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Rail News Home Mechanical

November 2012

Rail News: Mechanical

Lift systems help railroads service and repair assets


— by Walter Weart

Railroads require a range of lift systems and products to service and repair assets. Tasks range from changing wheel sets and trucks to making underfloor repairs to light-rail cars to re-railing rolling stock. The challenge? Handling these jobs quickly, efficiently and, most of all, safely.

Last month, Progressive Railroading contacted a cross-section of lift and lift-related equipment suppliers. We asked them to talk about their current product portfolios and to shed light on any new products they may have on the drawing board. We also requested that they comment on marketplace trends, including recent orders and customer requests. The responses from seven lift system suppliers follow.


Duff-Norton, a division of Columbus McKinnon Corp. (CMCO), designs and manufactures a range of equipment for repairing, maintaining and inspecting rail vehicles. The company’s offerings include underfloor lifting systems, mobile and fixed lifting jacks, drop tables, truck hoists, turntables and workshop equipment. CMCO’s 2008 acquisition of Pfaff-silberblau provided Duff-Norton with “a significant expansion” to its product line, said Milton Peters, business development manager.

Duff-Norton has a strong global presence, with systems installed in Canada, as well as several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Africa and South America, Peters said. More recently, Duff-Norton set its sights on the U.S. rail market. The company’s systems are installed at Bay Area Rapid Transit, New Jersey Transit and other rail systems that use rail-bound vehicles, Peters said.

“We can and will supply maintenance, repair and inspection equipment to all rail-bound vehicles, including but not limited to light rail, freight cars or locomotives,” he said, adding that the company is bidding on several U.S. heavy-rail projects.

Many U.S. projects have a Buy American requirement, and Duff-Norton has operated a plant in Charlotte, N.C., since 1883. Equipment featuring the Pfaff-silberblau technology is being manufactured at that location, Peters said.


Founded in 1899, Simplex was acquired by the Actuant Corp. in 2007, and Simplex rail products currently are sold under the Enerpac brand. The company manufactures a variety of hydraulic cylinders with capacities up to 1,000 tons used for lifting purposes in the rail and other markets. The company currently is working with “several Class Is” to co-develop lighter and safer tools in the maintenance-of-way and car-repair segments, said Tom Danza, commercial leader for rail products, in an email.

“Safety is always the first priority with the railroads,” he said. “R&D efforts almost always involve utilizing technology to accomplish several objectives.”

Among them: minimizing or eliminating physical effort, whether that involves using hydraulic power for driving or pulling spikes, or reducing weight and handle efforts on jacks used to lift and surface rail, he said.

Keeping operators safe when lifting heavy loads is another priority, as loads “commonly exceed 100 tons,” Danza said. By designing jacks with large bases for stability, mechanical locking mechanisms as back up and remote pendant control, operators are kept at a safe distance, he added.

Another priority is identifying and eliminating potential dangers inherent with the misuse of mechanical track jacks. With the integration of continuous-welded rail and concrete ties, the “physical effort needed to lift these heavier loads was creating injuries,” Danza said. “A year-long R&D effort with the Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific produced the current Hydraulic Track jack that reduced carrying weight by 10 percent and physical handle efforts by 33 percent, and eliminated dangerous lever bar kick back.”

Danza also believes railroads have put a “new emphasis” on product efficiency and value.

“Railroads are taking closer looks at things like downtime and cost of ownership over the product life,” he said. “They are increasingly willing to collaborate with a manufacturer that can supply specialized and ergonomic lifting tools that fit their unique needs.”

Hydra-Tech International

Hydra-Tech International offers a line of hydraulic jacking systems, including 40- ton to 175-ton jacks, the Bulldog lift module manipulator and hydraulic pump carts. The two main rail industry products are the company’s 60-ton jacks and its ride control tools, says Dan Lauzier, sales and marketing manager.

“We started out as a repair facility specializing in hydraulic tools and jacks,” he says. “With our experience, we designed a better modular jacking system to service the heavy industries of mining and the railroads.”

A key safety feature, Lauzier says, is a load holding safety ring system, which holds the load in case of hydraulic failures. Meanwhile, the company is working on some new products that still are in the development phase and improving existing offerings.

“We are always looking at developing safer tools to work with,” Lauzier says.

Macton Corp.

