Vermont Patent of the Month – October 2021

Dark Territory in railway tracks refers to sections of the railway in which the railroad switches do not have any signaling systems. When these railroad switches lack signaling systems, there is no way to know ahead of time if they are misaligned or reverse set, and can lead to a train going down the wrong tracks – often with fatal effects. These Dark Territories operate solely on radio communications between train dispatchers. Unfortunately, these dispatchers operate with minimal information and minimal knowledge of the conditions of the switches and derails. RailSwitchNet, LLC has designed a solar-powered monitoring solution to bring these Dark Territories into the light.

Their system uses a solar powered cell network to monitor the position of railroad switches and derails. Referred to as a Solar Powered Cell Network Switch Point Indicator, the system is composed of 5 major components:

  • Cloud computing device
  • Cellular network
  • One or more switch assemblies 
  • One or more wayside assemblies
  • A computer in communication with the switch assembly and wayside assembly.

The switch assemblies are made of a solar powered railroad switch position detection and a railroad derail position detection means connected to a cellular microcontroller which is in communication with the cloud computing device through the cellular network. The solar powered wayside assembly  has a wayside signal in communication with the cloud computing service. The computer is in communication with both the switch and wayside assemblies. 

The switch monitors the position of both the railroad switch position and the derail position. If it detects that the railroad switch is in the normal position and the derail is in the engaged position, the data is accessed by the wayside assembly. This then causes the green LED light of the wayside lamp to illuminate. This green light tells the approaching train that the switch is being monitored and may be passed over on the main railroad line. In the event that the railroad switch  is in the reverse position, the wayside will light up the yellow LED which signals to the approaching train that they can not pass over the main railroad line. In a third example, the railroad switch is in the open position, the wayside LED will be red.  This tells the approaching train to proceed with extreme caution and tells them to prepare to stop before they reach the crossing. 

Through cellular and cloud technology, the switch monitors automatically and wirelessly update the wayside indicator. Updates are made every time the switch position changes and on a set schedule, allowing the workers to remotely monitor both switches and indicators in real time. 

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