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— by Jeff Stagl, Manageing Editor
More than a century ago, railroads used various materials to stabilize roadbeds, such as ashes, chalk, clay, dirt and locomotive firebox cinders. But rock ballast proved to provide the most solid track foundation and ensure adequate drainage.
Now, railroads spread millions of tons of ballast each year to even out roadbeds, lay a foundation for new track or replace ballast that’s “fouled,” or clumped together by debris.
With a lot of track maintenance work on their agendas this year, railroads aim to perform ballast operations posthaste to narrow work windows and keep traffic moving. They’d also like to rein in material costs.
Suppliers continue to develop equipment designed to help railroads place ballast precisely where it’s needed as efficiently and quickly as possible.
In an email sent to seven suppliers, Progressive Railroading sought information on the range of ballast equipment they offer, including any new machinery and recent enhancements. Their responses follow.
Brandt Road Rail Corp. offers the Brandt Rail Tool, which when used with an undercutter bar, can change the way railroads spot undercut, the company said. The Brandt Rail Tool reduces the time and money spent to perform off-track undercutting operations by
enabling railroads to under-cut on track, according to Brandt Road Rail.
“There is no time wasted moving around signals and it is much easier for the operator to cut straight as the travel surface is smooth on top of the rail,” the company said.
The Brandt Rail Tool also can be used to move ballast cars to an undercutting work site and dump ballast, eliminating the need for wheel loaders, dump trucks and backhoes. In addition, the Brandt Rail Tool features an auxiliary engine to power the undercutter bar to ensure optimal power even when the boom or other functions are activated.
The machine also offers several attachments, such as buckets, grapples, magnets and brush cutters, to provide customers a more versatile maintenance-of-way tool, Brandt Road Rail said.
For the past five years, Georgetown Rail Equipment Co. (GREX) has strived to provide equipment that maximizes its customers’ use of track time, the company said.
GREX offers the Dump Train, which is an optimal way to deliver ballast, the company said, adding that customers have adopted the train as a best practices model. In addition, GREX offers the Slot Machine and Self Powered Slot (SPS) Machine, which are increasing in popularity because the equipment
allows maintenance staffs to use the same machine to perform a variety of tasks, such as ditching, rail pick up, OTM work or aggregate/rip-rap delivery, the company said.
The Slot Machine features a set of
articulated gons that require motive power and a train crew to operate. Within the consist, a Cat 315 travels the length of the train unit.
The SPS features a power unit on the front of the consist, enabling customers to reduce costs associated with using locomotives and train crews and
increase production, GREX said.
The company also offers Gate Sync/Solaris, which is designed to automate the gates of ballast-car fleets. BNSF Railway Co. continues to purchase Gate Sync as part of an ongoing program to expand its ballast fleet. Gate Sync offers BNSF and other customers flexibility in the use of their ballast hoppers, GREX said.
Meanwhile, the company continues to develop the Aurora Track Inspection System, which is a key component in its attempt to offer a “total solution in the maintenance of the ballast/tie interface,” GREX said.
The system features “machine
vision,” which can provide a 3-D scan of track at speeds up to 30 mph during the day or night.
Aurora is designed to generate data with fewer variations and inconsistencies than traditional visual railroad tie inspections, GREX said. The system can identify indications of rail seat abrasion on concrete ties and provide four grades of wood ties.
The company is developing improved algorithms to more accurately discern and locate both the tie and plate so Aurora users can better catalog tie components and fasteners. The Aurora division also is developing a new collector that will allow the system to collect data at a higher rate of speed, GREX said.
A few years ago, Harsco Rail developed the “Mud Mantis” track and switch undercutter/cleaner, which can be used in conjunction with a production ballast cleaner. The machine is designed to perform switch and spot undercutting with one operator and without auxiliary equipment.
A dual undercutter bar/digging wheel design enables the machine to quickly cut-in and begin work, Harsco Rail said. Removed ballast can be conveyed to either a vibrating screen for cleaning/recovery or directly to the spoil conveyor system.
The Mud Mantis also can be used as an out-of-face ballast cleaner for short mud spots on a mainline. The machine can work ahead of a high-output ballast cleaner to prep cut-in points, and be used on short sites between switches or a switch and a crossing, Harsco Rail said.
The Mud Mantis features enough horsepower to pull up to four 100-ton ballast cars, eliminating the need for a ballast work train, the company said.
Herzog Contracting Corp. recently made several changes to its ballast maintenance/distribution equipment. In July 2008, the company leased its first solar-powered plow train.
The 60-car train features plows on both ends of each car, and is suited for new construction and remote-controlled operations, the company said. The train also can accommodate normal automated ballast operations that don’t require plows, Herzog said. Kansas City Southern Railway Co. recently used the train while rehabilitating the Victoria-to-Rosenberg, Texas, line.
