Lidar’s Role in Congressional Rail Safety Push

Congress is placing renewed attention on rail safety improvements following high profile derailments involving hazardous materials.  Some proposed solutions for improving rail safety include expanding crew sizes, deploying additional thermal sensors, improved braking systems, and additional funding for rail research.  Another critical component of rail safety under discussion is the use of lidar for multiple different use cases to prevent derailments.

The Lidar Coalition is working to encourage the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials to include funding for railroads to purchase and use lidar for safety improvements.  Lidar can advance rail safety in several ways, which can be scaled to improve the performance of the national rail system.

  • Track Inspection: Lidar technology has the capability to provide real-time precision measurements through pulsed light.  These measurements are used to identify defects in rail tracks where repairs are needed.  Lidar is currently used by large freight carriers, such as Canadian National Railway, as a critical component of automated track inspection. Additionally, Cepton notes it is working in collaboration with a Swiss company to perform drone-based infrastructure inspection and management. Cepton explains that its sensor produces high-fidelity mapping and allows for real-time processing of data.
  • Obstruction Detection: A common use of lidar sensors across industries is detection of obstructions.  Lidar creates a 3-dimensional rendering of the environment with long range capabilities.  Lidar can be mounted on track inspection vehicles, fixed infrastructure, or on trains themselves to detect and mitigate obstructions prior to an incident.  Lidar performs well in low-light and degraded visual conditions. 
  • Terrain Mapping: High-resolution lidar sensors have long been used for topographical mapping solutions.  When applied to rail, mapping terrain can help to identify potential issues such as sinkholes and other anomalies that can occur under or near railroads.
  • Grade-Crossing Improvements: Improving safety at grade crossings is a Congressional priority. Similar to intersection deployments, lidar sensors positioned at grade-crossings can help time signals more efficiently and provide enhanced detection capabilities for people or objects.  Detection is particularly enhanced for pedestrians or other vulnerable road users.  AEye’s Lidar for Rail white paper details how the company’s 4Sight lidar enhances rail safety, efficiency, and performance when deployed across various use cases, including for grade-crossing improvements. AEye describes how it’s 4Sight lidar sensor can achieve highly accurate object detection, mitigating the risk of injuries and fatalities at grade-crossings by triggering warning alarms.

The Lidar Coalition represents 10 of the leading companies in the lidar ecosystem including hardware manufacturers, tier 1 suppliers, software providers, and semiconductor developers.