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Rail News Home C&S

May 2007

Rail News: C&S

Winter preparedness

It’s May. Time for North American railroad managers to think about ramping up engineering and C&S projects in northern regions. It’s also time for them to devise a snow removal strategy before next winter’s first storm.

To avoid frozen switches and snow-clogged track, and find new ways to reduce propane and equipment maintenance costs come October, managers are reviewing their snow removal, switch heater and energy management options.

“Railroads don’t want trains delayed because of snow and ice build up,” says Dave Fox, president of Railway Equipment Co., which markets a Magnum™ line of switch heaters and last winter began offering a Web-based Sno-Net® snow melter monitoring and control system.

To help railroads prevent winter-related problems, snow removal, switch heater and de-icing equipment suppliers are rolling out new products and monitoring systems, and revamping existing ones. Their goal: to provide reliable equipment that can increase railroads’ snow removal efficiency, and reduce their maintenance and energy costs.

Plowing ahead
Flink Co. officials hope to achieve those results in North America and abroad. The company is marketing a recently upgraded snow plow line to North American railroads, as well as developing a new plow for a United Kingdom freight and passenger road. In fall, officials at the U.K. railroad approached the company about creating a V-shaped plow that could attach to a locomotive and be easy to get on and off rail, says Flink General Sales Manager Duane Kruger.

“We’re waiting for the railroad to come up with feasibility funds to go ahead with project,” he says, adding that the railroad is interested in purchasing 15 to 20 of the plows.

In the meantime, Flink — which offers four lines of snow plows and 10 salt spreader models to the rail industry — is marketing the fifth generation of the Baker/Flink snow plow that’s been available in North America since the early 1900s. Eighteen months ago, the company changed the curvature of the trip-edge plow so snow discharges more fluently, says Kruger.

For the past three years, Flink also has offered a liquid anti-icing application system for rail applications. The system is designed to create a barrier between surfaces and precipitation before snow falls or ice builds up, he says.

“It stops the bonding of snow and ice to pavement and works to a lower temperature than chlorides or magnesiums,” says Kruger.

At Nordco Inc., officials are trying to combat operator fatigue by continuing to upgrade the Nordco M Series Snow Fighter’s cab and controls. For example, the company now offers a larger cab and diesel-fired cab heaters.

“The machine may be commissioned into working long hours in unfavorable conditions, and we have focused our efforts on making the machine comfortable for the operator,” says Nordco Vice President of Sales and Marketing Greg Spilker.

Equipped with long-reaching wings and blowers designed to move large amounts of snow in one pass, the Snow Fighter primarily is used by Canadian customers, including Class Is, short lines, contractors and mines, he says.

Works two ways
But a dual-purpose feature might make the Snow Fighter attractive to a wider customer base. The machine can be used as a ballast regulator in summer months and convert to a Snow Fighter in wintertime, says Spilker.

Progress Rail Services Corp. also markets dual-purpose ballast regulators/snow fighters, including a Model 46/60 machine introduced in summer 2006. Model 46/60 combines many features offered on the company’s Model 46-2 and Model 60 ballast regulator/snow fighters, says Progress Rail National Sales Manager Randy Chubaty.

“Enhancements taken from Model 60 are an extended frame to improve component accessibility, forward-mounted wings for improved operator visibility and a larger cab for operator ergonomics,” he says, adding that Model 46/60 also provides component interchangeability currently available on Model 46-2.

Progress Rail markets its ballast regulator/snow fighter line to Class Is and short lines, as well as transit systems, which frequently require design modifications to meet specialized clearance requirements, says Chubaty.

“We have also seen increased interest [in the machines] in the overseas market from customers that have requirements to remove sand from their right of way,” he says. “Sand poses a similar problem to snow in some countries.”

Rails Co. also recently developed a new product. In July 2006, the company began marketing a 15-inch high/low hot air blower switch heater designed to improve fuel efficiency by reducing the amount of heat needed to clear snow and ice from a switch.

Also in July, Rails Co. introduced a SD-7200-1 snow detector featuring four individually controlled sensing surfaces.

Multiple surfaces offer greater sensitivity and accuracy, and provide fail-safe operation, says Herb Geller, owner of Herb Geller Advertising, who’s handled Rails Co.’s advertising and publicity for the past 29 years.

Rails Co. also continues to offer a line of 28 switch heater/blowers, remote electric switch heater control systems and automatic snow detectors.

Meanwhile, Railway Equipment Co. continues to market its line of Magnum™ switch heaters, including gas and electric hot-air blowers, a high-velocity track switch cold-air blower and track switch heater controller.

