This study is aimed to develop a real-time safety monitoring of kilometer-long joint rails using a distributed fiber optic sensor. The sensor measures the distribution of Brillouin frequency shift along its length with pulse pre-pump Brillouin optical time domain analysis (PPP-BOTDA). The measurement distance and spatial resolution can be up to 25 km and 2 cm, respectively. The fiber optic sensor was first characterized and calibrated for distributed strain and temperature measurement, and then instrumented on a small-scale joint rail-like specimen in laboratory. The specimen was loaded at room temperature, and its strain distribution along the sensor was measured using a Neubrescope with high accuracy and spatial resolution. Given a gage length, the joint open change was determined and visibly identified from the measured strain distribution. Finally, an implementation plan of distributed sensors on a railway is introduced, including sensor deployment, sensor repair when broken, and cost analysis. The gage length at a crack is an important parameter in sensor deployment and investigated using finite element analysis. The results indicate that the distributed sensor can be used successfully to monitor the strain and temperature distributions in joint rails.

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