Balfour Beatty Installs Cutting-Edge GPR Systems to Inspect and Map Amtrak’s Trackbed Conditions

Balfour Beatty’s Track Solutions team recently installed one of the most advanced trackbed imaging and high-speed ground penetrating radar (GPR) systems in the U.S. for major railroad client Amtrak.

The opportunity came by way of Balfour Beatty’s strategic partnership with Zetica, Ltd. A leader in engineering and environmental geophysics, Zetica developed cutting-edge trackbed analysis systems: a linescan system (LSC) surface imaging system and its proprietary Zetica Advance Rail Radar (ZARR) GPR system.

The combining of these two systems, fitted together onto Amtrak’s manned inspection car No.10005, will for the first time provide Amtrak the ability to inspect the surface and subsurface conditions of their network at speeds up to 125mph.  

The LSC captures high-resolution images of the track surface, specifically to map locations where mud spots that can cause defects in the track condition and performance have formed. 

The ZARR GPR system uses a combination of high and low frequency antennas to map below-surface conditions including ballast, sub-ballast and subgrade located underneath the tracks.  

The first of its kind in North America, this high-speed system will gather data that helps Amtrak better visualize and map trackbed conditions. The data reports above-surface conditions such as the overall size and length of surface-level mud spots and ballast particle conditions and contains information about assets including ties, fasteners and more. It also provides accurate and reliable reports about below-surface conditions including ballast fouling levels, moisture likelihood, layer roughness and ballast pockets.

The LSC and GPR systems enable Amtrak to improve the safety of their staff and the public, determine and prioritize locations for maintenance based on asset conditions, drive engineering decision-making, improve operational performance, reduce costs for rework and extend the overall life expectancy of trackbed assets. 

With the system permanently fitted to the Amtrak car, inspections can be performed automatically and more frequently, facilitating more timely and effective repairs. 

After performing the systems’ maiden inspection between Washington, D.C. and Boston, Amtrak’s engineering team is already exploring how this valuable data can be leveraged for wider applications. 

By deploying innovative technology and the latest in systems delivery and support, Balfour Beatty saves rail clients millions of dollars in maintenance costs and plays an integral role in improving their overall safety and performance.