The Sugar Land rail-monitoring system is back in operation, alerting emergency personnel of approaching trains along a 6-mile section of US 90-A. This is the same system that is credited with averting a disaster in 2003 when police dispatchers were able to notify rail officials that a truck containing sodium hydroxide was stalled on a crossing.
Developed by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), the system consists of five Doppler radar units. It monitors the speed and approximate length of the trains and predicts when and how long a crossing will be blocked. The system provides critical information for emergency personnel along this busy train and commuter route. The system had to be removed when construction began to widen the four-lane highway to eight lanes. Following completion of the construction project, the city funded the reinstallation of the rail-monitoring system last year.
In describing the corridor that borders the city’s industrial area, Sugar Land Traffic Operations Manager Jason Vaughn says first-responder personnel find the system helpful in determining the best route to an emergency location.
In addition to the train-monitoring system, the city asked TTI to help it gauge the adjoining highway traffic with the same Bluetooth® equipment that is used in Houston’s traffic monitoring system. Also developed by TTI, the vehicle-monitoring system measures travel times and average speed of the vehicles along US 90-A. (Traveler and rail information for US 90-A can be found on both the Houston TranStar website and the City of Sugar Land website.)
“The system will help Sugar Land officials monitor the performance of the roadway over time, and it also will help quantify the impact train movements have on mobility,” says Tony Voigt, TTI program manager for the Houston Research and Implementation Office. “Currently, there are about 50,000 vehicles that travel the corridor each weekday. As for the number of trains, that is about 40 to 50 per day, but the number is expected to increase to over 60 per day in just a few years.”
There’s little doubt that train traffic will grow along the Sugar Land corridor. Rail construction is under way now that will double the tracks and train capacity.
“There has been a dramatic increase in rail freight movement in Texas because of population growth and the oil boom,” says TTI Research Scientist Leonard Ruback, who designed the Doppler rail-monitoring system for Sugar Land. “I would not be surprised to see more cities try to monitor their rail traffic because of the added pressure it puts on mobility, especially on their emergency services.”