Hollar when the train is coming :)
March 12, 2010 5:33 AM   Subscribe

What easy technology solution can save me from waiting forever for an untimely train?

What electronics can I use to alert me when the train is coming so I can make sure I don't miss it? I love gadgets, side projects and solutions that make sense! The train is never on time and the 5 miles of track leading up to the train station are surrounded by fields and woods on my property, so I figure I'll install a permanent sensor at the far end of my land, keep the reciever in my house, and I'll know when to leave my front door in time to meet the train at the station so I don't have to wait forever in the cold and rain :-)
posted by thankyoumuchly to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there power out there? Simplest solution would be some sort of weatherproof webcam setup.
posted by CharlesV42 at 6:08 AM on March 12, 2010

I used to be into model trains... an IR sensor could work for you. Something like this.

But as CharlesV42 points out, you're going to need to run wires out "there".

I'm thinking the best solution is to get a cheap outdoor light sensor from a hardware store and mount it in such a way that only a train can trigger it (there's a great story on thedailywtf.com, where a nest of spiders continuously triggered a sensor at a weigh station, causing all kind of chaos... something to keep in mind, as you seem to be in a rural area). That would make for some simple wiring; the circuitry is self contained.
posted by teabag at 6:35 AM on March 12, 2010

I am thinking of a wifi webcam linked to your wifi network which uses a motion detection software (usually comes bundled with the cam) which sends you a snapshot of the moving object by email to your blackberry/iphone. By opening the attachment you can exclude spiders or other false positives.
posted by london302 at 6:57 AM on March 12, 2010

Sound travels a long way through iron rails. (Remember old Westerns where the bandits would put their ears on the rails to hear the money train coming?)

Maybe put some sort of audio sensor under the rail close to your house connected to a speaker mounted inside? Low tech solution and you'd probably have to calibrate your ear to the distance, but it's a low tech and probably reliable solution.
posted by three blind mice at 7:07 AM on March 12, 2010

Response by poster: These answers are great!

- there is no power, running power would require a few miles of wire so I'd prefer a Low peer consumption, solar powered solution with a rechargeable battery

- wifi wouldn't work as it's a few miles from my house and again, no dedicated power

- I'm thinking a walkie talkie with a photo/infra sensor initiating a quick squelch broadcast (5 miles is doable with walkie talkies from radioshack)

what do y'all think?
posted by thankyoumuchly at 7:44 AM on March 12, 2010

OK, Maplin (the UK version of RadioShack) have a motion sensor which can operate on battrey, and has the switching capacity of 500ma which should work for the walkie talkie squelch switch. Also, if you programmed the senstivity of the motion detector right it could detect the whole train passing which would give you a long series of squelches which will rule out false positive (unless you get very long chain of spiders in your area).
posted by london302 at 9:53 AM on March 12, 2010

Response by poster: @london302, can you provide the link to the device you mentioned? I'll look for a stateside equivalent. Love the idea about ruling out false positives, the amount of wildlife out here is staggering!
posted by thankyoumuchly at 10:10 AM on March 12, 2010

How fast is the train moving when it goes past the far end of your property? How long does it take you to get to the station?
posted by mendel at 4:15 PM on March 12, 2010


A few options are here in the link above. You may want to narrow down for battrey operated/backup ones. There are some that can be programmed to operate at certain times of day which may be useful if you want it to rest overnight and save on battrey consumption.
posted by london302 at 5:26 AM on March 13, 2010

Response by poster: Assuming you are in a "perfect" environment (wide open field, no interference, trees, walls, etc.) Is there a basic formula or chart that describes how much power is required to transmit specific radio frequencies (i.e. 900MHz) XX number of feet?

For example, 9volts of power will send 900Mhz 500 feet?
posted by thankyoumuchly at 7:05 AM on March 15, 2010

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