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Notes from the Lab

DETECTING 'RAIL CANCER'

One of the major causes of train derailment is "rail cancer," characterized by cracks and fissures in train track. The sheer number of miles of track in the United States makes inspections hopelessly inadequate without some kind of high-speed monitoring.An MIT team led by Professor Shi-Chang Wooh of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is working toward this goal. The team is exploring the possibility of making a sensor system that uses ultrasound to detect flaws in the track at high speeds as the train is running.

The system would use the principle of the Doppler effect, which becomes more sensitive at higher speeds. To monitor the condition of a track, a sensor would be mounted on the train so the sensor actually sees the inside of the track as the train rushes along. If the sensor detects a problem, the spot could be marked for a more thorough checkup. The work is funded by the Association of American Railroads.

(Source: Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT)

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 12, 1997.

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