Title:
Railroad crossing surveillance and detection system
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A railroad remote monitoring and detection system employing cameras, that may or may not be remotely positionable and repositionable, and other motion and presence detection devices such as millimeter wave radar and/or passive infrared and or ultrasound detectors. The use of multiple sensor devices reduces the occurrence of false alarms. The system employs software and logic to detect predetermined alarm conditions and then send a signal to a local or central command center and trains on the route. The system includes wireless receivers onboard the train that scan for monitor information one or more monitor stations in advance of the trains progress to give the train engineer/driver advanced warning of hazardous conditions on the trains route. Alarms to the central control center can be monitored to determine a recurrence of potentially hazardous conditions at a particular site so that steps can be taken to avoid such conditions in the future.



Inventors:
Stevenson, Bob (Richardson, TX, US)
Calixto, Paul (Arlington, TX, US)
Application Number:
11/407395
Publication Date:
02/22/2007
Filing Date:
04/18/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B61L23/34
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20040201486Solid state crossing controller and related methodsOctober, 2004Knowles et al.
20090001226Acoustic monitoring of railcar running gear and railcarsJanuary, 2009Haygood
20080156944Control Device For a Rail VehicleJuly, 2008Aurich et al.
20080183306VITAL SOLID STATE CONTROLLERJuly, 2008Ashraf et al.
20070084972Railway vehicle detectionApril, 2007Riley et al.
20090072096Control System for Train Marshalling in Gravity Hump YardsMarch, 2009Ottow
20090173839INTEGRATED RAIL EFFICIENCY AND SAFETY SUPPORT SYSTEMJuly, 2009Groeneweg et al.
20060033605Locomotive security system and methodFebruary, 2006Bridge
20090184212Method for Managing Vital Train MovementsJuly, 2009Allshouse et al.
20080272245METHODS AND SYSTEMS FOR MULTI-TUNED CAB SIGNAL PICKUP COILSNovember, 2008Mollet et al.
20060180712Advance warning system for railroad crossingAugust, 2006Hill



Primary Examiner:
LE, MARK T
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
HEINZ GRETHER PC (AUSTIN, TX, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A railroad monitoring system comprising at least one monitoring station comprising cameras, and secondary motion or presence detection sensors which scan an area of interest along a railroad track a wireless communications link which broadcasts information gathered or derived from information gathered at the monitoring station a wireless communications link on a train for receiving information gathered at or derived from information gathered at the monitoring station at least one output device for presenting the information received to an engineer or user on the train.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED PATENT APPLICATIONS

This patent application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/672,564, filed Apr. 18 2005, entitled “Railroad Crossing Surveillance and Detection System”

Any references cited hereafter are incorporated by reference to the maximum extent allowable by law. To the extent a reference may not be fully incorporated herein, it is incorporated by reference for background purposes and indicative of the knowledge of one of ordinary skill in the art.

TECHNICAL FIELD OF THE DISCLOSURE

The present invention relates generally to the field of railroad. More particularly to railroad monitoring and threat detection systems.

BACKGROUND OF THE DISCLOSURE

Railroads play a vital role in the transportation of goods and people. However, it is not the only form of transportation and is normally found mixed with other forms of transportation. Mixing forms of transportation results in dangers. As this was true with pedestrians and animal drawn carriages and both with internal combustion engine cars and trucks later in history, the interaction between different forms of transportation causes dangers and risks.

Trains typically travel at relatively high rates of speed and have tremendous mass and thus tremendous momentum. This means that it is inherently difficult to halt or arrest the motion of a train over short distances. Frequently, the engineers driving a train are not aware of a risk until it is too late to take action to avoid the risk.

The system described herein gives the engineers driving a train and a central command station a greater opportunity to identify and respond to risks related to railroad transportation.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Reference is now made to the following brief descriptions taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in which like reference numerals indicate like features.

FIG. 1 illustrates at a general level the railroad crossing surveillance and Detection System.

FIG. 2 illustrates one railroad crossing in greater detail.

FIG. 3 illustrates one embodiment of a monitoring station.

FIG. 4 illustrates one embodiment of the monitor electronics.

FIG. 5 illustrates the equipment on board the train.

FIG. 6 illustrates an embodiment of a visual display on board the train viewing 4 different road crossings.

FIG. 7 illustrates network components of the system.

FIG. 8 illustrates software layers of the system.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

It will be understood by those skilled in the art that the present invention can be implemented in a number of different ways, within the scope of this application. A presently preferred embodiment of the invention will now be described below.

