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May 2018

Rail News: C&S

Suppliers showcase products to help railroads tackle harsh winter weather

Harsco Rail’s Spreader Ditcher can clear 16-foot snow drifts and widen snow cuts with main wings and bank slopers.
Photo – Harsco Rail


Compiled by Daniel Niepow, Associate Editor

Severe winter weather can take a big bite out of rail service and efficiency. Witness the Canadian Class Is’ recent struggles to meet the needs of grain shippers during a particularly harsh winter season. In a March 7 statement, Canadian Pacific officials noted that the railroad faced “unprecedented cold and snow” combined with significant line outages.

“When one railroad struggles, or a shipper is dealing with a labor outage, or a vessel captain refuses to load in Vancouver due to rain, the entire supply chain suffers, just as it does when temperatures drop below negative 25 degrees Celsius for long periods of time,” they said. “Extreme weather and line outages impact all commodity movements, not just grain.”

To help tackle whatever winter throws at them, railroads turn to suppliers for a range of products and services, including snow plows, switch heaters, idle-reduction technology, anti-ice systems and even worker gear. Last month, Progressive Railroading reached out to more than a dozen companies to learn about their latest offerings in the winter-related products arena. Emailed responses from 11 suppliers follow.

Harsco Rail

Harsco Rail’s Spreader Ditcher is a “highly versatile machine” used to plow heavy snow, spread ballast, reshape cuts in banks and cut trackside ditches, the company says. Ranging from 160,000 to 170,000 pounds, the Spreader Ditcher is equipped with an operator control cab, front plow, side wings, two non-powered bogies, AAR couples and an auxiliary power unit (APU) for electrical/hydraulic power.

The machine can clear 16-foot snow drifts and widen snow cuts with main wings and bank slopers. In addition, it has the ability to rip solid blue ice and handle slides mixed with rock, stumps and frozen matter. The machine also cuts snow ditches for thaws and spreads snow in classification and switch yards.

Other features include in-cab controls such as front plow locks and wing locks. The Spreader Ditcher also includes FRA Type I heated windshields, as well as FRA Type II sliding side egress windows.

Power Drives Inc.

Power Drives Inc.’s PowerHouse system is an idle-reduction technology designed to enable a locomotive to shut down in the coldest temperatures. It features a 136,500 BTU/hour (40kW) diesel-fired heat exchanger, which provides rapid heating of engine coolant and oil, according to the company.

Power Drives’ PowerHouse system features a diesel-fired heat exchange to provide rapid heating of engine coolant and oil.
Power Drives Inc.

The PowerHouse is available in two EPA SmartWay-certified models. When locomotives have ready access to 120V shore power, the PowerHouse 120 model can be used. Meanwhile, the EPA Tier 4-compliant diesel powered APU model is a modular, two-piece APU providing installation flexibility, and is ideal for road haul and run-through locomotives. The APU charges the locomotive battery bank while the prime mover is shut down.

Both models include remote monitoring for access to real-time operating data, and include controls to automatically start and stop the heat exchanger as necessary to avoid continuous run time. Power Drives also has developed a compressed air dryer kit designed to eliminate water from the airline, thereby preventing the main reservoir line from freezing.

Knox Kershaw

Knox Kershaw Inc.’s KSF 940 Snow Fighter is an ideal solution for combating the heavy snow and freezing temperatures of winter, company officials say. It sports a 50,000-pound working weight, a pressurized cab featuring a second operator’s seat and joystick controls, and wings, plow and broom built for moving heavy snow in the harshest environments.

The power unit comes equipped with a 260-horsepower Cummins engine, Espar diesel-fired engine block heater and Arctic Fox hydraulic tank heater. In addition, dual 8-D batteries offer plenty of cranking power for cold weather starts, the company says.

The four-season plow also has a heavy structural frame that can be used for snow or ballast, and the bolt-on curl kits allow for plowing through the deepest of snow. High capacity, 36-inch snow wings clear snow 16-foot from the track center.

Redesigned for 2018, the broom motor and auger motor are series-driven with individual drives, while the two-stage blower has been improved to increase capacity and now discharges snow 30 feet to either side. For ballast work, the auger and blower assembly are replaced with the ballast deflector. A reversing valve for the broom is now standard on the KSF 940.

Meanwhile, the cab entrances and steps around the machine are installed on a slope for better step visibility for climbing and exiting. The new grating used on these steps will allow for better grip and drainage, especially with snow, the company says.

“In 2018, our goal for all of our machines, including the KSF 940, is to incorporate better electrical and hose routing while also eliminating the number of connections,” company officials say.

Railway Equipment Co.

