Application of Multifunctional Doppler LIDAR for Non-contact Track Speed, Distance, and Curvature Assessment


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Virginia Tech


The primary focus of this research is evaluation of feasibility, applicability, and accuracy of Doppler Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) sensors as non-contact means for measuring track speed, distance traveled, and curvature. Speed histories, currently measured with a rotary, wheel-mounted encoder, serve a number of useful purposes, one significant use involving derailment investigations. Distance calculation provides a spatial reference system for operators to locate track sections of interest. Railroad curves, using an IMU to measure curvature, are monitored to maintain track infrastructure within regulations. Speed measured with high accuracy leads to high-fidelity distance and curvature data through utilization of processor clock rate and left-and right-rail speed differentials during curve navigation, respectively. Wheel-mounted encoders, or tachometers, provide a relatively low-resolution speed profile, exhibit increased noise with increasing speed, and are subject to the inertial behavior of the rail car which affects output data. The IMU used to measure curvature is dependent on acceleration and yaw rate sensitivity and experiences difficulty in low-speed conditions.

Preliminary system tests onboard a 'Hy-Rail' utility vehicle capable of traveling on rail show speed capture is possible using the rails as the reference moving target and furthermore, obtaining speed profiles from both rails allows for the calculation of speed differentials in curves to estimate degrees curvature. Ground truth distance calibration and curve measurement were also carried out. Distance calibration involved placement of spatial landmarks detected by a sensor to synchronize distance measurements as a pre-processing procedure. Curvature ground truth measurements provided a reference system to confirm measurement results and observe alignment variation throughout a curve. Primary testing occurred onboard a track geometry rail car, measuring rail speed over substantial mileage in various weather conditions, providing high-accuracy data to further calculate distance and curvature along the test routes.

Tests results indicate the LIDAR system measures speed at higher accuracy than the encoder, absent of noise influenced by increasing speed. Distance calculation is also high in accuracy, results showing high correlation with encoder and ground truth data. Finally, curvature calculation using speed data is shown to have good correlation with IMU measurements and a resolution capable of revealing localized track alignments. Further investigations involve a curve measurement algorithm and speed calibration method independent from external reference systems, namely encoder and ground truth data. The speed calibration results show a high correlation with speed data from the track geometry vehicle.

It is recommended that the study be extended to provide assessment of the LIDAR's sensitivity to car body motion in order to better isolate the embedded behavior in the speed and curvature profiles. Furthermore, in the interest of progressing the system toward a commercially viable unit, methods for self-calibration and pre-processing to allow for fully independent operation is highly encouraged.



LIDAR, Railroad Health Monitoring, Doppler LIDAR, Track Geometry, Encoder, Inertial Measurement Unit, GPS