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— by Walter Weart
While all track components are "special" in their own way, there are many items that truly are unique and serve very specific functions — from flange bearing turnout frogs to switch point guards to insulated joints.
As ever, suppliers of special trackwork products are seeking new and better ways to meet railroads' special needs. And this year, they definitely have needs: The demand for trackwork is "healthy" in 2012, said Brian Abbott, voestalpine Nortrak Inc.'s chief technical officer, in an email.
(How healthy is that demand for trackwork products, equipment and services, special and otherwise? Check out Progressive Railroading's 2012 Maintenance of Way Spending Report, which will be available in late March. For more information or to order, visit: www.progressiverailroading.com/MOW2012.)
Last month, we asked a cross-section of suppliers to share information on the types of special trackwork they offer, including recent product introductions or upgrades to existing lines; research-and-development efforts; current projects; and marketplace trends. Responses from four suppliers follow.
Cleveland Track Materials Inc. (CTM) now offers The Adjustable Switch Point Guard as an option for yard applications; it offers ease of installation, standardization of the machine mounting, improved support and stability for the machine, said Jim Remington, vice president of engineering, in an email. In response to customer requirements, CTM also has added a thick web switch to its product line.
CTM also recently packaged a group of components into a single, pre-assembled offering — including Extended Insulated Machine Gage Plates — for a Class I customer that Remington declined to name. In addition, CTM — which is part of Vossloh AG's Switch Systems Division — recently delivered switch plate packages, which included the Reversible - Adjustable - Master (RAM) rail brace assemblies, to a railroad customer. This design, while providing improved rail holding toe load, also can used with both 136- and 115-pound rail. As a result, customers can reduce their maintenance requirements by one-half on replacement brace plate parts, Remington said.
CTM also has developed a flange bearing turnout frog — ELF (Elevated Frog) — that incorporates a canted mainline running rail to provide an unbroken vertical wheel path and an unwavering horizontal wheel path to simplify rail grinding and eliminate the "rock and roll" effect, Remington said.
CTM also is in the "production stage" of a double Full Flange Bearing crossing and nearing that stage on a One-Way Low-Speed (OWLS) diamond, Remington said. Both designs incorporate several new features that "should prove to enhance the performance when delivered and placed in track," he said. As a result of a customer request, CTM is producing High Relief Joint Bars that are being developed utilizing "worst case" rail and wheel profiles to ensure flange clearance, Remington said.
CTM's engineering group also is working on a number of rail-transit projects. The group is in the process of producing the layout and detail drawing for the Chicago Transit Authority's Loop Renewal Project. The group also is working on phases of Calgary Transit's Anderson Yard rehab project, and an operations and maintenance facility project for Metro Transit in Minneapolis. In addition, CTM is working on a couple of line extensions: phases II and III of a Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon extension; and MTA New York City Transit's 7 Line extension, which will extend subway service from Time Square to the Javits Center.
In a special trackwork context, a goal at L.B. Foster Co. is to make the company's ENDURA-JOINT™ insulated joint "last as long as the rail to which it is attached," says Sid Shue, L.B. Foster's general manager. One key improvement has been the substitution of Kevlar® fabric for fiberglass insulation. Kevlar helps extend the life of the joint better than conventional insulated joints do, Shue says.
"We looked at all the components of the joint and, in the case of the end post, it is now a structural member of the joint as is the ceramic which wears with the rail, avoiding battering the rails in the joint," he says.
ENDURA-JOINT features a "high modulus" joint bar, which incorporates a design that's different from previous bar iterations. Other joint bars tend to have flat horizontal profiles; ENDURA-JOINT's joint bar is larger in the middle and tapers to the ends, according to L.B. Foster officials.
ENDURA-JOINT also features polyurethane insulated joint tie plates. Available in various sizes, they enable ties to be placed under the end post for better joint support, Shue says.
Although there are no new product additions at Unitrac Railroad Materials Inc., company officials continue to focus on their "strengths and the markets they serve," said Phil Pietrandrea, senior vice president of sales and marketing, in an email. Accordingly, Unitrac — a wholly owned subsidiary of Healey Railroad Corp. — continues to invest in its engineering capabilities and new software programs in an effort to improve manufacturing productivity. A critical component of special trackwork is an insulated rail joint, necessary for signaling and marking a "block of track," Pietrandrea said.
In the meantime, the specialty trackwork manufacturer and distributor of new and relay rail is receiving "increased requests" from customers for panelized turnouts, Pietrandrea said. Last month, Unitrac announced it had received a three-year, $8 million contract to supply special trackwork to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Last year, voestalpine Nortrak Inc. developed a family of "Buy America" compliant turnouts for embedded application (25, 50 and 100 meter radii); since then, the company has introduced a number of refinements to simplify installation and maintenance, said Brian Abbott, chief technical officer, in an email. Now, the embedded turnouts are supplanting conventional "tongue and mate" or pavement box designs as the preferred option for the rapidly expanding street and tram market, Abbott said.
Another 2011 product introduction: the hollow steel tie HY-400 Hydrostar switch drive system, which voestalpine Nortrak unveiled in September 2011 at Railway Interchange in Minneapolis. The system currently is in an "accelerated" field trial, and initial results have been "promising," said Abbott, adding that he is confident the HY-400 Hydrostar will be an "excellent option" for higher-speed environments (both freight and passenger) that require multiple setting points.
During the past year, company officials also have noted greater interest in voestalpine Nortrak's premium welded frogs, the welded boltless manganese and welded spring manganese. These welded frogs are designed to reduce dynamic loading by eliminating the bolted joints typical of conventional rail bound manganese frog and spring frogs. The bottom line for railroads: reduced maintenance and improved product life, Abbott said.
In the meantime, voestalpine Nortrak is working with its European affiliates to move the production of its "Hytronics" line of switch drive products to Chicago Heights, Ill. The company now is poised to offer Buy America-compliant versions of Contec's CSV-34 and CSV-24 point drive machines to the transit market, Abbott said.
Walter Weart is a Denver-based free-lance writer.