Railway Equipment Co.’s Magnum™ track switch heater product line includes gas hot air blowers, electric hot air blowers, electric rail heaters, fiberglass switch covers and the Sno-Net® remote monitoring system. Recent advancements include the utilization of an AC drive to reduce power demand during motor start up, as well as a smartphone app that allows users to monitor and control track switch heaters remotely.

“Combining industry-leading track switch heater performance with remote connectivity is helping railroads across North America further improve switch reliability during adverse winter conditions,” Railway Equipment Co. officials say.

Railway Equipment Co.’s winter-related offerings include hot-air blowers, electric rail heaters and fiberglass switch covers.
Railway Equipment Co.

As a result, railroad personnel are now able to better prepare for winter events by having real time visibility of track switch heater operability, which enables them to focus attention where it’s needed ahead of a winter event. During harsh winter weather, the remote connectivity allows the user to remotely diagnose and sometimes correct the problem. This means personnel don’t need to drive to the track switch heater location during dangerous driving conditions.

“From Class I railroads to [transit agencies], more and more railroads across North America continue to benefit from the adoption of Sno-Net for track switch heaters,” company officials say.

In addition to Magnum track switch heaters, Railway Equipment Co. manufactures E Z Gate® Arms & LED Lamps, Cragg Railcharger® Battery Chargers and Remote Asset Monitoring and Control Systems.

Modern Track Machinery

Available from Modern Track Machinery, the Geismar Storm is designed to blow snow from switches and tracks using the CAB 3, which provides 300-mph air from a blower mounted to truck crane. When not set for winter mode, the unit functions as a standard material and rail transport truck, commonly called a “boom truck.”

In winter mode, the loader, or crane, is positioned behind the truck cab and extends over the front and side to concentrate the 14,000 CFM of air flow where needed. Similarly, the Geismar 360 Loader can be fitted with a cold air blower for snow clearing of switches and in rail yards.

“In both cases, we build to minimize downtime and maximize utilization, 365 days a year,” Modern Track Machinery officials say. “This results in highly productive and cost effective ROI appreciated by railways and contractors alike.”

With the Geismar Storm, a standard yard turnout can be cleared of snow in as little as two to three minutes, according to the company.

When winter is over, the unit can be converted into a grapple truck with 22 feet of payload deck. In summer mode, the unit can be operated from the loader seat or from the ground at a safe distance.


HOTSTART’s APU heating system is a self-contained, diesel-driven coolant and oil preheater that uses a locomotive’s onboard fuel supply to heat prime movers without requiring a shore power connection.

Unlike electric heating systems, the APU allows a locomotive to be shut down in any location by using the locomotive’s own diesel fuel supply.

Eliminating unnecessary idling means reducing fuel and oil consumption, emissions, noise, engine wear and wet-stacking, HOTSTART officials say.

HOTSTART’s APU provides up to 19 kW of total heating power and 80 amps of battery charging power.

During normal operation, the APU consumes less than half a gallon of fuel per hour. Featuring four heat exchange points combined with a built-in tank heater and heavy-duty alternator, the APU provides up to 19 kW of total heating power and 80 amps of battery charging power.

“Every aspect of the APU’s design is intended to work seamlessly with a locomotive’s day-to-day operations, including an easy-to-use configurable display, real-time operating parameters, automatic operation and AESS-ready capability,” company officials say.

Meanwhile, HOTSTART’s CLV heating system has been developed to heat locomotive prime movers, as well as diesel and gas engines for stationary land power, marine and mining equipment. The electrically powered coolant preheater circulates heated coolant throughout the engine’s water jacket, which eliminates unnecessary idling, saves fuel and reduces wear and tear from cold starts.

The CLV heating system is capable of heating engines up to 300 L displacement and features PT-100 temperature sensors. In addition, the CLV control box is equipped with side-mounted controls and a removable lid to maximize possible installation locations in locomotives where equipment space is at a premium.

Rails Co.

Rails Co. offers a line of snow removal equipment, including five different types of energy-efficient switch heaters, switch rod heaters, cold air blowers for hot box detectors, trainstop rod hairpin heaters, ballast heaters, snow detectors, automatic control systems and insulated heat retaining shields.

The 5hp High/Low Hot Air Blower (HAB) Switch Heaters distribute high-velocity, high-volume hot air throughout the switch area to keep switches open and operative in the most difficult applications.

Available in stainless steel or aluminized steel, Rail-Tel (RTS) Switch Heaters apply heat uniformly over the entire length of the switch to keep switches clear in high winds, low temperatures, drifting snow and ice. No electrical power is required when operated manually, so units continue to function even in the event of a power failure.

All are available for dispatcher control or automatic operation. The company’s Snow Detectors sense the presence of snow, hail, freezing rain or ice to activate snow melting equipment automatically and to deactivate them when the precipitation stops. They can be used with any Rails Switch Heater to provide local control and automatic operation at remote points.

