Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

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ModRob
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Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by ModRob » Sun Dec 29, 2013 1:02 am

If feasible, need to come up with something that might not be too expensive, so I can rig up myself. Then maybe convince higher-ups to help me more...
Where I sit in a tower, I have several railroad tracks just to my left, that feed into one lead, or ladder as we call it. A small railyard...the tracks run horizontally in front of me. We switch cars into them from about 3000 feet to my right. Many times I'm called upon by my guys to watch the cars being shoved to the end of a track..the ones just to my left in front. There are "spots" in them that cannot be crossed, or they "foul" access to other tracks. I'm usually looking for that SPOT at night, and even by adding reflectors on the rail, it's not enough. So...
need suggestions on how I can better "see" the spot to radio them when to stop the cars. I have considered trying to mock up some good ol solar powered driveway lights (el cheapos), cutting the heads off and mounting on the side of the rail in some manner (can't be too exposed or could be tripping hazards--bad stuff in RR operations..lol) The distance away is about 300 to 500 feet I would guess. What would be primo would be to have some sort of sender that when the car crossed it, it would send a signal to an indicator to me in the tower to let me know...(maybe light up a small LED) I know there is tech stuff out there to do this, but it's on a much bigger level, and of course, no budget allowed for it in my particular location.
Or, back to my solar cheapo light...shouldn't be an issue of keeping it lit; most times when needed would be in the first three to six hours after dusk. My concern there would be it might not be bright enough to make a real difference at the distance I have. Could one be "beefed up" a bit, or build something from scratch that would be heftier? There is a power source fairly near, and I might be able to persuade an OK to run a little wire for low voltage to each spot (oh, and probably only a total of about six lights would be needed)
An even better bonus would be to have two "sensors" in the track; one to light Yellow, to signal about one car length of room left before the RED end/stop signal would be triggered.
Make any sense?
Any thoughts would be appreciated...
By-the-way...tune in to my internet radio broadcast (still a work in progress, but broadcasting 24 hrs. daily) at
LOVRadio.com

Thanks again,
Tim

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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by CeaSaR » Sun Dec 29, 2013 10:19 pm

Tim,

Have you ever seen what those little LED lights do to reflective surfaces? They light up like nobody's business! If you don't believe it, go to the dollar store and get one of their cheapies, doesn't matter which one or how many LED's. Go out at night to a relatively deserted street that has reflective signs and point it in the general direction. The immediate light will fall off quick, but the signs will light up like crazy, even those pretty far away.

Now, use that to your advantage. Put a strip of reflective tape on both rails facing you and use one of those super high power lights to light them up. When a car goes past the strips, the one on the far rail will be blocked from view, letting you know the position of the car. Use 2 different colors to denote caution and stop.

As for the lights, I have a 120 lumen handheld that will light up treelines from ~1000'. I have seen 500 lumen flashlights for sale in Walmart for around $20. A little finagleing and I'm sure you could mount a couple permanently to the tower with power supplies instead of batteries.

Hope this gives you some food for thought.

CeaSaR
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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by ModRob » Mon Dec 30, 2013 1:48 am

Hmmm....very good...I have done a little towards that area in past (we have yellow reflective material--the strips that are on all rail cars now along their bottom edges) and they are very reflective. I have attached some of them to the rails and with some pretty good lights they do help. But I guess I should amend my distance figures a bit--sitting here looking that direction (about 10 to 11 o'clock position) and I'd estimate distance could get to near 1000 feet on some of the tracks...even with that very reflective strip, there is not much residual light to light much of the area, and it is difficult to make out the actual cars at times, to even begin to see them to spot them. I have seen a couple of guys bring a handheld lantern-type LED light (Black and Decker units) and they are pretty danged bright. But even then, when they try to light up a little of the area around the furthest strips, as you said, a lot of the light dissipates. I've also seen a few other mountable lights that could possibly be used--even some with joystick control (expensive!) Some general lighting would be helpful--hard to explain and hard for you to visualize what I'm seeing in this particular spot. Not to mention being tied to a radio and computer, phone, etc. at the desk, reflectiveness of the tower windows, makes it very hard to get in a position to see in the best of conditions...
I did see another hand-help LED lantern that I believe was up around the 900 (?) or so figure. Unit was about as big as a basketball...haha...and just under 50 bucks. Curious to know how it would do in the situation...
Thanks for the input...still may end up being the only option...

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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by dacflyer » Mon Dec 30, 2013 9:56 am

sometimes leds are good, but if you want to throw a brute force beam of light..nothing beats a high power halogen light..

why don't you guys have any high power yard lights? like stadium lights of sorts. 1,000 watts
i have seen our rail yards here have towers with up to 12 lights or more, and cameras in some locations.
i know that inside a office like yours at night, the inside lights reflect , making it hard to see outside.
you'd think having prox. sensors would be a big help, then you'd know where the cars are at for sure.
they could be mounted low and pointed upward. or even the use of metal detectors
(vehicle detectors.) , in traffic we use them to detect vehicles..

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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by CeaSaR » Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:08 am

Dac,

It isn't about brute force light but the phenomena that LED's light up reflective materials from great distances while being unobtrusive. I play with the street signs here from time to time using nothing more than a single semiconductor that is ok for finding the keyhole normally and not much else, but will make a street sign, such as a SR#, glow eerily from over 2 blocks away. It is meant to be a very low cost alternative option that really doesn't require any running of power or signal wires within the yard.

I wholeheartedly agree that trackside sensors and board indicators are the best way to go, but in the interim, it could possibly help. And more than likely be done for under $100 total for the whole ladder.

Tim,

I've done my fair share of work in and around rails and railyards over the ~30 years in my profession and my in-between job (darn recession), so I think I have decent visualization of what you are dealing with. Hopefully you can appreciate my "thinking outside the box" approach even if it ends up not being the way to go.

