OPTT profiles: Derek Plant

Railroad traffic signals are tied to segments of the tracks that range from a mile to several miles in length. When a train is on the tracks, it connects both rails, forming an electric current through the tracks to trigger the traffic signals. These signals inform other trains not to proceed while the train occupies a segment, avoiding pileups. However, trains have no way of knowing if a car or truck is stuck on the tracks.

Derek Plant invented a portable device to quickly mimic the presence of a train on the tracks. That way, a vehicle stuck on the tracks can give the signal for oncoming trains to stop and stall for time. OPTT filed the patent application in 2017 and the patent was granted earlier this year.

Aaron Sauers is Fermilab’s patent and licensing executive.