Overview

FIG. 1 illustrates at a general level the railroad surveillance and detection system 10. The train engine 12 is illustrated on a section of track 14 before with a fork 16 controlled by a track switch 18 and a series of conventional road crossings 20, 22, 24, 26, 28. At each crossing 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 there is a corresponding monitoring station 30, 32, 34, 36, 38. There is also a monitoring station 39 proximate to the switch 16. The monitoring locations are exemplar. It may be appropriate for monitors to be located in other locations along the track which may be generate a safety risk or a higher probability as a target for terrorists or groups or individuals engaged in mischief. It may also be desirable to maintain monitoring stations at regular intervals along the track to monitor and entire route. The monitoring stations are connected through communication links 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, and 49 to a WAN network 50. In the embodiment illustrated these communication links 40, 42, 44, 46, 48 and 49 are hardwired. Alternative communication links are also possible and can be attained via wireless radio (such as 802.11/802.16/900 MHz), twisted pair wires, optical fiber, shielded cable, or a hybrid combination of any these link forms. Internet TCP/IP protocol maybe used for the network communications. The monitoring stations 30, 32, 34, 36, 38, 39 also have wireless communications links via wireless radio (such as 802.11/802.16/900 MHz) 60, 62, 64, 66, 68, 69 through which the monitoring station can communicate with the train 12 via a wireless communication link 63 on the train 12. The wireless network may employ communication towers 61 or satellites (not shown) to bounce or connect the monitor station link(s) to the train link. Each communication link in the system is uniquely identifiable. In some embodiments the informational content of the wireless link 50 and the hardwire link 40 is the same, in other embodiments the information may differ.

In addition to being connected to the monitoring stations the wide area network is also connected to a local control station 80 trough communications link 82 and any number of central control stations 90 via communication link 92. In the embodiment shown these links are connected by hardware connections in alternative embodiments the communications by be wireless.

In the embodiment illustrated the wide area network also has a wireless communications link 52 for communication with the train 12 trough its wireless communications link 63. In alternative embodiments this link may be provided directly to the local control station 80 which makes this train available for communications through the wide area network 50. In yet other embodiments the wireless communications link may be connected directly with a central control station 82 which makes communications with the train 12 available through the wide area network.

FIG. 2 illustrates an exemplar crossing in greater detail. In this illustration the train is illustrated on the track in front of electrical signal switch 90. This switch 90 signals to the traffic controller 92 to signal vehicles that a train 12 is approaching. In this illustrated example the traffic controller 92 also lowers barrier arms 96 as it begins to signal via traffic signals 94 the paved road users that a train 12 is approaching. The traffic controller 92 is communicatively linked 98 to the monitoring station 30 for the intersection 20 to inform the monitoring station 30 that a train 12 is approaching. The monitoring station 30 incorporates this information into its broadcast. In alternative embodiments information about the location of the train 12 approaching the intersection 20 is sent indirectly through a central control or a local control station. (not shown) or from the train 12 equipped with a GPS (global positioning system) or other tracking system (not shown).

FIG. 3 illustrates an embodiment of a monitoring station 30 of remote detection system illustrated in FIG. 1 & FIG. 2. In the embodiment the monitoring station 30 is arrayed on a pole 31. In the embodiment shown, the array consists of a camera 100. In the preferred embodiment this camera is a video camera with Day/Night DSP (Digital Signal Processing) technology capable of color images during the day and high sensitivity monochrome images at night. Alternative day/night technologies are also possible such as the use of digital cameras or analogical cameras, with the use of video processors such as Mavix of Israel or Teleste of Sweden. The camera may be NTSC or PAL or preferably be NTCIP compatible or may generate JPEG or MPEG or some other digital video output. Some cameras found suitable for the purpose have 1K×1K pixel resolution. If exposed to the outdoors the camera should be weather resistant preferably in a sealed pressurized housing. It is also preferable that the cameras used have external trigger inputs to capture individual images. Such cameras are available from Cohu of San Diego, Calif.—Models 3960 and 3955. In a preferred embodiment like the one illustrated in FIG. 3, the camera 100 is mounted in or on a gimbal 102—preferably a gimbal that is motorized to be positionable and repositionable. In one embodiment the gimbal mechanism employed is capable of 160 degrees per second and can be reset to a home position within 1% of accuracy. It is preferable that the cameras be addressable over a network so that the pan tilt and zoom of the camera can be manipulated from a remote location. Such cameras are available from Cohu of San Diego, Calif.—Models 3960 and 3955. Cameras that have been found acceptable for the intended purpose are the USA 2700 3955, 3960 & 7100 Series Cameras. These cameras offer the ability to view the rail crossing at full MPEG-4 30 frames per second video of a crossing which can be sent either to the engineer's cab-n of approaching trains from several miles before the train reaches the crossing.

