Wayside hot-box detectors (HBDs) are devices that are currently used to monitor bearing, axle, and brake temperatures as a way of assessing railcar component health and to indicate any possible overheating or abnormal operating conditions. Conventional hot-box detectors are set to alarm whenever a bearing is operating at a temperature that is 94.4°C (170°F) above ambient, or when there is a 52.8°C (95°F) temperature difference between two bearings that share an axle. These detectors are placed adjacent to the railway and utilize an infrared sensor in order to obtain temperature measurements. Bearings that trigger HBDs or display temperature trending behavior are removed from service for disassembly and inspection. Upon teardown, bearings that do not exhibit any discernible defects are labeled as “non-verified”. The latter may be due to the many factors that can affect the measurement of HBDs such as location of the infrared sensor and the class of the bearing among other environmental factors.
A field test was performed along a route that is more than 483 km (300 mi) of track containing 21 wayside hot-box detectors. Two freight cars, one fully-loaded and one empty, and one instrumentation car pulled by a locomotive were used in this field test. A total of 16 bearings (14 Class F and 2 Class K) were instrumented with K-type bayonet thermocouples to provide continuous temperature measurement. The data collected from this field test were used to perform a systematic study in which the HBD IR sensor data were compared directly to the onboard thermocouple data. The analyses determined that, in general, HBDs tend to overestimate Class K bearing temperatures more frequently than Class F bearing temperatures. Additionally, the temperatures of some bearings were underestimated by as much as 47°C (85°F). Furthermore, the HBD data exhibited some false trending events that were not seen in temperature histories recorded by the bayonet thermocouples. The findings from the field test suggest that HBDs may inaccurately report bearing temperatures, which may contribute to the increased percentage of non-verified bearing removals.
To further investigate the accuracy of the wayside detection systems, a dynamic test rig was designed and fabricated by the University Transportation Center for Railway Safety (UTCRS) research team at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). A mobile infrared sensor was developed and installed on the dynamic tester in order to mimic the measurement behavior of a HBD. The infrared temperature measurements were compared to contact thermocouple and bayonet temperature measurements taken on the bearing cup surface. The laboratory-acquired data were compared to actual field test data, and the analysis reveals that the trends are in close agreement. The large majority of temperature measurements taken using the IR sensor have been underestimated with a similar distribution to that of the data collected by the HBDs in field service.