Rails also has introduced Wireless Controls and Monitoring Systems that can start and stop Switch Heaters from a local bungalow, a control room or remotely. The secure network can be connected and accessed with a personal computer, cell phone or tablet, according to the company.

Spectrum Inc.

Spectrum Inc. offers a line of electric track switch heaters optimized for specific purposes. For instance, the company’s hot-air blower features built-in controls that can be used to power a set of rail heaters and crib heaters without the need for a control cabinet. The blowers provide heat to all the critical components, such as points, tie plates, heel blocks and control rods of a switch machine.

In addition, the electric heaters are safer, more reliable and significantly more cost effective to operate than propane gas, according to Spectrum. In addition, the heaters are a more environmentally friendly solution compared to propane, company officials say.

Spectrum’s line of electric heaters are more cost effective to operate than propane gas models, the company says.
Spectrum Inc.

Meanwhile, the Spectrum RRSH Electric Hot/Cold Air Blower is ideal for ice and snow removal. This low-profile heater features aluminum construction and is easily installed next to the track. The blower’s robust design “has proven itself through decades of use throughout the United States and Canada,” company officials say.

In addition, the company’s flat rail heater provides greater contact with the rail, which improves thermal transfer over round rod technology.

At the same time, Spectrum’s crib heater features a low-profile design, making it easy to install. The product’s water-tight seal ensures proper operation in ice and snow.

The blower used together with rail and crib heaters form a heating system that has been proven to clear the switch during the harshest winter conditions, Spectrum officials say.


nVent provides switch heating systems that improve track safety and reliability in icy conditions, company officials say. With solutions from the nVent ERICO and RAYCHEM brands, the company offers two types of switch heating technologies: constant wattage and self-regulating systems.

nVent offers two types of switch heating technologies: constant wattage and self-regulating systems.

The constant wattage switch heating product features a “flat mi” heating system that covers more surface area than traditional tubular heaters. Meanwhile, the self-regulating rail and switch heating systems utilize proprietary nVent heat trace cables that automatically adjust their power output to compensate for temperature changes.

“nVent solutions are energy efficient, easy to install, and require very little maintenance on track,” company officials say.

The company also provides full engineering support and ongoing technical support for rail and switch heating systems to railroads around the world.

Phoenix Contact USA

Phoenix Contact USA and Kapsch TrafficCom USA Inc. have developed an automated rail heating system that can save transit-rail agencies thousands of dollars per day in energy costs, according to Phoenix Contact. The wireless supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) network system is powered by Kapsch’s DYNAC software and employs a variety of Phoenix Contact control components.

Phoenix Contact’s automated rail heating system can be installed without disrupting service, according to the company.
Phoenix Contact

Heaters located along the electrified third rail and on wayside equipment prevent buildup of ice and snow during inclement weather. Traditionally, transit agencies’ employees manually turn the rail heaters on during the fall and turn them off again in the spring. This manual process had high labor costs and was a major safety issue.

However, the automated system can be installed without disrupting service, which means there’s no revenue loss, company officials say. Operators monitor and control the individual heat traces from a central location, and can turn the heaters on or off depending on weather conditions by touching a screen.

The system enables operators to remotely perform routine system diagnostics collection to ensure the heaters can be controlled at any time from a single HMI interface at each server. The interface panels along the rail serve as the primary link between the DYNAC SCADA master and a network of control point nodes throughout the network of Phoenix Contact 900 MHz radios. Each node controls, collects and holds data for SCADA commands.

At select locations, Phoenix Contact ILC programmable logic controllers control and monitor end devices. The ILC family of controllers communicates on Modbus TCP protocol. Kapsch and Phoenix Contact configure the radio network, which is capable of communicating over several miles in an interference-heavy environment.

Chet’s Shoes

The Snowgear Ice Master overshoe by Chet’s Shoes offers “superior traction” on glare ice and other snowy services with its carbide-studded sole, company officials say. Standing 14 inches high, the overshoe features fleece lining for added warmth and can slide over work boots.

The bottom of the Ice Master overshoe features reflective material for visibility in low-light conditions.
Chet’s Shoes

The Ice Master also has a waterproof upper and a Velcro closure with a D-ring adjustable strap to keep the overshoe fitting securely.

In addition, the bottom of the boot includes reflective material for visibility in low-light conditions.

When wearing the Ice Master, most people will only need the size of their regular work boot. However, if workers wear a boot with a larger sole or have a bulkier boot with a metatarsal guard, they may need a larger size, according to Chet’s Shoes.

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Browse articles on winter challenges railroading in winter Canadian Pacific CN Harsco Rail Power Drives Inc. Knox Kershaw snow fighters snow plows Railway Equipment Co. HOTSTART Rails Co. Spectrum Inc. nVent Phoenix Contact USA Chet's Shoes rail suppliers

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