The monitor station 30 illustrated in FIG. 3 also includes combined passive infrared and ultrasonic sound sensors 104. One device found useful for this purpose is and array of USA signal DT-272-001 Motion and Presence Detectors. Such sensors are also available from ASIM Technologies, out of Uznach, Switzerland—Model DT-272. These sensors 104 provide the capability of detecting presence and motion.

A millimeter wave radar system 106 is also utilized in the monitor station 30 illustrated in FIG. 3. One such suitable device is the USA Signal US-300MWR or from Sensor Technologies & Systems, Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz. This system is directional and “looks” 300 meters in both directions along the track. It can detect perimeter trespass and actually tracks the trespassing object through out the 600 meters it scans.

The monitoring station 30 may also employ other sensors or additional sensors of the types mentioned above. For example monitor station 39 in FIG. 1 may employ multiple sensors to monitor the track on both tines of the fork in the track. An example of a different kind of sensor would be a monitoring station which included a pair of laser fences (not shown) to detect breach of a boundary near the railroad track. Such fences are available from Sensor Technologies & Systems, Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz.

As was previously mentioned, the monitor station's array of equipment is mounted on a pole. In the embodiment illustrated, this pole also serves as structure holding a signal light 108 to warn crossing vehicles of the status of the train crossing. In the preferred embodiment a USA Signal Railroad Crossing Signal or a USA Signal No Left Turn or No Right Turn signal are employed. The monitor station is independent of any signal light. However, the signal light provides for the physical housing, proximate location to a crossing and the required electrical power.

In the embodiment shown, solar panels 110 are utilized to charge a battery UPS to power the monitoring devices 100, 102, 104, 106, signal(s) 108 and the electronics and communications systems (described below).

The monitoring station 30 also includes an enclosure 112 to house the electronics (described below) to monitor the sensors, and drive the signals and communications equipment. The monitoring station 30 may also include power connections to mains power (not shown), and The monitoring station also includes an antenna 122 for wireless communications and a hardwire communication link 120 for connection to a wide are network via hardwire connections.

FIG. 4 illustrates major electronic components associated with the monitor station 30 of FIG. 1 & FIG. 2. The enclosure includes a UPS power supply 150 which either receives power from mains (not shown) or from the solar panel (not shown). The UPS 150 is feeds power to a power distribution circuit 152 which provides power according to the power needs of the various sensors and electronic components employed by the monitoring station. In the preferred embodiment there is also a redundant power supply (not shown)

In the embodiment shown the heart of the monitoring station is a main processor board 170 which interfaces with outer components either directly or through driver circuitry and/or software for those respective devices. In the embodiment shown the electronics 112 includes an electronics board 161 for interfacing with the traffic controller 92 of FIG. 2. The embodiment shown illustrates a video graphics board 160 which receives video from the video camera and generates video signals appropriate for wireless distribution or distribution of a wide area network. One embodiment of such a board is the USA MPEG-4 Video processor model 100 or 150 with two serial ports RS222/485 and RS232 and IEE 802.3/802.3U Ethernet fast Ethernet (Auto Sense) interface with audio input and output at 1 Volt RMS. Alternative video processing units are available in the market, such as Mavix Models 100/150 from Israel, Teleste from Sweden, and Micronas, Inc from Santa Clara, Calif.

The circuitry 112 also includes a Pan Tilt driver board 162 for driving the pan tilt and zoom features of the camera's gimbal mechanism (not shown here).

The circuitry also includes driver circuitry for the millimeter wave radar 164, Passive infrared sensor 166, and Ultrasound sensor 168. Each of these boards has electric connections 170, 171, 172, 174, 176, 178 to their respective devices they drive (not shown).

Each of these boards 170, 171, 172, 174, 176, 178 is connected to a central processor board 180 via bus 182 that monitors and provides the gate-keeping functions of the information for distribution. The main processor board is very similar to the motherboard of a personal computer but is preferably designed for use in an semi-protected outdoor environment. The central processor board has at its disposal other standard computer resources such as operating memory, operating system software such as Windows or Linux, driver software to drive the various devices attached to the processor, application software for processing the information received from the sensor devices and generating alarm signals and broadcasting system status sensor information and alarms, and storage for storing information received from the sensors prior to, during or after the broadcast of such information to a train or a command center.

