An acoustic-homologous transfer learning approach for acoustic emission–based rail condition evaluation

Si Xin Chen, Lu Zhou, Yi Qing Ni, Xiao Zhou Liu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This article presents a novel transfer learning approach for evaluating structural conditions of rail in a progressive manner, by using acoustic emission monitoring data and knowledge transferred from an acoustic-related database. Specifically, the low-level layers of a model pre-trained on large audio data are leveraged in our model for feature extraction. Compared with conventional transfer learning approaches that transfer knowledge from models pre-trained on normal images, the proposed approach can handle acoustic emission spectrograms more naturally in terms of both data inner properties and the way of data intaking. The training and testing data used for rail condition evaluation contains two months of acoustic emission recordings, which were acquired from an in situ operating rail turnout with an integrated acoustic emission –based monitoring system. Results show that the evolving stages of rail from intact to critically cracked are successfully revealed using the proposed approach with excellent prediction accuracy and high computation efficiency. More importantly, the study quantitatively shows that audio source data are more relevant to the acoustic emission monitoring data than Image data, by introducing a maximum mean discrepancy metric, and the transfer learning model with smaller maximum mean discrepancy does lead to better performance. As a by-product of the study, it has also been found that the features extracted by the proposed transfer learning model (“bottleneck” features) already exhibit a clustering trend corresponding to the evolving stages of rail conditions even in the training process before any label is annotated, indicating the potential unsupervised learning capability of the proposed approach. Through the study, it is suggested that selecting source data more correspondingly and flexibly would maximize the benefit of transfer learning in structural health monitoring area when facing heterogenous monitoring data under varying practical scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2161 - 2181
Number of pages21
JournalStructural Health Monitoring
Issue number4
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Acoustic emission
  • audio classification
  • deep learning
  • maximum mean discrepancy
  • railway system
  • structural health monitoring
  • transfer learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Mechanical Engineering

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