CeaSaR
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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by dacflyer » Tue Dec 31, 2013 9:05 am

hey, what about using lazers? them cheap red ones ?
problem is you cannot distinguish color reflecting back to you.. but some of the newer sign reflections reflect back more light then you shine at them it seems..i have hit signs over a mile away with lazers before..and the light coming back was crazy bright.. ( just another idea )

i see now how rail cars get flat spots on the wheels...kicking them thru the yard with no brake release and they slide while wheels locked up...not good. ( seen this done here and in Indiana )

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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by ModRob » Thu Jan 02, 2014 2:07 am

Hey Dac....thanks for stopping by...
Yep, we have some yard lights, but none in the area of where I'm at, and of course NONE to be had in budget..haha...always the same answers--not allowed for in the budget...

Ceasar....on no problem my good fellow...I appreciate any comments, ideas, etc. and may yet have to go with the reflector idea. But again, in the areas of track ends that I am looking at, in the middle of the night, the ground, ties, ballast--all blend in together. Yes, the reflective strip is real visible, but the closeness of them to each other, then angle at which I'm looking over towards them, the glass windows, well, all work together to still hinder seeing clearly. Not to mention, I'm only one in here, and I believe I'd have to get out of my work area over to my left side of the tower, get close to window glass to shine the LED light towards the strips. Not to mention not being able to communicate to the crews by radio doing the shoving (since my radio is back over on the right at my work area)

But keep at it with me..and I'll keep you posted as I make any progress.
Thanks so much..

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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by CeaSaR » Thu Jan 02, 2014 3:22 am

Tim,

No problem here. I guess that in your particular situation, standard visual sighting is pretty much out of the question. You really need some sort of detector / sender / board indicator. Without power and control wires in the area, that's a tough call. Even if you had solar, it's effectiveness is not guaranteed and diminishes over time. Piezo electric generation may be an option, but again, it's effectiveness and longevity are unknown in this situation. If the railyard is really concerned about the safety of it's workers and cargo, they'll pony up for a real long term solution ( and as per OSHA, they should ).

I hate to say this, but in this type of scenario, you have enough responsibility on your head. Trying to put homebrew solutions in place here might open you up to problems. Sometimes, you have to let the responsibilty lie where it belongs, no matter how much you want to help.

Just looking out for you,
CeaSaR
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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by CeaSaR » Thu Jan 02, 2014 3:26 am

Dac,

That's what i'm talking about. Try it with a little cheap LED flashlight. Not quite the same distance, but a much wider spread.

CeaSaR
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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by dacflyer » Thu Jan 02, 2014 4:34 am

here is another idea,, you said you can see the reflectors, but at such a distance, it is hard to distinguish which reflector is which... what about different color reflectors,,and or different orientation
like a horizontal strip or vertical strip...just have to be large enough to see it from a distance.

but ya, if something like that is really needed, as a safety thing, then the RR should realize it as a safety issue and should address it..

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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by Ed in SoDak » Thu Jan 02, 2014 1:22 pm

Hi, first post here! This is an interesting problem, requiring something safe, reliable, and low-budget. Do you have internet or a computer in the tower? How about a webcam? Might be able to remote-mount it and view on the monitor.

Or perhaps a cheapy video camera with zoom lens and TV output. You don't have to actually record, just mount it in the tower, zoom in and view on any TV or computer video card. In darkness, they really crank up the image gain and would probably pick out a light easier than by eye alone. It could also be mounted somewhere closer to a better view of the track than at your work position.

Next I might suggest a light sensor that looks across the rails and is triggered when a light source is blocked by the train or a wheel. This could output via radio or a signal light that could be mounted in a more visible location.

Your current idea sounds like you're sending a LED beam or laser from your tower down to the far end of the track, then it's reflected back to you. How about putting the light way down at the far end, where it beams straight to you, that eliminates both the reflection loss and halves the distance the beam must travel.

I'd think there has to be some sort of mechanical flag that mounts to the rail and is triggered by the train itself moving a lever as it passes that causes a flag to change position.

There's forums for model railroading where they deal with similar problems on a small scale and there's many members who work on the real thing. A radio forum I frequent has several members involved with steam engines and other types of railroading. This has to be an issue that has been dealt with many times before.

Good luck!
-Ed

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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by CeaSaR » Thu Jan 02, 2014 9:12 pm

Just a couple of thoughts.

1. You could mount the LED lights outside up high, maybe on the roof of the tower or under the overhang to protect them. Wire them to a power supply and momentary switch inside. Solves the problem of holding and aiming a flashlight through a window.

2. For the reflective areas, try a K-6580 mounted on a square post, about 4' high. Put reflective tape on all sides of the post for safety. Stagger the signs 2'-4' in stationing with the near side first, then the far side further (the 2-4') downtrack. Of course, obtain all approvals and setbacks so as to not foul the tracks or cause tripping hazards. This staggering allows you to see the position of the car clearly as it moves.

3. This is the real crux of what you need. Within the area of the tower where you need to be, to see the cars, set up whatever you need as an extension of your normal work station - speaker, mic, on/off switch for the lights, etc. That way, you can communicate while you watch without having to dash back and forth. You know, a stripped down satellite work station.

That's about it for me. I still say the Yard should put in commercial sensing, but if they are dead set against it, I mean don't have the money for it, this could potentially work for you for a number of years.

CeaSaR
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Re: Here I go again! Differnt direction though...haha

Post by jwax » Sun Jan 05, 2014 5:36 am

I've modified cheap spotting telescopes with a video camera, and display the image on a 9" LCD TV.
$100 camera and a $100 TV with exceptional night vision, and 10X-20X magnification.
John

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