Jumper Cables Block Trains

Standing Rock, North Dakota has been the site of a major protest this year against the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Protesters have sought to delay the pipeline’s progress by a wide variety of means, and both sides in the conflict have been accused of a variety of misdeeds.

An anonymous group supporting the protesters has released a video describing how they stop trains without the use of physical barricades. The video begins with police removing automobiles used to block the tracks and escorting trains through level crossings, showing how these traditional methods have been ineffective.

The video then goes on to outline what is described as a “sneaky” way of halting trains. Most railroads use what is known as a track circuit — a current run through the rails of the track detects when a train passes over it by the axles completing an electrical circuit between the two. By using a standard automotive jumper cable to connect the two rails together instead, the circuit is completed and falsely indicates to the railway signalling system that a train is present on the track in question. Due to the safety-critical nature of the railway, no trains can be run on the track until the short circuit is removed, else there is a great risk of collisions between trains on the network.

Intended as a practical guide, strategies to maximize disruption are outlined, such as hiding the cables under snow and painting them in black to evade detection as long as possible. Instructions on how to best make a solid connection to the rails are also shared.

It goes without saying that interfering with major infrastructure is risky, dangerous, and highly illegal. Protesters have already been arrested for physically blocking trains. Perpetrators of this method will surely be arrested if caught, and circumventing the technology could easily result in harsher charges associated with electronic security and safety systems. This is sabotage (deliberately obstructing) and undermines the validity of peaceful protest.

This shows how ingenuity is often spawned by turmoil and frustration. Reflect on human nature, and catch the video below the break.

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Byte Magazine Nostalgia Photo

Those of us who remember when microprocessors were young also recall the magazines of the era. Readers bought the magazine for content but the covers attracted attention on the newsstand. In the late 70s until the early 90s the competition was fierce, so great covers were mandatory. The covers of Byte magazine created by [Robert Tinney] were detailed, colorful, and always interesting.

Perfboard-190x300

[Bob Alexander] of Galactic Studios recreated one of those hand drawn covers using photographic techniques. The cover shows a steam engine, tender and caboose rolling along the traces on a PC board amidst a landscape populated by resistors, capacitors, and integrated circuits. The photographic clone recreates that image using all real components, including an HO train. The circuit, unfortunately, isn’t of a working device.

Creating this work followed all the normal hacking steps for a PC board: a mockup of the layout, designing the board, and ordering it from China. Component procurement was sometimes a hassle since some are no longer in production. The components that weren’t found on EBay were hacked.

The only image manipulation involved the HO train. It was much larger than the PC board so could not be put in place for the photo. Images of the PC board and the train were merged using software. Also added were smoke rings puffing out of the locomotive’s smokestack.

The photo is a worthy recreation of [Tinney’s] original.

For more trainy goodness, check out our own Brian Benchoff’s tour of the Siemens Model Train Club.  Or for further photo-realistic modelling, have a look at this insanely detailed Ford pickup model.

 

Rail bike conversion is a success, and a failure

There is a long tradition of hacking transportation to work on the rails. People have done it to all kinds of things for many reasons. Some are for rail maintenance, others are simply to enjoy the tracks. With as much unused railways as we have, it seems a shame to waste them. This hack turns a bicycle into into a rail bike with the use of some conduit, a cut up razor scooter, and a fork from another bike.  After some tinkering with spacing to make the whole thing a little smoother on the rails, the whole thing seemed like a success. That is, until the front rail guide caught a railway tie and the rider was tossed. Not only that, the impact destroyed his bike frame.

So, does this wreck mark this as a failure? Or is this simply another step in the iterative process we all tend to use. The only difference is if he carries on to build another.