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Mid-America Transportation Center

Study of RF Propagation Characteristics for Wireless Sensor Networks in Railroad Environments

Final Report
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University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Transportation Systems Engineering


  • Principal Investigator: Hamid Sharif ( 402-554-3628)
  • Co-Principal Investigator: Michael Hempel ( 402-554-3521)
  • Graduate Students
  • Tao Ma
  • Puttipong Mahasukhon
  • Project Status
  • Start Date: 2/1/2009
  • End Date: 7/31/2010
  • About this Project
    Brief Project Description & Background
    This project investigates the impact of signal propagation for Wireless Sensor Networks in railroad environments. The wireless transmissions' electromagnetic waves interact with the steel construction of freight cars. It is crucial to understand the impact this interaction has on the performance of wireless transmissions and how the placement of the transceivers can be optimized to improve the performance. This is a vital issue for improving the safety and security of railroad operations. This allows to monitor the railroad tracks, the freight, and the train itself and to protect the transported goods, the environment and human life.
    Research Objective
    The objective of the proposed research project is to determine the impact of the interaction from the wireless transmission's electromagnetic field with the steel body of a typical freight car and use the discovered information to optimize the sensor network node placement on freight trains.
    Potential Benefits
    This proposed research and its outcomes allow to improve the overall network performance and robustness and enables a wide range of novel applications in this domain. it will help improve the safety and security of railroad operations and also has a direct application for other modes of surface transportation.
    WSN have become an important part of real-time sensing, monitoring, and control of critical systems. For surface transportations, especially railroads, WSN can be used to monitor the real-time vital elements of railroad operations. WSN becomes a key element to monitor rail condition and train status to enhance the effectiveness of operations for enhancing the safety and security. A critical part of WSN in railroads is the understanding of wireless signal propagation characteristics in the presence of locomotives and freight cars. Their steel-based construction has a critically important impact on the electromagnetic fields created by wireless transmissions. Placement of sensors and antennas thus becomes a vital area of interest into train-based WSNs. We propose to study WSN signal propagations in railroad environments utilizing our test bed in Crete and UNL’s Advanced Telecommunications Engineering Laboratory with Union Pacific support. We seek MATC funding to support two PhD graduate students. Indicating the importance of this project, Union Pacific has agreed to a generous match in the estimated amount of $300,000 for equipment and facilities usage, as well as research tools. The PI for this project is a known expert in wireless communication field and has extensive experience working with railroads such as Union Pacific, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and his work has been extensively published and recognized by FRA and major railroads. This work will have a significant impact on the railroad industry operations with respect to the safety and security of the transported goods, the environment, and human life. It also directly applies to the automobile industry and road transportation systems, due to the steel frame construction found in today’s automobiles.
    Total Project Cost
    $ 59,944
    Modal Orientation
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems
  • Railroad
  • Rural Transportation
  • Technology Transfer Activities
    The Advanced Telecommunications Engineering Laboratory will work closely with our partners in the railroad industry, both during and after this research activity, in applying our findings to the development of new wireless sensor network technologies. This will be coordinated through UNL’s Office of Technology development and will most likely take the form of technology licensing to the railroads as a result of their direct involvement. We will furthermore establish relationships with the automotive industry in an effort to integrate our research into new generations of networked automobiles. This can be a licensing or a partnership agreement with manufacturers.