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By Jeff Stagl, managing editor
In December, BNSF Railway Co. was hammered with record snowfalls and severe winter weather in Washington state. The Class I’s Northwest Division was hit with a series of storms that dumped from eight to 18 inches of snow, kicked up wind speeds to 85 mph and dropped air temperatures to single digits.
To clear the snow — including large drifts — from track, yards and other infrastructure, BNSF crews used various pieces of equipment. Without an arsenal of snow-removal machines, workers would have toiled into the new year to clear track and restore operations.
Railroads continue to turn to suppliers to provide a variety of snow removal equipment that not only helps combat heavy snowfalls on track and in yards, but keeps switches and other vital components free from snow and ice.
Following are seven of those companies and one equipment lessor, and a cross-section of the snow-fighting machinery they offer.
FCM Rail Ltd. leases skid-mounted jet turbine engines to a Class I to clear snow in yards, and blow and melt snow off of yard switches.
The company designed a lease structure for a fleet of the Snow Jets that calls for seasonal payments. The railroad only pays for the units during the snow season from November to April. The Snow Jets then are returned to FCM for seasonal maintenance.
The Flink Co. recently equipped six new snow-fighting vehicles for the Chicago Transit Authority.
To respond to customer requests for a 9/10 (9-foot body, 10-foot overall length) combination dump and spreader body, Flink has introduced the MPB body, which offers multiple usage, easier conveyor maintenance and replacement parts from standard Flink hopper spreaders. Designed for front and rear discharge, the MPB body is available in lengths from 9 to 16 feet, as well as custom designs.
In addition, Flink provides a front low-profile polyethylene moldboard sectional torsion trip-edge snowplow for faster and smoother snow removal.
Flink also offers the FSP snowplow from 8 to 12 feet in length, and 32 to 39 to 45 inches in height. To enhance the snowplow’s attachment to a vehicle, the company installed a low-profile Baker/Flink push frame designed for easier serviceability, structural security and riveting appearance.
For the past five years, Geismar-Modern Track Machinery Inc. (MTM) has offered a cold-air attachment for its hi-rail cranes. Mounted on a crane boom, the attachment can reach adjacent tracks to clear snow in yards without occupying those tracks.
The adjustable cold-air blower
enables the operator to adjust the direction of the air from the cab.
So far, MTM has sold units to Canadian National Railway Co., Union Pacific Railroad and RailWorks Corp.’s PNR division.
Nordco Inc. offers the Nordco Model M-7 Snow Fighter, which is a redesign of the predecessor Model M2-14. The Snow Fighter features 16-foot, five-inch snow wings and a snow blower to clean off switches. The machines — which in summer can be converted to a ballast regulator — also feature cabs and engine heaters designed to keep an operator comfortable while clearing snow in severe weather conditions.
Recently, Nordco added rebuilds of the Snow Fighter machines to its product offerings. The company takes machines that are 20 years old and rebuilds them with new cabs, engines and hydraulic systems to bring the units to like-new condition.
Currently, CN, Canadian Pacific and various short lines, mines, contractors and leasing companies use Snow Fighters.
Rails Co. provides gas, oil-fired or all-electric hot-air blowers; cold-air blowers; electric heaters and controls; and manifold heaters.
Since 2001, the company has offered the 15-Inch Hi-Low System, a gas-fired system featuring continuous hi-low output cycling and a 2-horsepower
motor to provide snow and ice protection. The blower system can operate on any commercially available voltage and be adapted to any existing duct layout. The system, which is used by BNSF Railway Co., Norfolk Southern Railway and UP, also can be adapted to all-
Rails also offers an all-electric hot-air blower system designed to be used in areas where natural gas supplies aren’t available or are difficult to re-supply. The low-profile system can be activated by a dispatcher or an optional snow detector system. Introduced in 2005, the system is used by UP and the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co. (IHB).
Railway Equipment Co. has an installed switch heater base of more than 6,000 units in North America. The company offers two-, three- and five-horsepower gas hot air blowers, 922 electric controllers, 936 cold-air blowers and 934 electric hot-air blowers. The equipment, which is designed to clear switches from snow and ice, features Railway Equipment’s advanced controls to help reduce operating expenses.
Enhancements include the SNO-NET® system, which enables a railroad to operate their snow-clearing equipment more effectively and economically, and with remote visibility, according to the company. For example, the system combines a gas hot-air blower with state of-the-art controls and connectivity to provide railroads with remote monitoring and control of set points, run times, fuel levels, and fault and weather conditions.
The SNO-NET system also enables railroads to remotely view snapshot images either on demand or based on events for historical data.
For more than 20 years, RPM Tech Inc. has offered cold-air blower model AF1, which is designed to remove snow, ice and other materials from track and switches.
The blower is mounted on a truck featuring hi-rail equipment. The truck can be adapted for various uses in winter and summer, such as a platform with crane or thermit welding unit. High cold-air velocity, reaching air speeds up to 435 mph, can clear snow and debris around switches, rails and third rails.
CN, CP, UP, Amtrak, MTA Long Island Rail Road, MTA Metro-North Railroad and a number of other railroads currently use the blower in the United States and Canada.
Since 1970, Spectrum Infrared Inc. has offered RRSH track switch heaters to remove snow and ice from all types of switches.
The low-profile heaters combine forced hot air with an electric heater and feature a high-pressure blower, which is driven by a 1.5- or 3-horsepower continuous-duty motor to force outside air into the heating chamber.
Forced air is directed at the switch point to provide free and unimpeded switch operation. Heated air is ducted to horizontally adjustable nozzles, which direct high-pressure jets of hot air at the switch points and rods to clear ice and snow.
Enhancements to the RRSH heaters include a snow detector system, and energy and temperature recording systems.
The heaters are used by CSX Transportation, NS and IHB, and several East Coast and Midwestern regional transportation authorities.