The Institute for Maritime Technology (IMT), a division of Armscor Defence Institutes, provides research-based technological development and systemic support to the South African Navy. Armscor is the acquisition agency for the South African Department of Defence however it has expanded its service offering to include the research and development of technologies that are marketed locally and internationally.

The IMT has evolved to provide services outside of the maritime domain to other South African National Defence Force (SANDF) structures. State-owned defence-related research institutions in South African at times collaborate and are involved in the transfer of technology from military to civilian applications. An example of this is IMT’s Ultrasonic Broken Rail Detector (UBRD), initially developed to detect cracks on submarines by utilizing sensor technology. The UBRD was developed by Armscor in close collaboration with Transnet and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who provided the transducer for the system. The UBRD detects breaks in railway tracks under any and harsh environmental conditions. The system is easy to install and maintain and does not require track modification, fitting of track bonds, or trenching. The system’s signal processing and diagnostic techniques ensure reliable operation and section coverage of up to 1000 meters.

The UBRD system operates with transmitters and receivers whereby an acoustic signal is generated and inserted in the rail at one location (transmitter), broadcasted along the rail, and received at a remote location (receiver). The integrity of the rail between the transmitter and receiver is in check as long as a signal is received. If the rail develops a clean break between the transmitter and receiver, the signal will not be received resulting in the triggering of an alarm.


UBRD System Components:

  • Transmitter module
  • Receiver module
  • Cabinet with power supply and communication equipment
  • Ultrasonic transducer and cable
  • Rail clamp
  • Alarm terminal


UBRD System Features:

  • Detection of clean breaks
  • Detection of large flaws
  • Notification of train presence
  • Continuous operation
  • Full rail coverage
  • Remote sensing of equipment failures
  • Scan intervals down to a few minutes
  • Robust, rust free components
  • Suitable for solar powered operation
  • Field proven reliability


Since its installation on South African state-owned company Transnet’s iron ore line in 2014, the UBRD has detected several rail breaks on the 846 km line running from Sishen to Saldanha, saving Transnet millions in potential damage costs. Armscor, Transnet, and the CSIR (for the transducer) are collaborating in developing a new generation UBRD, which is set to be even more cost-effective and efficient with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) mostly funding the research.

Armscor is promoting the UBRD internationally and there has been much interest from rail users such as India. India hosts the fourth longest rail network in the world with an operating route length of more than 65 000 km. The rail network is owned and operated by state-owned Indian Railways. The UBRD was tested in India at two different points on a 25 km stretch between Allahabad and Kanpur, and in the Moradabad Division. In its Annual Report for 2016/2017, Armscor reported that the requirement from Indian Railways will more than likely be for the UBRD to cover approximately 2000 km per annum. The UBRD is a positive example of collaboration and what could be achieved if South African research institutions and government entities worked together on projects of interest.


Written by Sylvia Caravotas (Satovarac Consulting) for OIDA

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