It should be impossible for two trains to collide with each other

In 2006 train-to-train collisions should be impossible. With GPS tracking it is possible to identify potential collisions and automatically stop them from happening. Do the train companies do this? I can’t imagine that they don’t, but why do we still hear about trains colliding head on every once in a while — especially in third world countries.

I’m sure your average computer engineer could figure this one out: Attach a GPS locator to every train and build a communication system that puts the breaks on trains when they’re headed for a collision with each other.

How hard can it be?

By Chris Tingom

Principal of Tornado Design, a Phoenix, AZ based web consultancy

14 replies on “It should be impossible for two trains to collide with each other”

Well, I thought of that. I’m not sure how precise GPS is but I know that the direction and speed can be tracked with GPS. Maybe that data plus any track data (like road crossings) could be consolodated? Good point.

well… actually implementing a system like that wouldn’t be nearly as easy as it sounds. How would the trains communicate their location to the central location? Satelite phone network? (cell phones wouldn’t have coverage everywhere) Plus, as Jonathan mentioned, there’s the life-or-death “what track?” question…

I worked for a mojor Commuter Rail System in NY last year (MTA LIRR) and can confirm that at least the company I worked for has an automated system in place that tracks a trains position/speed/path/track/Distance to other trains/& Direction, and maintains all these variables at pre-set amounts based on Government requirements.

So, say Train A & Train B are both headed to the same place at different times, Train A express and B is local, and the local train leave first. If the local Train gets hung up at one of the stations, and Train A gets within 2 miles of Train B, Train A’s speed wil automatically reduce, and sometimes even stop in order to accomodate the safe distance between the two. It is also capable of identifying alternate paths to the same location, and running on seperate tracks to accomdate this.

…THIS IS NOT GPS. This is propriatary software developed for/by the Government and therefore not available in 3rd world countries, where the rail systems are much more primative, or non-existent at all.

DB Smith:Government and state agencies have quite a few more capabilities allowing data transfer without wires than the average public Joe does. I was in a police car just a year ago (No, I didn’t do anything illegal) and watched the officer Instant message fellow police from his laptop as we drove over a 10 mile distance(in a suburb, not city). He was also connected to the Police Networks & Databases enabling him to access information from his car, no matter where he was ( I am sure there is a limit, but I don’t think it would be huge) The information network is in place for great things to happen, we just don’t have the funds/approval for the public to take advantage of it yet.

Mark: The automated system I spoe of compensates for your Rabid Engineer problem as well. Sure, there is a manual override, but there are failsafes in place…E.G. 3 people are needed to enter code/press buttons together, etc in order for it to work. An Engineer stepping on the gas so to speak can NOT affect the safety system the trains have…actually, Engineers do pretty much nothing except turn a know (the “gas pedal”) and make sure the computer screen in front of them looks “normal” 🙂

There was an Intel Science Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix last year where one student was researching a system that utilized ultrasonic sounds to detect breaks in the tracks or possible collisions, so there might be an alternative to GPS. I think Chris is right though, if we can spend some mad cash on designing a pen that can write in zero gravity, then we can surely prevent trains from colliding.

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