In pursuit of improved safety, Norfolk Southern Corp. (NS) has partnered with Amberg Technologies to explore the potential benefits of a laser-based measurement system for measuring over dimensional freight rail shipments. Shipments that do not fall within a standard geometric envelope, denoted as Plate B in the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Open Top Loading Rules , are considered to be over dimensional, or High-Wide Loads (HWLs). Extending beyond the limits of the Plate B diagram, these loads are not permitted in unrestricted interchange service. Instead, they must be measured both at points of origin and at interchange points. For US Class I Railroads, the de facto method for measuring HWLs requires mechanical personnel to either climb on the equipment or use a ladder and physically measure the overall height and width of the load. Using a tape measure, plumb line, and 6-foot level, car inspectors, or carmen, must often make multiple measurements to determine the height or width of a critical point on the load. The summation of these measurements can be subject to mathematical human error. In addition to the inherent limitations with regards to accuracy and efficiency, this method of measurement presents considerable safety challenges.
The objective of the project was to develop a portable, cost-effective and accurate measurement system to improve the day-to-day operational process of measuring HWLs and reduce human exposure to railyard hazards. Norfolk Southern worked closely with Amberg Technologies to provide a clear overview of the current measuring methods, requirements, challenges and risks associated with HWLs. Amberg then developed a prototype system (with patent pending) and successful tests have been completed at both a point of origin for NS shipments and at a location where HWLs are received at interchange. The measuring system consists of a tripod mounted laser, a specially designed track reference target (TRT) and software designed specifically for HWL measurements. The system allows car inspectors to take measurements from a safe, strategic location away from the car. As a result, this system eliminates the need to climb on the equipment or a ladder and greatly reduces the amount of time spent on and around live tracks. In addition, initial tests indicate that this technology reduces the labor time required to measure HWLs by as much as one half while improving measurement accuracy. These tests have demonstrated that a laser-based system has the potential to greatly improve the safety, efficiency and accuracy associated with measuring HWLs.