Railroads are an important part of a transportation system. But, while very efficient, the huge loads they carry along with a vast and aging infrastructure can cause incredibly costly accidents, in human and monetary terms. Wikipedia reports some 13 major train accidents during 2016 in the US alone, with some 271 people injured and 11 people killed. Besides the human tragedy alone, such accidents cause massive monetary losses and environmental damage.
To address these issues I designed a Train Guidance Drone (TGD), a car like autonomous rail vehicle, which would be paired to a train with a Virtual Tether and running ahead of its paired train at a varying distance depending on the speed and weight of the train, and other conditions which could affect the required stopping distance of the train, such as weather. It would continuously test the condition of the track, sufficiently ahead to allow the train to allow the train to safely slow or stop. Track testing would be continuous, with the testing parameters designed to evaluate track conditions which could, at the worst, place a train and what it’s carrying in jeopardy of derailment or other accident. The TGD would be in constant encrypted communication with its partnered train (such as radio, laser system or other) possibly using multiple methods to cross check each signal against one another, to provide data and to determine the distance between the TGD and train. The TGD would constantly evaluate the track metrics and the track conditions, be it weather or damage to the tracks or blockage, to react accordingly or send data to the train to be interpreted by the train's operating system, its own, or both. Track conditions which would not be sufficient for safe passage of the train would be signaled back from the TGD to the train and immediately used by the previously mentioned train operating system, to slow or stop the train before the train reaches the section of track under question. The TGD would also have radar and remote vision to help it not crash into blockages. It might also have some form of cushioning system to help ameliorate damage if it hit something. If it stopped or its signal stopped, the train would stop immediately. The TGD would likely be battery powered, in the same way as electric cars, possibly also with some form of backup motive power, such as used in automotive hybrid systems, in the event of loss of battery power. It would recharge by docking with its partner train whenever the train stops (or at other predetermined times, such as when moving through switches or train yards) and make a designated electrical connection for charging purposes. The TGD would be of sufficient weight to test for excessive downward flexure of the tracks, such as when the track foundation had become unstable, whether by washed out track bed or damaged ties, or any other causes of loss of support of the rails. Even purposeful damage of track sections must be considered.