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Compiled By Daniel Niepow, Associate Editor
In spring, Caltrain completed a two-week rail grinding project that started in San Francisco and proceeded south. Contractors used a rail-mounted, locomotive-sized grinder to restore the shape of the rail to its original configuration.
The project, which began the last week of April and continued through the first week of May, was aimed at slowing down the propagation of surface cracks caused by rolling contact fatigue. The work also helped generate cost savings in rail and vehicle maintenance, Caltrain engineering staff said in an email.
“Next to our locomotives and passenger cars, the rail is one of the agency’s biggest assets,” they said. “The fit of the rail wheel onto the rail head is important to the ride quality for our passengers and helps reduce truck hunting.”
Since it’s not feasible to have an industrial grinder on hand for work that takes place every five or six years on average, Caltrain relies on contractors. The railroad tapped Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. to provide the equipment and perform the grinding operation, while Advanced Rail Management was chosen to supervise the process.
For Caltrain and other railroads across North America, grinding is an important part of prolonging the life of their rails. Last month, Progressive Railroading reached out to several suppliers and service providers to learn about their latest offerings in the rail grinding realm. Below, four companies share details about their products and services.
While all railroads perform some type of maintenance — such as conventional grinding — implementing a comprehensive rail maintenance strategy poses many challenges, Vossloh Rail Services officials said. What’s more, the market for production grinding programs is heavily geared toward freight networks, which leaves transit agencies and other types of rail networks to adopt programs that exceed their needs.
Vossloh provides “innovative rail lifecycle solutions,” with significant rail maintenance operations in Europe and Asia, company officials said. Over the past several years, Vossloh has worked with North American railroads to identify areas where the company’s rail lifecycle products and services can bolster maintenance programs and improve the overall state of rail. Company officials have focused on two products they believe fill a gap in the current market for rail maintenance: high-speed grinding-city (HSG-city) and high performance milling.
Vossloh’s high-speed grinding trains are capable of running during the normal course of traffic. HSG-city is a preventative and maintenance grinding solution for urban settings where possession time is limited and production grinding methods aren’t suitable due to noise and fire hazards. The HSG-city unit is a cart equipped with 24 passively driven grinding stones that can be pushed or pulled at speeds up to 35 mph via locomotive or hi-rail vehicle.
As a preventative grinding tool, HSG-city prevents premature wear and other defects, such as corrugations and rolling contact fatigue. The process itself is “virtually noiseless,” and its effect on rails serves to reduce a train’s noise and vibration, Vossloh officials said. HSG-city also features a powerful suction unit that significantly reduces dust and sparks, which allows it to operate in otherwise restrictive areas, including tunnels.
Additionally, HSG-city is controlled remotely and doesn’t need an onboard crew for operation. The HSG-city solution can easily be owned and operated by a transit agency at a fraction of the cost of regular production grinding service, Vossloh said.
Another rail maintenance solution offered by Vossloh Rail Services: high performance milling. In general, the milling process is tailored for rail that has significant defects and otherwise would need to be replaced. And because the milling process is spark-free, it’s a maintenance option for track sections where conventional grinding isn’t an option, such as bridges and tunnels.
Orgo-Thermit Inc. offers the VM8000 grinding machine, which is operated remotely from outside the cab. This provides operators the ability to be on the ground and observe what’s going on. Being able to make adjustments on the fly is critical for precision-oriented operations, company officials said.
“While track times are continually shorter and shorter, our team makes critical decisions on how and where to start the grind,” added Randy Dry, director of field services/production. “Our team utilizes various profile gauges to check the work, along with our pre- and post-laser measurements with the rail monitor.”
The surface finish that Orgo-Thermit leaves behind will last for years, so spending the time to develop a plan will pay “huge dividends for years to come,” Dry said.
Orgo-Thermit’s team can be staged at a predetermined location, and, as soon as track is available, crews can commence grinding in that area. This works hand in hand with a previously developed grinding plan, according to the company.
Implementing a grind plan helps to increase efficiency largely by grinding multiple locations close to each other, with the ultimate goal of tying them all together.
As the Orgo-Thermit team continues to provide rail grinding services, the company has started to expand its capabilities. The firm has purchased a second VM8000 that will be commissioned in 2018. In addition, Orgo-Thermit has bought “Rail Shape Eco” equipment, which has the capability to gauge corner profile, grind turnouts, level crossings and grind areas not serviced by other grinding applications.
Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. has partnered with its customers to develop two new rail grinding product offerings and strategies.
Railroads historically have operated production and specialty rail grinders separately, but Loram and a customer collaborated to “challenge the status quo,” which resulted in a joint rail grinding strategy, company officials said. This new strategy allows the production and specialty rail grinders to work simultaneously in the same track window, blend grind zones for a continuous rail profile, and retain preventive gradual grind cycles for mainline rail and specialty track assets.
Loram’s RG400 Series production rail grinders and 24-stone RGS specialty rail grinders are “the key to joint rail grinding success,” company officials said. The RG400 typically can grind a single high-speed pass while the RGS follows and completes any additional mainline grinding and grinds specialty track assets.
Multiple railroads have incorporated joint rail grinding, and they’re logging decreased pass-mile to track-mile ratio, along with double the amount of specialty track assets ground annually.
Loram also heard customers asking for a gap grinder. The company tackled this need by combining two RGS rail grinders back to back. This 48-stone consist can perform production rail grinding in minimal passes and retains the finesse to grind switches and crossings, Loram officials said.
The back-to-back consist is popular in locations where production rail grinders are struggling to stay on cycle or on commuter lines where it may not be possible to have a traditional production rail grinder, according to the company.
Modern Track Machinery Inc. has recently supplied a hi-rail truck for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s passenger-rail project. The Geismar model V2R 850-M features an eight-stone radio-controlled grinding module, self-contained air filtration and collection unit. The company also fitted the vehicle with Geismar’s bogie hi-rail system, which allows the unit to navigate sharp radius curves without derailing.
The vehicle is ideal for controlling corrugation and preventive grinding for gauge corner cracking. In addition, the unit can be utilized for de-carbonization to ensure proper signaling, Modern Track Machinery officials said.
The machine enables railroads to grind when it’s required, while the hi-rail version allows them to access the system from several points and minimize travel time on the rail to perform the tasks during short work windows.
As an added benefit, the company equipped the unit with a crane. So, when the truck is not being used to grind, the grinding module can be set off, allowing the truck to be utilized as a hi-rail vehicle with deck for various other tasks. This transforms it from a specific vehicle locked into a single function to a unit that is “productive 365 days a year,” company officials said.