Macton Corp.’s in-ground car hoist equipment enables operators to use the lifting rails to raise a coupled rail car to perform inspection, maintenance and repair jobs, said Transit Rail Product Manager Denise Louder in an email.

The body supports are raised to support the car body and, once the car body is supported, the individual truck assemblies may be lowered and replaced. The equipment uses a mechanical screw design with self-locking screw threads and a safety nut to provide failsafe protection, Louder said.

The space-saving design of Macton’s C-Frame car hoist enables a dismounted truck assembly to be moved through the hoist and underneath the elevated rail car, eliminating the need for truck turntables between the hoists. Housed in a caisson, the screw and nut drive system utilizes oil bath lubrication to improve performance and extends thread wear life, Louder said.

Macton also provides portable jacks to lift cars and locomotives by the jacking pads for inspection, maintenance and repair. Portable jacks enable customers to raise a rail car at any shop with a suitable floor surface; they can be used as a set of four to lift a single car and multiple sets may be linked together to lift coupled vehicles, Louder said. The machine screw and bronze load nut drive system is continuously self-locking, providing “maximum security” during the lift operation, she said. Electrical features include upper and lower limit switches; load sensors on the jacking pad; motion control; group, pair and individual operation; and remote control operation. Macton also offers drop tables that are designed to aid in the removal, inspection, maintenance and repair of locomotive truck or single-axle wheel set/traction motor combination assemblies. Meanwhile, the company has redesigned its Heavy Duty 35- and 50-ton portable lifting jacks.

“Macton has increased our in-house manufacturing capabilities — we are now incorporating screws and nuts into our portable jacks and car hoist systems that are manufactured in our own shop,” said Louder, noting that the company previously purchased those items. “We have also made some changes that make the jacks easier to maneuver.”

In response to customers’ requests, Macton has designed an HVAC repair hoist, which is used to raise and lower a rooftop HVAC unit after it has been loaded onto the hoisting frame. The U-shaped configuration of the lift base gives mechanics access under the lifted HVAC unit without obstructions and tripping hazards, Louder said.

Railquip Inc.

Railquip Inc. supplies a range of lifting equipment for freight-rail and transit applications — from underfloor lifting plants to overhead cranes and “everything in between,” said Director of Sales Paul Wojcik in an email. That includes portable lifting jacks, drop tables, truck repair hoists, coupler lifts for wheel exchange, and portable hydraulic re-railing equipment.

The company’s underfloor lifting plants are installed in pits beneath the shop tracks in a maintenance facility; typically, they consist of two primary components: car hoists and body support stands, Wojcik said. Railquip’s car hoist design uses ACME Screw Spindles for the lifting and has automatic lubrication features, Wojcik said. Multiple lifting systems may be centrally controlled by a single operator console for the synchronized lifting of up to several married pairs of vehicles, he added.

Typically, shops employ systems that lift one or two married pairs, with each underfloor lifting plant custom-designed to the user’s requirements, including track gauge, throughput, weights and vehicle dimensions. When the lifting pads are in different locations because of mixed car builders, moveable body support stands may be incorporated into the design, Wojcik said.

In some low-volume shops, or where underfloor systems weren’t incorporated in the original design, many operators use overhead cranes or portable lifting jacks to lift and support the locomotives or other rail vehicles for undercarriage maintenance, Wojcik said. Single cars or multiple vehicle consists can be lifted in a synchronized fashion, and the individual lifting jacks are controlled via a single operator console that monitors jack speed, elevation, troubleshooting diagnostics and other functions. The jacks lift the vehicles with a cantilevered lifting arm, which matches the designated lifting points or pads on the vehicle, he said.

Hydraulics are not used in Railquip’s jacks; the ACME screw design with safety follower nut is employed for the lifting spindle. Even in the event of power failure, the ACME screw will not “back down,” Wojcik said.

Railquip designs each of its portable lifting jacks, systems and underfloor lifting plants “to exceed” rail and transit safety standards, Wojcik said, adding that Railquip “strives for continuous improvement in all safety-related areas.”

Railquip also offers portable hydraulic re-railing equipment, the earliest versions of which were developed more than 80 years ago in Europe. Now, about 400 Railquip sets are in use in North America; customers include “virtually every major freight and transit operator in the industry,” Wojcik said. Powered by a hydraulic pump unit and controlled through a one-person operated control console, the re-railing system consists of a set of lightweight, single or multi-stage lifting jacks, hoses and accessories that are configured onsite “for the individual derailment circumstances,” Wojcik said. The system stabilizes, lifts, laterally moves and places the derailed car or locomotive back on the track.

