Power harvesting for railroad track safety enhancement using vertical track displacement

Carl A. Nelson, Stephen R. Platt, Sean E. Hansena, Mahmood Fateh

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

18 Scopus citations


A significant portion of railroad infrastructure exists in areas that are relatively remote. Railroad crossings in these areas are typically only marked with reflective signage and do not have warning light systems or crossbars due to the cost of electrical infrastructure. Distributed sensor networks used for railroad track health monitoring applications would be useful in these areas, but the same limitation regarding electrical infrastructure exists. This motivates the search for a long-term, low-maintenance power supply solution for remote railroad deployment. This paper describes the development of a mechanical device for harvesting mechanical power from passing railcar traffic that can be used to supply electrical power to warning light systems at crossings and to remote networks of sensors via rechargeable batteries. The device is mounted to and spans two rail ties such that it directly harnesses the vertical displacement of the rail and attached ties and translates the linear motion into rotational motion. The rotational motion is amplified and mechanically rectified to rotate a PMDC generator that charges a system of batteries. A prototype was built and tested in a laboratory setting for verifying functionality of the design. Results indicate power production capabilities on the order of 10 W per device in its current form. This is sufficient for illuminating high-efficiency LED lights at a railroad crossing or for powering track-health sensor networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationActive and Passive Smart Structures and Integrated Systems 2009
StatePublished - 2009
EventActive and Passive Smart Structures and Integrated Systems 2009 - San Diego, CA, United States
Duration: Mar 9 2009Mar 12 2009

Publication series

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


ConferenceActive and Passive Smart Structures and Integrated Systems 2009
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego, CA


  • Device
  • Distributed sensor networks
  • Mechanical rectifying
  • 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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