In addition to the plows, the cars feature remote-control capabilities and side button controls. The cars can be used independently and do not need to be hooked together, Herzog said.
The company’s latest ballast equipment advancement is the SMART train, which is similar to the Herzog P.L.U.S. train, but offers several new capabilities. The SMART train enables railroads to unload ballast on the
inside and outside of the rail independently or simultaneously at high speed without ground personnel. The train features remote-control capabilities, solar panels for charging redundancy and flow sensors to monitor rock flow at each individual door.
BNSF Railway Co. recently tested the SMART train on its Council Bluffs and St. Joe subdivisions. The tests helped Herzog prove the machines’ validity and provided “excellent” results, the company said.
Herzog uses a simulator to test all software and hardware for the SMART and P.L.U.S trains prior to the machines entering the field to ensure reliability and eliminate downtime, the company said. The simulator features all the inner workings of an 83-car SMART train under one roof, including batteries and their charging circuits, and “exact” wiring, Herzog said.
Miner Enterprises Inc. has spent the past year updating and improving its entire AggreGate® System line, which includes manual, air-powered and electric models.
“We have surveyed our customers for comments and ideas, and incorporated them into the current AggreGate design,” the company said.
Miner Enterprises also has streamlined the way the AggreGate Systems are ordered and manufactured,
reduced application time and simplified maintenance.
The company currently is developing a manually operated Plow System to go along with an Automated Plow System it provided to Union Pacific Railroad. Miner Enterprises expects to employ a prototype on the railroad this summer.
“The automated and manually controlled plows will be available for application to new and existing ballast cars,” the company said. “They will eliminate the need to drag ties in front of the wheels during ballast operations, offering a much safer alternative.”
Because railroads are seeking equipment that’s reliable and needs as little maintenance as possible, Miner Enterprises has designed the Aggregate and Plow systems to meet both requirements, according to the company. The systems feature a “smart” design that focuses first on areas of the equipment that are most susceptible to the rigors of ballasting and plowing, Miner Enterprises said.
Working together with railroads, Plasser American Corp. has strived to find innovative and cost-effective solutions to increase ballast management capabilities, the company said. The result: high-capacity ballast regulators, ballast distribution systems and undercutting/cleaning machines, Plasser said.
The company offers a high-capacity ballast distribution system designed to keep pace with high-production tampers in a single pass. The system can reduce the need for new ballast by up to 70 percent by reclaiming existing ballast, Plasser said. Distributing an average of 2,800 tons of crushed rock per mile, the system helps control cost by spreading and profiling the optimal amount of ballast, or reclaiming existing excess ballast and redistributing it elsewhere, according to the company.
In addition, Plasser’s shoulder plow used on the PBR-2005 Ballast Profiling Machine and BDS 100/200 Ballast Distribution System can help save ballast that’s been lost over the shoulder, the company said. The shoulder plow’s long reach enables the machine to
reclaim ballast far out on the shoulder that otherwise would be left by conventional ballast regulators, Plasser said. The machines also can be used to pull in shoulder ballast in front of ballast-cleaning operations.
Plasser also offers ballast undercutting/cleaning machines designed to excavate the entire ballast section and clean the excavated material by separating waste material from the reusable ballast, which is put back into the track directly behind the excavating chain.
Plasser’s MFS-type hopper/conveyor cars can be added to a BDS-100/200 consist to increase ballast storage capacity, or to a ballast undercutter/cleaner to store ballast in areas where spoils can’t be unloaded on the right of way, such as bridge approaches, ravines or alongside river lines, the company said. In addition, Plasser’s ULS-3000 Ballast Unloading Station can extend the
unloading reach of a hopper/conveyor car or ballast undercutter/cleaner.
Plasser also offers a ballast profile measuring system that can be used on its track recording cars. Recorded data can be used in conjunction with properly equipped ballast trains to accurately unload ballast in quantities needed, the company said.
Progress Rail Services’ Kershaw maintenance-of-way division recently introduced a new transit ballast regulator targeted at U.S. transit systems. The machine is designed to meet stringent transit clearances and specifications. In the future, Kershaw will be able to provide a common transit machine that meets most transit requirements, Progress Rail Services said.
Kershaw also is seeking solutions to dust caused by the brooming process, which is becoming a bigger issue because of environmental concerns, Progress Rail Services said. The company is analyzing mechanical dust collection, water mist and other measures.
In addition, Kershaw is updating its Model 46-6 and 46-2 ballast regulators, including an enhanced ballast regulator/snow fighter.
Meanwhile, Progress Rail Services’ All Track division is focusing on rebuilding Kershaw ballast regulators to provide contractors and short lines an affordable option to purchasing a new machine, the company said. All machines are available for short-term rental, long-term lease or purchase, Progress Rail Services said.