Skip to Main Content

Boston's MBTA to Try New Testing Technology Being Built at UMass Lowell

Alewife Station/BBJ photo
The MBTA will be among two transit agencies to test new rail inspection technology being developed at UMass Lowell.

By Mary Moore

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell have received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the nation's railway infrastructure, particularly through the development of an automated inspection system.

Once ready, the inspection system will be tested in partnership with the MBTA and Metro St. Louis.

The inspection system will use radar, laser, geographic-information and global-positioning systems technology to evaluate the steel rails, concrete ties, fastening systems and rail beds along the tracks. The point is to identify rail defects such as broken ties, missing bolts, fouled ballast and inappropriate distance between load-bearing rails, according to UMass Lowell.

The university's researchers also are tasked with developing a Web-based global-information-system program designed to help transit agencies visualize the collected data.

Professor Yuanchang Xie of Nashua, New Hampshire, is heading the project with Professor Tzuyang Yu of Lowell. Both men are faculty members in UMass Lowell’s Civil and Environmental Engineering department, according to UMass Lowell. The research team includes UMass Lowell graduate students Jessica Wang, Tugba Arsava and Chao Zhang of Lowell. Other team members are from Duke University, the University of Vermont, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Penn State Altoona, UMass Lowell said.

The researchers are working with consultants from CodeRed Business Solutions of St. Louis and Pavemetrics Systems Inc. of Quebec City to develop the automated inspection system

Funding for the project comes specifically from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration, which is part of the Commercial Remote Sensing and Spatial technologies program, UMass Lowell said.