Feds award Southern California commuter rail service $1.3M for AI-powered trespasser detection system

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Metrolink has been awarded $1.3 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation as it explores new technology that would detect interference on its tracks using artificial intelligence or new lighting and sensor technology.

The funding is made possible as part of DOT’s Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grants program, which aims to improve transportation efficiency and safety across the country.

Metrolink says it will use the money, as well as additional grant funding secured in Congress, to develop and test a new “intrusion detection system” that alerts train operators to unexpected obstructions on the tracks. will, including both objects and people.

Between July and December 2023, Metrolink says there were 53 vehicle and pedestrian strikes on its service lines — used by both passenger rail and freight operators. This represents a 39% increase over the same period last year.

According to Metrolink, most of these strikes were ordered suicides, highlighting an ongoing struggle facing both the nation and the transit system alike.

In the case of Metrolink, the growing number of non-residents who often occupy its right-of-way has often contributed to “unsafe behavior near train tracks”.

The intrusion detection system will hopefully reduce the number of train attacks, save lives and keep trains and vehicles running.

How the system is developed is not yet fully resolved. Metrolink said it will explore the use of AI-powered cameras and radar, or light detection and range sensors that work in conjunction with its existing safety detection system, Positive Train Control (PTC). .

The PTC system is a GPS-based safety technology that uses video and audio information to notify train crew members when a train must slow or stop due to potential hazards.

Metrolink says the new intruder detection system will help PTC detect track interference, including trespassers, vehicles, large objects and other debris.

After a crash involving a Metrolink train and a pickup truck on February 8, 2023, in San Bernardino. (San Bernardino Police)

Los Angeles City Council President and Metrolink board member Paul Krikorian said safety is “fundamental” at the commuter rail agency and the latest pilot project reflects that commitment.

“If successful, this project will not only improve the safety of our passengers and crew, but also pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers and everyone else who interacts with our system,” Krikorin said. will directly benefit.”

During the initial phase of the project, the new intruder detection system will be deployed primarily along a 1.5-mile stretch of Metrolink’s Ventura County line in Van Nuys, which has long been used for track intruders and copper. Theft continues to be a problem causing significant problems throughout the region. Metrolink System.

Metrolink was the first passenger rail service in the U.S. to incorporate a PTC system, and CEO Darren Kettle said they are always looking for new technology and trying to incorporate it to make the system safer. will

“Looking forward, the proposed track intrusion detection system could be adapted for use by other passenger and freight railroads, dramatically increasing rail safety across the country,” Kettle said. said in a news release.

A homeless camp near Chatsworth Metrolink station, shown on June 1, 2023, has left residents worried. (KTLA)

According to Metrolink officials, SMART grants are awarded in two phases. Stage 1 funding is intended to support the planning and prototyping of transit improvement projects. If those projects prove viable, they may be selected for a Stage 2 award with a cash infusion of up to $15 million to implement the project elsewhere.

While the advancement of technology is promising, it is only part of the equation. Metrolink is also using more traditional methods to reduce train strikes and vandalism, including working with law enforcement partners, community groups and research organizations to increase patrols in high-strike areas, homeless Includes decamping and helping people struggling with mental health challenges find appropriate resources.

With more than 540 miles of service line and dozens of stations in Southern California, preventing train strikes and unnecessary deaths is a big win for the region.

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