Railquip also offers a variety of rail-car and locomotive movers with capacities up to 1,500 tons.

“Our latest innovations, driven by environmental sensitivities, have led to a line of battery-powered rail-car movers that combine a non-polluting approach to rail or transit car movement or switching without sacrificing power or safety,” Wojcik said.

Creating “virtually no air or noise pollution,” the movers are simple and safe to operate, and easy to maneuver and maintain, he added.


The company’s portable rail jacks can be set up in any area and easily be positioned to the rail-car jacking points — there is no need for “expensive civil engineering work,” said SEFAC Inc. President Allister Collings in an email. The jacks are available in capacities of up to 55,000 pounds per column, he added, noting that the company’s service technicians are based across the United States to support customers’ ongoing requirements.

The drive system on all SEFAC rail jacks is self locking, meaning that without the application of power, “the lift will always stay where you want it,” Collings said. The lifting screw is “cold rolled” — the thread is “formed smoother and minimally abrasive when compared to a machined screw,” he said. All columns in the lifting set, ranging from two columns up to 12 or more, are synchronized to within three-eighths of an inch.

“Not only does the system shut down if it goes out of level ... it maintains its level [through] the full lifting cycle,” he said.

An easy-to-read color LCD screen is located on the primary column or the console, if the customer chooses. All SEFAC mobile lifts are portable. They also can be motorized for “powered portability,” Collings said.

SEFAC rail jacks have been supplied to many “major players” in the rail industry during the past 40 years, Collings said. Meanwhile, sales increased by 40 percent in 2012, he said, adding that Bombardier Transportation and Nippon Sharyo U.S.A. Inc. opted to keep SEFAC as their mobile lift supplier.

SEFAC rail-car lifts typically come in sets of four columns to lift a rail car and, if required, can be equipped with up to 44 columns to lift multiple connected cars. The columns can be customized with either fixed or retractable claws as required by the type of cars to be lifted. The operation of lifts can be controlled from the primary column, any single lift, a detachable remote control unit or central console. An optional load censor can be fitted to the lifting claw to stop movement as soon as it contacts the lifting point, Collings said.

Whiting Corp.

The company manufactures a range of standard and custom rail maintenance equipment for railroads, mass transit systems, car and locomotive builders, car repair shops and industrial rail applications.

“We have been in the lift business for over 100 years, starting as a crane manufacturer and, in fact, two of our overhead cranes have been recognized for 100 years of service by being inducted into the North America Railway Hall of Fame,” said George Shaffer, Whiting’s rail car marketing system specialist.

In June, the two overhead three-motor, overboard bridge cranes were inducted into the hall of fame as “technical innovations.” Both cranes currently are operating in the former Michigan Central Railroad Locomotive Repair Shops, now known as the Elgin County Railway Museum, located in St. Thomas, Ontario. The cranes were installed in 1913.

These days, Whiting is increasing its focus on fault diagnostics and fault recording in the company’s equipment. “We have been looking at lifting speed and being sure that all jacks are lifting evenly,” Shaffer says. “We have added a ‘heads up’ display to allow for more precise and safer operation.”

Meanwhile, railroads continue to look for efficiency, durability, safety and economy in their lifting equipment. To that end, Whiting continues to refine its manufacturing processes and product features, Shaffer says.

When asked about recent lift-equipment orders, Shaffer cites a Norfolk Southern Railway purchase of 50- and 125-ton drop tables, which will be used in the Class I’s Kansas City, Mo., repair facility. “We are very proud of the fact that all our equipment is manufactured in the U.S., and any suppliers are also U.S.-based and under our close supervision,” says Shaffer.

As for overall market trends, Shaffer pointed out that both the transit and freight industries have different needs. On the transit side, there’s been a renewed interest in the development of single-car streetcar systems. The increased focus on high-speed (or higher-speed) rail also is a trend. On the freight front, Shaffer cited “numerous companies buying up short-line railroads in an effort to save capital, [and] streamline their operations and maintenance equipment.”

Walter Weart is a Denver-based free-lance writer.


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