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BNSF Uses UAVs to Safely and Efficiently Inspect Tracks

BNSF Railway was one of three companies selected by the Federal Aviation Administration to collaborate with the agency to explore the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in beyond visual line-of-sight operations in rural areas as they inspect rail infrastructure. BNSF has already found the use of UAVs to provide major advantages—in 2015 when floods in Texas and Oklahoma washed away tracks and damaged bridges, the railroad flew UAVs equipped with high-definition video cameras over areas that were difficult to access by ground. Rail inspectors were then able to review the footage from the safety of a remote location. BNSF owns over 32,500 miles of rail in the U.S. and frequently inspects it in-person. Many miles of that rail is in remote areas, which increases the expense and difficulty of a manned inspection. Adding in UAV-enabled inspections would enable the railroad to perform more frequent inspections and keep its network running safely and efficiently.

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