The majority of Union Pacific’s (UP) 18,000 bridges are inspected by trained professionals at least twice a year.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 40 per cent of bridges in the USA are 50 years old or more and in-person inspections monitor the health of these vital structures across the country’s railway network.
Helping to improve monitoring in-between inspections, UP is looking to introduce the widespread use of smart monitoring, a process that has the potential to revolutionise how the nation’s 614,000 bridges are inspected.
“We want to know about potential problems between regular inspections, and if there’s a way to detect issues we want to take advantage of that,” says UP’s director of bridge maintenance Todd Martindale.
Currently the train operator is working in partnership with the University of Nebraska, the University of Michigan and SENSR Monitoring Technologies on bridge monitoring projects.
At the University of Nebraska, postgraduate students are using sensors to collect data from steel bridge members, using a century-old UP bridge in Columbus, Nebraska, as a guinea pig.
The team installed sensors on specific bridge components and after testing created an analytical bridge model. This serves as the baseline, allowing them to revisit the site and continue collecting data. Any change in behaviour could signify a potential defect.