A Roadmap for Sustainable Smart Track—Wireless Continuous Monitoring of Railway Track Condition

J. Riley Edwards, Kirill A. Mechitov, Ian Germoglio Barbosa, Arthur de O. Lima, Billie F. Spencer, Erol Tutumluer, Marcus S. Dersch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ensuring safe train operation, minimizing service interruptions, and optimizing maintenance procedures are primary railway industry focus areas. To support these goals, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign proposed a wireless, continuous, and accurate methodology to monitor track conditions. This project, referred to as “Smart Track”, included the development of a conceptual design plan for efficient and effective implementation of smart monitoring technologies. The project began by establishing guiding research questions, and revising those questions based on track-caused accident data obtained from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and expert opinions from rail experts in the public and private sectors. Next, the research team combined these findings and developed metrics for assigning risk and priorities to various track assets and inspection needs. In parallel, the project team conducted a survey of available wireless technologies for intra-site and site-to-cloud communications. These capabilities were mapped to instrumentation types and requirements (e.g., strain gauges, accelerometers) to ensure compatibility in terms of energy consumption, bandwidth, and communications range. Results identified the rail, crosstie and support, ballast and sub-structure, bridge deck and support, and special trackwork as priority locations for instrumentation. Additionally, IEEE 802.15.4 was found to be the most appropriate cellular communication system within field sites and 4G LTE cellular was determined to be the wireless technology best suited for field site-to-cloud communication. The conceptual design presented in this paper is the first step in achieving the broader goal of Smart Track; to improve the rail industry’s ability to answer critical safety and maintenance-related questions related to the track infrastructure by monitoring and predicting track health.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7456
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Exception reporting
  • Smart Track
  • Track maintenance
  • Track-caused accident
  • Wireless communication
  • Wireless instrumentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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