Abstract

This paper is intended to assess the practical aspects of the previously proposed approach for detecting railroad ballast fouling using an off-the-shelf Forward-Looking Infrared Radiometry (FLIR) Technology. FLIR is among the technologies that are becoming more prevalent in railroad applications [1,2]. The method discussed in this paper takes advantage of the temperature differences measured by the FLIR camera between the top surface of clean and partially fouled ballast samples as an indicator of fouling. The method is intended to potentially serve as an efficient and time-effective manner for detecting early stages of ballast fouling prior to it requiring a costly intervention. Ballast fouling is a common maintenance-of-way issue for the railroad industry, which occurs as a result of contaminants clogging up the ballast and preventing water drainage. The water retained at the sublayers diminishes the strength of the foundation and could result in other undesirable conditions such as clay pumping and reduced track strength. In this study, experiments are performed to study the thermal behavior and characteristics of clean, and partially- and fully-fouled ballast using a FLIR camera. The FLIR camera is set up in a stationary configuration for ease of testing and also providing a more direct approach to analyzing the data, to keep the test conditions highly repeatable and reduce any environmental variations. The results indicate that the cooling and heating rate at the top surface for clean, partially fouled, and fouled ballast are different during the daily heat-up cycle. It is determined that although the FLIR camera is able to measure some changes in the ballast temperature for the fouling conditions that are evaluated in the study, the differences may be within the range of variations that could occur in field conditions. The paper includes the range of measured temperature by the FLIR camera and discusses the pros and cons of using this approach in practice. Additional field testing is needed to validate or dispute the initial findings of the study.

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