Train derailments in the United States aren’t exactly common, but they happen much more often than you might think. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, more than 300 derailments happened in 2012 alone. Nearly all derailments are traced back not to negligence or a mechanical problem on the train, but to an issue with the tracks.
A satellite navigation system now in its design phase, SafeRail, from the European Space Agency, will allow train operators to track their location in real time and send a signal that triggers a stoplight or lowers a traffic gate at a train crossing. Existing systems “have very complex risk models” but tend to discount human error, says project manager Rob Postema. The data can even be linked to in-car GPS units to alert drivers.
Earlier this month, a 100-year-old water main in Philadelphia burst, spewing 13 million gallons of water onto a parking lot, inundating several nearby stores, and causing an estimated $3 billion in damages. It’s far from the only example of major American cities relying on aging infrastructure—we found some of the oldest still in operation.
Soaring bridges, rising towers and stunning stadiums: 10 Engineering Feats of 2013