Track buckling due to excessive rail temperature is a major cause of derailments with serious consequences. To minimize the risk of derailments, slow orders are typically issued on sections of track in areas where an elevated rail temperature is expected and risk of track buckling is increased. While the slow orders are an important preventive safety measure, they are costly as they disrupt timetables and can affect time-sensitive shipments. Optimizing the slow order process would result in significant cost saving for the railroads.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA’s) Office of Research and Development has sponsored the development of a model for predicting rail temperatures using real time weather forecast data and predefined track parameters and a web-based system for providing resulting information to operators.

In cooperation with CSX Transportation (CSX), ENSCO Inc. conducted a model verification study by comparing actual rail temperatures measured by wayside sensors installed on railroad track near Folkston, GA, with the rail temperatures predicted by the model based on weather forecast data over the course of summer 2011. The paper outlines the procedure of the verification process together with correlation results, which are favorable.

The paper also presents results of several case studies conducted on derailments attributed to track buckling. These investigations improve our understanding of conditions and temperature patterns leading to increased risk of rail buckles and validate further use of the Rail Temperature Prediction Model as track buckling prediction tool and as an aid to the railroads in making more informed decisions on slow order issuing process.

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