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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Wireless Sensor Network Standards for Real-Time Railcar Monitoring and Alerting


Studies, by both industry and academia, have shown that it is not practical to use ZigBee-based Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) for monitoring an entire train. The resulting network is too large, with a very long chain-like topology that results in excessive data losses and delays unacceptable for practical applications.


The Wireless Sensor Network Standards project focuses on a technique referred to as Hybrid Technology Networking (HTN), which leverages and beneficially combines multiple wireless technologies together to eliminate or alleviate the problems identified with existing technologies in order to support efficient and reliable wireless networks for real-time freight train monitoring.


  • Investigate HTN, which is shown to be a promising approach to reliable freight train monitoring using WSN in comprehensive evaluations
  • Design and develop an open standard for HTN to be deployed for real-time train monitoring and alerting of fault or risk conditions

Rail Impact:

  • Reduces injuries and fatalities caused by switching operations
  • Enables real-time monitoring of bearings, security breach alarms, wheel condition monitoring, tank leakage, system failures, hazardous freight monitoring, etc.
  • Reduces train delays and financial losses caused by derailments
  • Increases new opportunities for rail traffic
A figure depicting wireless sensor network standards for real-time railcar monitoring and alerting.An annotated image of a train explaining its wireless network.