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— by Jeff Stagl, Manageing Editor
As weak traffic demand continues to reduce revenue, railroads keep trimming their capital budgets and slimming their workforces. With fewer dollars and people committed to infrastructure maintenance this year, railroads have shifted their focus from capacity expansion to ongoing track maintenance.
So — now more than ever — they’re demanding premium track components that last longer, require less routine maintenance, accommodate heavier axle loads, reduce lifecycle costs and are easy to install. In addition, railroads are seeking standard product designs and component
Suppliers of special trackwork products — ranging from frogs to turnouts to diamond crossings — are trying to answer that call. In an email sent to four suppliers, Progressive Railroading sought information on the types of special trackwork they offer, including recent product introductions, and any production process changes or upgrades. Their responses follow.
Recent additions to Cleveland Track Material Inc.’s (CTM) product line are a “benefit of our expanded global connection through our new parent corporation, Vossloh AG, and our direct affiliation within the Vossloh Switch Systems Division,” the company said.
“This provides CTM with the opportunity to offer a greatly expanded product line of trackwork products, ranging from state-of-the-art high-speed turnout designs to various light-rail and transit applications,” according to the supplier.
The company now offers a “much wider variety” of frog, switch, guard-rail and elastic fastener plate designs for wood, concrete, embedded and direct-fixation applications. Products include various movable point frog designs, along with frogs and switches that incorporate flash butt-welded rail and manganese steel assemblies.
CTM also continues to study alternative material options, improved processes and new designs, “particularly on turnout frogs, crossings and bridge joints,” the company said.
In addition, the company continues to expand its use of CAD design, CNC programming and machining processes on various trackwork components.
“This not only serves to improve machine throughput times, but more importantly reduces final assembly times by providing greatly improved dimensional accuracy of the various components, in addition to more
uniform fit and contact surfaces,” CTM said.
The company also is continuing to stress ongoing developmental work with its suppliers on the design and implementation of special cutters and tooling along with jigs, fixtures and specialized gauging to further pursue process improvements.
The approaches are targeted at fulfilling customers’ requirements and
ensuring on-time deliveries, CTM said.
Progress Rail Services offers several frogs and a brace, which continue to be “strong performers,” according to the company.
Progress Rail Services recently introduced a flange-bearing “lift frog” that’s primary application is turnout locations where there are limited
The lift frog is widely used on three North American Class Is and is either in the testing process or on order with the others, the company said. A number of regionals also are analyzing the lift frog.
In addition, Progress Rail Services’ movable point/swing nose frog is widely used in the Powder River Basin. The frogs were placed in test service more than three years ago and are performing well, the company said.
Progress Rail Services also has introduced Clamp Tite, a new rail brace. Current test results show the Clamp Tite provides up to five times the holding power compared with other
braces currently used in North America, according to the company.
The Clamp Tite isn’t rail section specific, allowing railroads to reduce spare part inventories, but modifications are possible based on a railroad’s requirements, Progress Rail Services said.
Meanwhile, the company has begun to manufacture transition rails at its Pueblo, Colo., plant.
“Having this manufacturing capability in such close proximity to our material source, as well as to our welding facility, has lowered our transportation costs, both incoming and outgoing, and has allowed us to pass the savings along to our customers,” the company said.
Because railroads are beginning to modify their specifications and requirements for crossing diamonds in an effort to improve life cycles, Progress Rail Services also is obtaining more requests for special plate work, heavy-duty insulated joints and flange bearing designs.
Unitrac Railroad Materials Inc. is manufacturing more diamond crossings vs. a year ago and currently is researching ways to improve the product line.
Diamond crossing production has increased because “several Class Is have recognized Unitrac’s commitment to quality products at competitive prices and reasonable lead times,” the company said.
Unitrac’s overall productivity has increased because of an “intense focus” on quality control/quality assurance (QC/QA). “Furthermore, productivity has increased with the addition of our new CNC milling machines,” Unitrac said.
The company aims to meet railroads’ three basic
demands: quality products, shorter lead times and competitive prices.
“Unitrac is committed to meeting those demands with its focus on QC/QA, increased productivity at our plants and by constantly working our supply chain to ensure we deliver competitive pricing,” the company said.
Because of burgeoning North American interest in high-speed rail and the Obama Administration’s commitment to fund it, VAE Nortrak North America Inc. anticipates significant high-speed rail investments during the next few years. Accordingly, the company has begun to work with service providers and project consultants to develop a family
of high-speed turnouts tailored to the North American market.
During the past year, VAE Nortrak also acquired the business assets of Leading Edge Enterprises in Decatur, Ill. The new Decatur facility will enable VAE Nortrak to offer a diverse portfolio of specialty products, such as injection molded plastic, custom fabrication, tooling, cast ductile iron and cast manganese steel.
The transaction also will enable the company to supply a full range of high-quality, domestically produced railway and transit components from the heart of the Midwest, VAE Nortrak said.
Coupled with the recent establishment of a concrete turnout tie plant in Cheyenne, Wyo., the acquisition establishes VAE Nortrak as “North America’s only fully integrated manufacturer of turnouts and special trackwork,” according to the company.
The supplier also offers the HAL “super turnout,” which features double-clothoid geometry with a zero entry angle and a number of premium components. Extended test results with the HAL turnout showed that dynamic lateral forces were reduced by nearly
50 percent, VAE Nortrak said. In addition, “maintenance cycles on key components have been significantly extended,” according to the company.
The supplier also offers premium welded frogs, and the welded boltless manganese (WBM) and welded spring manganese (WSM), which are designed to eliminate the bolted joints typically found in conventional RBM and spring frogs, the company said.
“The result is reduced dynamic loading, reduced maintenance and greatly improved product life,” according to VAE Nortrak.
In addition, the company recently introduced a “jump frog,” which comprises a two-casting assembly that preserves a continuous gap-free
running rail on the through route.