For safety purposes, railroad tracks need to be inspected on a regular basis for physical defects or design noncompliances. Such track defects and non-compliances, if not detected in a timely manner, may eventually lead to grave consequences such as train derailments. In this paper, we present a real-time automatic vision-based rail inspection system, with main focus on anchors-an important rail component type, and anchor-related rail defects, or exceptions. Our system robustly detects important rail components including ties, tie plates, anchors with high accuracy and efficiency. Detected objects are then consolidated across video frames and across camera views to map to physical rail objects, by combining the video data streams from all camera views with GPS information and speed information from the distance measuring instrument (DMI). After these rail components are detected and consolidated, further data integration and analysis is followed to detect sequence-level track defects, or exceptions. Quantitative analysis performed on a real online field test conducted on different track conditions demonstrates that our system achieves very promising performance in terms of rail component detection, anchor condition assessment, and compliance-level exception detection. We also show that our system outperforms another advanced rail inspection system in anchor detection. © 2012 IEEE.