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Analyzing a Train Wreck with Lidar and UAV Data

photo of Analyzing the Scene with Lidar and UAV

Analyzing the Scene with Lidar and UAV

It was early morning on Dec. 18, 2017, and an Amtrak passenger train was making its inaugural run between Tacoma and Portland, Oregon. As it neared a curve leading to an Interstate-5 overpass near DuPont, the train was traveling at 78 mph––50 mph over the speed limit––and the lead locomotive, along with 11 of its 14 rail cars, derailed. Analyzing the scene would have to wait as saving lives was the first priority at this accident scene.

It was 7:33 a.m. and I-5 was already teeming with commuters. The lead locomotive and three rail cars landed on I-5, causing a 14-vehicle pile-up. Three of the 77 passengers onboard the train were killed and 62 passengers and 6 crew members were injured. The initial damage was estimated to be $40 million.

From an article in Directions by Mary Jo Wagner.

Within minutes the scene was swarming with hundreds of troopers, detectives, firefighters and paramedics, all of whom had one thing on their mind: rescue.

“Where this happened couldn’t have been a worse spot as far as impact to the region,” says Washington State Trooper detective Eric Gunderson. “I-5 is the major artery between Tacoma, Olympia, Portland and Seattle. With Puget Sound to the west, the Nisqually River to the south and a military base to the east, your only driving option is I-5.”

“The last thing you’re thinking of is preserving evidence,” says Gunderson. “If I need to move a train or car to get someone out, that’s what’s going to happen. So our first hour was consumed by all lifesaving first. But once we cleared the scene, everything began to slow down and we could start investigating. Then we owned the scene.”

Gunderson, working in collaboration with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), led the accident reconstruction phase, bringing in four Trimble TX5 scanners and one DJI Matrice 200 UAV. Although he had been successfully using Trimble RealWorks Forensics to merge scan and UAV data into point clouds, he had never applied the approach to analyzing an incident of this magnitude.

For the complete article click here.

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