous laboratory testing, discrepancies between the two are explained, and conclusions are drawn regarding suitability of the device for illuminating high-efficiency LED lights at railroad crossings and powering track-health sensor networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHealth Monitoring of Structural and Biological Systems 2010
EditionPART 1
StatePublished - 2010
EventHealth Monitoring of Structural and Biological Systems 2010 - San Diego, CA, United States
Duration: Mar 8 2010Mar 11 2010

Publication series

NameProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
NumberPART 1
ISSN (Print)0277-786X


ConferenceHealth Monitoring of Structural and Biological Systems 2010
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego, CA


  • Distributed sensor networks
  • Power harvesting
  • Railroad safety
  • Railroad track displacement
  • Railroad 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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