Early Warning for Train Wrecks

Tel Aviv University researchers are helping to develop a high-tech early-warning system to preventing train wrecks and keeping terror off track.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu , | updated: 11:20 AM

Israeli Railways on track
Israeli Railways on track
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Tel Aviv University researchers are corroborating with colleagues from six countries to develop a high-tech early-warning system aimed at preventing train wrecks and keeping terror off track.

Thousands of people around the world have died in train wrecks caused by natural disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia that derailed a Sri Lankan train, killing 1,700 people.

Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Lev V. Eppelbaum and his colleagues are collecting high-tech sensing data from satellites, airplanes, unmanned aircraft, and magnetic and soil sensors to devise a solution that will provide a reliable early-warning system for train operators.

It's all part of the European Project FP7 research, which includes participants from Israel, Italy, France, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Romania. The international team of researchers aims to connect emerging technologies so that train accidents caused by avalanches, earthquakes and even terrorists can be avoided.

"Sinkholes, avalanches, landslides, earthquakes, flash floods — these disasters can cause train wrecks anywhere around the world," Prof. Eppelbaum explains. "We are hoping to develop a platform that can be fitted to any railway, passenger or freight carrier, to better predict natural disasters and possible terror attacks on rail lines."   

"We are creating a new interpretation system — allowing us to integrate cutting-edge technologies from across Europe," he adds.

The international team also hopes to examine the additional risk of terror attacks on trains. While all the other data collected by the research teams will be made public, this section will remain top secret.

Hoping to complete the study by next year, Prof. Eppelbaum (pictured) expects that the teams’ methods will be adopted by the world's railway systems. As the cost of fuel for cars and planes rises, and environmentally-friendly train travel is more heavily promoted, experts predict that more Americans will be riding the rails to work and between cities. In 2008, about 30 million passengers rode on Amtrak trains, and train ridership figures have been steadily increasing.

At present, there is no monitoring system for either natural disasters or terror attacks on rail systems in America or anywhere else.