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In December, President Barack Obama signed the $305 billion transportation bill, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST). The new law, paid for upfront with gas tax revenues and offsets from other areas of the federal budget, calls for spending $48 billion on transit projects over the next five years — which is good news for the fastener industry.
“We anticipate some pullback in freight railroad capital investing as a result of lower traffic volumes and a shifting business mix that will lead to reduced fastener volumes in 2016,” said John Stout, vice president of sales and marketing at Rail Product Solutions Inc. (RPS), which recently was acquired by Progress Rail Services Corp. “However, we are excited about the recent passage of FAST, which provides long-term funding for a number of transit projects that have been bottlenecked.”
Suppliers of rail fasteners and fastening systems, which derive much of their work from large capital projects, believe the FAST Act arrived at the right time.
“As everyone is aware, the rail industry is slowing down expenditures, due to decreased carloads and revenue, and transit expansion is limited to funding constraints,” said Ron Martin, senior vice president of sales for Vossloh Fastening Systems.
Meanwhile, recent new product developments reflect the fastener market’s demand for new, easier to use and more effective pieces of equipment that reduce life-cycle costs and provide anti-vandal protection.
Progressive Railroading recently surveyed a sampling of the North American rail fastener and fastening system community. We asked the suppliers for their respective takes on the year ahead, and to share information on their current product lines. Emailed responses from seven suppliers follow.
For Pandrol North America, which has manufactured more than 2 billion rail fasteners for more than 400 railways around the world, 2015 was a “very good year,” said Vice President of Sales and Marketing Allen Goff. The take on 2016? Goff anticipates another year of “strong demand” for fasteners — and another year of addressing customers’ needs.
Recently, a Pandrol customer reported “having problems with vandals stealing e-clips from the track at night and selling the material for scrap,” Goff said. “This obviously created a very unsafe condition that had to be addressed.”
The solution: Pandrol developed a new anti-vandal assembly for e-clips, which made it “very difficult to remove unless proper equipment and procedures were used,” he said.
Pandrol has also developed the FE1505 — its next generation of rail-fastening assembly — in response to another customer’s request for products that last the life of the rail in heavy-haul applications. The new assembly is designed with a recessed rail seat utilizing a FASTCLIP-style fastener and a two-piece integral pad assembly that significantly extends component life, Goff said. The FE1505 is currently in use on heavy-haul curves and the same concept is available in an e-clip version.
Demand also increased for Pandrol’s VICTOR rolled-steel tie plates, equipped with a choice of elastic fasteners specified by the customer, Goff said. The company recently added a second production line to manufacture the plates, and also expanded the product line to include both 16- and 18-inch versions set up for either screw or cut spike hole patterns.
L.B. Foster Co.’s technical and product-development efforts revolve around expanding its customized product solutions to meet specific North American transit agency criteria.
For example, the company’s resilient tie system, which incorporates a concrete tie/boot, elastomeric pad, insulator and clips, recently was installed in a West Coast transit system. L.B. Foster is now focusing on expanding that resilient tie system to gain a stronger foothold throughout North America, according to Jason Bowlin, general manager of the company’s transit products. The fastener dramatically reduces corrosion and significantly extends the life of the product, he added.
The goal is to increase L.B. Foster’s presence in the global transit market, Bowlin said. As the company’s work on the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation project comes to a close, L.B. Foster will focus in 2016 on other transit-rail expansion projects, such as the next phase of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project in the Washington, D.C., area.
L.B. Foster also will pursue ongoing maintenance-of-way activities and rehabilitation of existing lines at other agencies. Meanwhile, the FAST Act is expected to give the company a business boost during the next several years, Bowlin said.
In September 2015, Progress Rail Services entered into an agreement to purchase Rail Product Solutions Inc. (RPS) from Amsted Rail Co.
The acquired company will still be known as “RPS” — at least for now, officials said in December 2015.
“The Fastening Solutions group [delivers] innovative new product solutions, such as our ME Series of captive fasteners for concrete ties and MACRO Armor for concrete tie rail seat repairs,” RPS’ John Stout said. “At the same time, we offer the broadest range of traditional products, such as our rail anchors, bonded direct fixation fasteners and e-clips.”
