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Atlanta's Transit Authority to Test Bombardier's Rail-Worker Safety System

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority will demonstrate the company's TrackSafe solution for the Federal Transit Administration, to determine how well RFID technology can help prevent accidents.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 17, 2012Bombardier Transportation, the rail equipment division of Bombardier Inc., will demonstrate an RFID-enabled rail-worker safety solution this year in Atlanta, in partnership with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). The system will be installed on MARTA's Green Line, between the Bankhead and Ashby stations, later this year, after the agency receives approval from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that is funding the project. The FTA selected the system for trial, hoping to learn whether the technology could reduce the risk of accidents involving rail transit workers and trains. Bombardier's TrackSafe system, slated for demonstration by MARTA, was one of eight proposals that technology providers submitted to the FTA.

Bombardier has spent several years developing the RFID-based TrackSafe system, in order to protect rail workers on tracks, whether outdoors or in tunnels. The TrackSafe solution is designed to provide rail workers with advance warning (by means of flashing lights and audible horns) of an approaching train, and to similarly warn train operators if they are about to enter an area in which personnel are present. This is accomplished via passive high-frequency (HF) RFID tags embedded in wristbands worn by employees, readers installed along the tracks and motion sensors to detect oncoming trains.

The TrackSafe system displays a green light to indicate that a worker's wristband tag has been read.

Tony Sutton, Bombardier Transportation's general manager of material solutions in North America, and Pankaj Sood, the founder of the McMaster RFID Applications Lab (MRAL)—which developed the system for Bombardier—described the solution at RFID Journal LIVE! 2012, held earlier this month in Orlando, Fla. MRAL has worked closely with Bombardier to develop this system, while the Ontario Centres of Excellence (a government program developed to help link industry with academic research) provided $600,000 in funding.

According to FTA statistics cited by Bombardier, 53 percent of rail transit worker fatalities reported between 2003 and 2008 occurred along a railroad's right-of-way. The firm has worked closely with its customers (rail operators) to determine the type of signaling that would help its staff—train operators, as well as employees on the tracks that might be in harm's way.

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