This board 180 is also connected to a wireless bridge 186 such as a 802.11 access point, available in the market from many sources such as Linksys, Cisco, Siemens, etc. that sends and receives communication through the wireless antenna through which the monitor stations communicates with train(s) and possibly with local control station(s) and or central control station(s). The board is also connected to a hardware wide area network trough a DSL Modem 188 such as the USA Signal US-1000 Point to Point DSL modem or some other commercially available means of connecting to a wide area network which provides a communication pathway between the monitor station and the other authorized systems connected to the network.

FIG. 5 illustrates the train side of the system. The engineer on board the train 12 benefits from a remote view ahead via the video monitor 200. The system includes an audio alarm 202 which provides the engineer with an audio warning that he should check his video monitors because there may be a potential danger in his forward path. The video monitor display 200 illustrated in greater detail in FIG. 6 provides the engineer with a view of the next four monitoring stations in the train's path. In other embodiments a different number of locations may be viewed or the number viewed may be set and adjusted by the engineer using standard computer input devices such as a joystick and keyboard 204. A Pelco 300A keyboard with Joystick has been found suitable for this purpose, available from Pelco of Clovis, Calif. Using these input tools the engineer can select a view which requires a closer view and provide him with the capability of repositioning the video camera to adjust his view of the monitor station's environment. The video display 200 and keyboard and joystick 204 and alarm speakers 202 are input(s)/outputs of a ruggedized personal computer system. Software is used to display four images on the computer monitor screen, representing the images of the next four rail crossings ahead of such train. Images are transmitted via network by hoping from station to station and displayed at the train cabin. Images are replaced by the next four as the train crosses each intersection.

For the wireless mesh the train system employs a multi-signal Wi-Fi Wireless Mesh Bridge 208. One system that has proven to be suitable for this purpose is the USA Signal US-3000 Wi-Fi Wireless Bridge. However other systems would also be suitable. The network connection inside the train performs a hand-shake with the closest station or access point through the wireless network. Access points are available in the market, such as Cisco, Linksys, D-Link etc.

FIG. 5 also illustrates the ordinary dashboard 220 used by the engineer to drive the train and monitor its functions.

FIG. 6 illustrates one embodiment of a display screen shot of an exemplar user interface for the train's engineer. In the view illustrated, video from the next four monitoring stations are shown 230, 232, 234, and 236. The train's route (or a portion thereof with the monitoring stations marked along the way is indicated in window 240. This window also reflects the train's location 242 along the path and a bezel indicates the monitoring stations for which information is being displayed. Flashing halos 246 and 248 around the monitoring station locations indicate an alarm condition at that location. One of the monitoring stations 246 is indicated to be in an alarm condition. This station is also indicated as in view on the display by being within bezel 244. Video from this station is running in window 232 which also has a flashing halo 233 indicating an alarm has been detected at that monitoring station. An audio alarm is also toned—further drawing the engineer's attention to the situation. A control menu 250 is also provided to set which video view camera is currently set to be remotely manipulated by the keyboard and joystick. The halo around the icon 252 indicates which view is currently controlled by the joystick. The default condition is the nearest crossing this default is overridden by the nearest alarm condition. The engineer can override and select whichever monitoring station he wishes to control. When the engineer switches between views the camera in the new view returns to a home position. For system prioritization the nearest train controls the camera of the monitoring station over a further train and the trains generally take priority over the command center. However the command center does have the ability to override this prioritization scheme. The engineer can select any monitoring station along the route to view information about of from that station. The engineer can select and move the bezel to shit to any set of monitoring stations along the route and can expand or contract the number of images viewed at one time. The engineer can also view monitoring stations along a different route.

The user interface illustrated in FIG. 6 also includes a view control 254 that allows the Engineer to quickly select different viewing configurations. The current view configuration is highlighted with a non-flashing muted hallow. Other viewing options include a maximized on video feed and route location view, a full screen video view, a two video feed and route view. A view of information about/from one monitoring station, a view of a monitoring station on one side of the screen and a network system status view on the other, a view of a monitoring station on one side of the screen and a train system configuration menu on the other and a view of a monitoring station and a view out of the front of the train. Other viewing configurations are also possible.

FIG. 7 illustrates major components of a remote monitoring and detection system from a network architecture perspective.