The company also offers the Sno-Net® control system designed for gas hot-air blower/melters. Introduced last winter, the system can turn on melters when snow is present and turn off the equipment when melting isn’t required, says Railway Equipment’s Fox. Sno-Net is designed to monitor melters’ inputs and outputs, and regulate equipment operation via the Internet.

“Sometimes, melters are on because someone forgot to turn them off,” says Fox.

Unnecessary operation is increasing energy costs for railroads, who already spend millions of dollars on propane and other fuels, he says. Railway Equipment officials estimate Sno-Net can reduce railroads’ maintenance and fuel costs by $2,000 for each melter.

BNSF Railway Co. — which operates about 7,000 switch heaters — Canadian National Railway Co., Canadian Pacific Railway and Norfolk Southern Railway are using Sno-Net at some switch heater locations, says Fox.

Sno-Net also can notify railroad managers about melter problems via email, pager, cell phone or other handheld communication devices.

“You get the location of a melter and what the issue is, if it’s shut down or the motor voltage is higher than the normal operating parameter,” says Fox.

At Railway Systems Suppliers Inc.’s C&S Exhibition to be held May 23-24 in Calgary, Alberta, Railway Equipment plans to display a new Sno-Net WiFi system.

“Instead of receiving four cell phone bills, a railroad can have four sites communicating via WiFi and one cell phone service,” says Fox.

In fall, the company also plans to introduce a Sno-Net designed for electric cal rod heater systems.

Hovey Industries Inc. offers a switch heater control system, too. Marketed the past six years, the Energy Management System (EMS) features a snow detector designed to turn on a switch heater when it’s snowing and turn the heater off when it’s not, says Hovey Director of Sales and Marketing Michael Wilcox. The system monitors precipitation, and ambient air and rail temperatures.

“Heaters can burn a lot of fuel,” says Wilcox.

Hovey also offers the HELLFIRE 900 and 400, and INFERNO switch heaters, and a rail temperature thermostat designed to cycle heaters on if rail temperature falls to 38 F and cycle units off if the temp rises to 40 F.

In addition, two years ago, Hovey introduced a switch heater feature that attempts to start a heater three times in 10-second intervals if a heater fails to start the first time.

“Ninety-five percent of the time, the heater will start one of those three times,” says Wilcox. “It saves a worker in the field from having to go to a site and hit a reset button.”

Running hot and cold
At Condor Signal & Communications Inc., sales officials continue to market two monitoring systems introduced within the past two years, as well as several cold-air and dual-mode snow blowers.

The company offers a T3400 Chinook dual-mode hot/cold high-velocity blower, and T2000 and T1000 model cold-air blowers featuring three-nozzle (for leading and trailing points) and side-blow (for moveable-point frogs) unit options for double-slip switch applications. The options appeal more to transit railroads, which tend to install double-slip switches, says Condor Engineering Manager Jason Fries, adding that GO Transit recently purchased 130 optional units.

Marketed the past 18 months, the T3400 Chinook blower is designed to independently control hot- and cold-air systems. Hot air can be turned off when not needed, reducing energy costs, says John Schaefer, Condor’s U.S. sales representative.

The firm’s cold-air blowers can be retrofitted to add heating capabilities, and all blowers use air velocity and nozzles to melt snow instead of relying on track ducts to distribute air, he says.

“Eliminating the need for 20- to 30-foot-long track ducts is a huge improvement in maintenance,” says Schaefer.

Condor also recently introduced a satellite-based tank level monitoring system that can reduce maintenance-related costs because workers don’t need to travel to remote or hard-to-reach tanks to check propane levels, he says. The system monitors fuel amount via satellite and issues a notification via email, pager or cell phone if propane drops below a user-chosen level.

Last winter, CN and CPR began using the system, which provides weekly or monthly reports via email, says Fries, adding that Condor is testing a Web site feature for the system that will be introduced in fall.

From outer space to cyber space
Last year, the company also began marketing the Chinook Management System designed to monitor and control blowers via satellite. The system offers Web-based monitoring and control; email, pager or cell phone alarms if problems occur; and weekly or monthly operational reports via email.

“You can turn blowers off and on remotely and determine if you need to fill a tank that’s running out,” says Fries.

Railroad managers also can use the system to determine which blowers need maintenance and which don’t, helping reduce unnecessary maintainer trips to blower sites, he says.

When it comes to snow removal, switch heater and de-icing equipment, managers are seeking all the efficiencies and cost savings they can get. Perhaps they’ll find a few more ways to do so before the next snowflake flies.


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