National laboratory creates 'Ghost Train Generator'

Government researcher created easy-to-use signal shunting device to prevent grade crossing collisions
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CHICAGO — A device that mimics the presence of a train could solve the problem of trains hitting stuck vehicles at railroad crossings, according to Science X's website Phys.org. By faking the presence of a train, a vehicle stuck on the tracks could give advanced warning for oncoming trains to stop and stall for time, claims inventor Derek Plant, a technical specialist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, also known as Fermilab, located just outside Batavia, Ill., near Chicago.

After studying how railroad signaling systems work, his invention, the Ghost Train Generator, was developed in his spare time using techniques and principles he learned over his almost two decades at Fermilab. It is currently in the patent application process led by Fermilab's Office of Technology Transfer.

Railroad signals are tied to signal blocks: segments of the tracks that range from a mile to several miles in length. When a train is on the tracks, its metal wheels and axle connect both rails, forming an electric circuit through the tracks to trigger the signals. These signals inform other trains not to proceed while one train occupies a block, avoiding pileups. Maintenance-of-way crews often shunt signal circuits in a similar way with purposefully applied cables.

Plant decided that the Ghost Train Generator, to be useful in a pinch, needed to be small, portable and easily applied. The answer to achieving these features lies in strong magnets and special wire.

“Put one magnet on one rail and one magnet on the other and the device itself mimics, electrically, what a train would look like to the signaling system,” he says. “In theory, this could be carried in vehicles that are at high risk for getting stuck on a crossing: semis, tour buses and first-response vehicles. Keep it just like you would a fire extinguisher — just behind the seat or in an emergency compartment.”

Once the device is deployed, the train would receive the signal that the tracks were obstructed and stop. Then the driver of the stuck vehicle could call for emergency help using the hotline posted on all crossings.

See the original article online.


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