A prime example is the new e-clip fastening system for concrete ties. The e-clip is manufactured with a low-stress bending process for higher fatigue performance coupled with advanced designs for the integrated rail pad, abrasion plate and insulator. The product will leverage the structural might of the concrete tie and reduce the bearing pressure on plastic components, requiring less maintenance and establishing a lower total cost of ownership, Stout said.
The company is ready to take on FAST Act-related projects, too, with its bonded direct-fixation fasteners, End Restraint for Special trackwork fasteners and Edilon Sedra Embedded Block System.
Vossloh Fastening Systems’ W40 system is one of the newer heavy-haul systems developed for the most demanding track locations, and it is installed in some of the harshest track environments in North America, Vossloh’s Ron Martin said.
“These include 8-degree-and-higher curves, grades to 1.8 percent, temperatures of -40 F to 120 F, high moisture and extreme dry conditions, as well as annual tonnage rates of over 100 million gross tons on some lines,” he said.
This engineered system is practically maintenance-free, even in less-than-ideal conditions, Martin added. And with increased production capabilities, Vossloh now offers to the North American market some of its high-speed and transit-specific engineered systems in use in other parts of the world.
Lewis Bolt & Nut Co.’s extensive product line for track includes frog, switch and track bolts, as well as a new line of LT-1 Drive on Rail anchors. The company also manufactures the Evergrip® spike, which can be driven by an automatic or portable spiker and be installed up to two-and-a-half times faster than a traditional lagging machine. Today, there are more than 25 million Evergrips in use across North America, said Vice President of Sales Dave Barry.
Additionally, a new patent-pending Quick-Set® Hook Bolt System for bridge decks, introduced in 2015, has received “overwhelmingly positive feedback from the field due to its speed and safety advantages over other hook bolt systems,” Barry said.
The system is designed to eliminate the need to drill holes to install hook bolts, which often cause cracks and shorten tie life. Users report spending as few as two minutes installing each bolt, as they only need to reach down between the ties from above the deck and engage the hook bolt with the flange, Barry said. The ability of work crews to perform the entire installation from the top of the deck has numerous safety advantages and requires less manpower and machinery. And because the hook bolt is angled inward 15 degrees, “there’s no lateral or vertical movement of the deck,” Barry added.
In addition to being the North American licensee for the Sonneville Low Vibration Track slab track system, Construction Polymers Technologies manufactures the Resilient Fastener. This high-performance fastener was designed in conjunction with MTA New York City Transit (NYCT), which has been the RF’s primary user for the past decade. NYCT features 138 route miles of subway tunnels, and 70 miles of elevated and viaduct structures.
The transit agency needed a fastener that could withstand the rigors of the city’s subway system and provide exceptional noise and vibration attenuation and electrical isolation. The RF fills that need by providing a product that uses a microcellular polyurethane pad produced in conjunction with Getzner USA, a leader in noise- and vibration-attenuating products, said Vice President of Sales and Marketing Rick Steininger.
The fastener’s stiffness/spring rate also can be easily altered by changing the Getzner pad, and the bottom plate is a fabrication so the anchorage positions can be custom configured, Steininger said. The top plate can be produced as a fabrication, too, allowing for the use of alternate rail hold-down clips, rail sections, canted or non-canted rail seats, and other components.
Construction Polymers Technologies also offers a line of resilient fasteners for use with guardrails, restraining rails and special trackwork. The RF is readily available for 100-8 and 115RE rail sections, and generally utilizes a Pandrol e-Clip, Steininger said.
Copper State Bolt and Nut Co.’s primary focus remains on manufacturing its frog, diamond and track bolt product lines. By listening to customers’ concerns, Copper State has been able to build a better product, said Steve Turner, director of OEM and strategic accounts in the company’s manufacturing division. For example, company officials noticed that workers were grinding points on fasteners’ bolts to improve alignment.
“We now forge and point the bolts for them,” Turner said. “We also saw them using a tape measure to measure the bolts that had broken, and then doing the same thing with the bolts in their truck to match them up for replacement. This led to our ‘smart head mark.’ We forge the length of the bolt on the head, allowing for a quick assessment and correct replacement.”
Both of these advancements enable crews — and, ultimately, the railroad — to save time and money, Turner noted.
“We are broadly segmented within the fastener industry, allowing us the advantage of not relying on one industry to lead or decline,” he said. “The market, of course, will challenge all of us, but this industry is well managed and positioned to weather a short downturn in the first half of 2016.”
Michael Popke is a Madison, Wis.-based freelance writer. Email comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.