FIG. 8 illustrates software layers of the system. This software runs on the trains 12, in the central control office 82 and local control office 80 and at the monitoring stations. However not all of the layers are necessary at each of these locations. It is important to note that many different layers of system security are provided. Generally all of the security schema available for a computer network maybe employed to protect the train monitoring and detection system. These schema include hardware and software encryption, password and biometric login protection, different system use authorizations tied to user login, log into the computer and log onto the network and many others. The cameras are controlled by the closest train. This is the default state. The system allows for different configurations and priorities based on user login prerogatives. One of the software layers includes machine vision. Commercially available software from several sources that electronically interprets video data to look for image patters that match pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, pickup trucks, school buss, tractor trailer or other types of trucks, animals etc.

Operation

In the preferred embodiment the monitoring stations do not self-initiate broadcasting information over the network unless an alarm condition has been determined. In other embodiments all or some of the monitoring stations might broadcast continuously. Ordinarily the monitoring station waits to be poled by either a train or a command center essentially video on demand. Prior to the trip the train is programmed with its route or to self determine its route from GPS information. Then as the train progresses on its route it queries the monitoring stations along the way consistent with the view selected by the engineer. The train ignores any signals from monitoring stations which are not on its route (unless the engineer chooses to view information from monitoring stations on a different route). The train also ignores and signals from monitoring stations on its route that are not currently selected for view and which are not broadcasting an alarm condition. Several different methods are available for determining which signals to ignore and which signals to process. For example the known radio MAC address may be employed or the monitoring stations IP address may be used to determine which monitoring stations may have relevant information relative to the train's route and/or the engineer's query.

An alarm will be sent to the train and to the central office when a trespass is detected and validated by the three levels of detection and certain other programmed conditions exist. If the presence is confirmed by the ultrasound, video and infrared while such condition was not authorized. For example:

if the crossing traffic does not move from the tracks in the allotted time window; or

if the an object is present and the traffic control signal has detected a train; or

if an object is present and the trains route tracking system (such as GPS) indicates that the train is approaching the crossing/or

The three condition alarm is designed to reduce false positives.

The system has the capability to record video both locally at the station, and at the central office. Locally, a memory device is deployed in the controller board, while in the central office a DVR unit or a hard drive array can be added to the network and programmed to record.

The purpose of the railroad surveillance and detection system is to prevent accidents and improve rail traffic safety and control. The remote railroad surveillance and detection system accomplishes this result through the remote monitoring of railroad crossings and strategic locations along a rail line. The system sends audio alarms and video alarms and images to warn an approaching train and a central or local control or command center of a potential risk. The preferred embodiment of the train provides the train with video images of several crossing in the trains path or alternate paths. The images are displayed in the engineer's cabin on an ongoing basis. If a potential dangerous situation is detected an audio alarm and visual alert are signal to the train and the command centers. These remote monitors can be positioned all along a track or may be strategically located at railroad crossings or likely opportunity targets for terrorists or individuals that may be up to mischief.

By using multiple sensor technologies the degree of false alarms can be minimized and the relative ranking of a potential problem can be prioritized.

The system also applies to rail crossing with shipping lanes and on bridges where the monitor stations may be more focused on activity below the tracks rather that on or above the tracks.

The use of the terms “a” and “an” and “the” and similar referents in the context of describing embodiments of the invention (especially in the context of the following claims) are to be construed to cover both the singular and the plural, unless otherwise indicated herein or clearly contradicted by context. The terms “comprising,” “having,” “including,” and “containing” are to be construed as open-ended terms (i.e., meaning “including, but not limited to,”) unless otherwise noted. Recitation of ranges of values herein are merely intended to serve as a shorthand method of referring individually to each separate value falling within the range, unless otherwise indicated herein, and each separate value is incorporated into the specification as if it were individually recited herein. All methods described herein can be performed in any suitable order unless otherwise indicated herein or otherwise clearly contradicted by context. The use of any and all examples, or exemplary language (e.g., “such. as”) provided herein, is intended merely to better illuminate embodiments of the invention and does not pose a limitation on the scope of the invention unless otherwise claimed. No language in the specification should be construed as indicating any non-claimed element as essential to the practice of the invention.

Preferred embodiments of this invention are described herein, including the best mode known to the inventors for carrying out the invention. Variations of those preferred embodiments may become apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art upon reading the foregoing description. The inventors expect skilled artisans to employ such variations as appropriate, and the inventors intend for the invention to be practiced otherwise than as specifically described herein. Accordingly, this invention includes all modifications and equivalents of the subject matter recited in the claims appended hereto as permitted by applicable law. Moreover, any combination of the above-described elements in all possible variations thereof is encompassed by the invention unless otherwise indicated herein or otherwise clearly contradicted by context.