Train Guidance Drone

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Railroads are a massively important part of a transportation system. But, while very efficient, the huge loads they carry on a vast and aging infrastructure can cause incredibly costly accidents, in loss of life and monetary terms. Train accidents appear to have increased by 25% in the last decade. Horribly obvious examples include the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment and a fiery derailment on March 30th in rural Minnesota.

Since 2013, among more than 12,500 derailments, USA TODAY analysis reported:
23 people were killed in seven incidents
1,237 were injured in 161 incidents
18,595 people had to evacuate the area in 70 incidents
335 train cars leaked hazardous materials in 136 derailments
These are sad and mostly preventable incidents.

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 consisting of constant encrypted communication with its partnered train (such as radio, laser system or other) possibly using multiple methods to verify communications, to also determine the distance between the TGD and train and provide needed advance track data. The TGD would run 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, with testing parameters designed to evaluate track conditions which could place a train and what it’s carrying in jeopardy of derailment or other accident and the TGD would be of sufficient weight to help evaluate the track metrics, like excessive track flexure or loss of rail support. The TGD would also monitor weather and other track conditions, and sense blockages and react accordingly, sending data to the train to be interpreted by the train's, and/or TGD's operating systems.

The TGD would also have radar and remote vision to help it not crash into track blockages. If it stopped or its signal stopped, the train would stop immediately. The TGD would likely be battery powered, with some additional backup motive power, such as automotive hybrid systems. It would recharge by docking with its partner train whenever the train stops or other opportune times and make an electrical connection to the train for charging purposes.

The TGD would also have normal & IR cameras and other sensors, on both sides to monitor for anomalies of the entirety of the train, such as the wheel bearing failure which caused the East Palestine, derailment. Considering that the likely cost of adding TGD to every train would likely be minuscule compared to the huge costs of train accidents, in human, environmental and monetary terms, why wouldn't such a system become an essential part of our, or any, rail transportation system.



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  • Name:
    Michael Kelley
  • Type of entry:
  • Patent status: