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Autonomous Rail Inspection in South Africa
Source: Rail Journal
The human and economic toll of railway accidents in South Africa has prompted the development of an innovative autonomous vehicle capable of improving protection against a wide range of risks. LIKE many countries, South Africa has been grappling with the challenge of reducing deadly and costly accidents where people cross railway infrastructure. According to the country’s Rail Safety Regulator (RSR), 453 people were killed on South Africa’s railways in 2015-16 including 370 people who were struck by trains. Level crossings contributed 80% of the risks in the external environment in terms of cost incurred by the operator and injuries or loss of life. RSR recorded 83 level crossing incidents in 2015-16 with five fatalities and 27 injuries.

Between 2008 and 2014 Transnet Freight Rail incurred annual financial impacts averaging Rand 434m ($US 35.3m) a year as a result of collisions, derailments, level crossing accidents and people struck by trains. In response to these diverse safety challenges, the Mechatronics and Micro-Manufacturing division of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has developed an autonomous rail vehicle to reduce the risk of collisions and inspect infrastructure for defects that could ultimately lead to derailments.

The Survey Inspection Device (Sid) was initially conceived as a locomotive-mounted unit, but subsequently developed into an autonomous vehicle to minimise stopping distances. Sid is designed to run 1-2km ahead of a train, relaying images to the cab of the locomotive. If an obstacle is detected, Sid notifies the driver with live video feedback.

Sid can also warn motorists at level crossings of the approaching train. The device waits in the middle of the crossing until the train is in sight of the road vehicle, before accelerating quickly away. Visual recording systems onboard record all activity outside the device while high-intensity warning lights and a voice communication system warn road users to stop.

Read the full article at Rail Journal.