By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

A quarter-sized sensor installed on the Union Pacific Railroad tracks near Weatherby, about 30 miles southeast of Baker City, is the newest technology designed to reduce the risk of a railroad accident.

“This is an ongoing effort to reduce the number of rail incidents,” said Aaron Hunt, director of public affairs for Union Pacific.

The device is called SensorX. UP crews are installing 200 of the sensors in the Pacific Northwest as part of a test group. The goal, Hunt said, is to eventually install these sensors every two miles along the track.

The tiny device was developed by UP engineers as a more manageable version of Machine Vision, a scaffolding structure containing lasers, high-speed cameras, heat sensors and thermometers that collect data as trains pass by.

“Our engineers have been developing ways to shrink that,” Hunt said.

SensorX technology will “supplement and complement” Machine Vision, which requires more space for installation, said Justin Jacobs, director of corporate relations and media for UP’s Western Region.

“SensorX can be installed anywhere,” he said.

The sensors do require proximity to a signal hut and positive train control antennae (a metal box and tower located at intervals along the railroad). At the site, UP installs two sensors, one on each rail. Wires from the sensors snake under the rock to connect inside the signal hut, which relays information to a UP data center.

When train cars roll over a sensor, it records vibration, load, and rail wheel information.

“It can detect issues with wheels even at speed,” Hunt said.

If any reading is outside the normal parameters, the train will be stopped immediately.

See more in the May 18, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.