Railroad infrastructure is in need of technologies able to prevent derailments and perform repairs/replacements in a timely manner. Due to heavy tonnage and aging conditions, several structural problems affect railroads today, including the growth of cracks hidden from the surface of the rail. Professor Lanza di Scalea and his post-doctorals, Stefano Coccia and Ivan Bartoli, are working with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to develop a system which can detect cracks in rails while in motion, using ultrasonic waves and non-contact (laser) probing to detect the flaws.
Additionally, in another FRA project, Professors Lanza di Scalea and Uang are studying ways to detect incipient buckling of rails. Lateral buckling, a severe problem since the advent of continously-welded rail, is one of the most frequent causes of derailments worldwide today. UC San Diego researchers will extract high- and low-frequency dynamic signatures of rails in a non-contact manner as indicators of imminent buckling. Plans are for the development of an incipient buckling detection prototype working in motion at regular train speeds.