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November 2013

Rail News: MOW

Railroad suppliers aim to develop friction-control products that help lengthen rails' lifespan and stretch trains' fuel economy

Compiled by Walter Weart

With steel wheels rolling over steel rails, friction is created while trains head to their destination. And too much friction can cause problems, such as rapid rail wear and increased noise.

So, suppliers are striving to provide friction-control products that can help railroads extend rail life and minimize noise, as well as improve fuel economy by reducing lateral forces.

Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. aims to develop products and services that not only would accomplish those goals, but expand its presence in the friction-management market. For example, Loram recently created a Remote Monitoring and Analytics solution that includes hardware and software integrated with the wayside controller to generate reports on system operating diagnostics, such as pump revolutions, modifier levels and battery voltage.

Progressive Railroading contacted Loram and four other suppliers to gauge their ongoing product development efforts in the friction-management sector. Their responses, which were received last month via email or phone, follow.

L.B. Foster Co.

L.B. Foster Co. aims to remain an active participant in the friction-reduction arena by striving to improve current offerings while adding new product lines.

At the beginning of 2013, the company introduced KELTRACK® ER (Enhanced Retentivity), a next generation of the firm’s water-based friction modifier, said Steve Fletcher, general manager of L.B. Foster Rail Technologies. Subjected to extensive testing, KELTRACK ER is designed to deliver top-of-rail friction control with less material usage and be employed over longer distances, requiring fewer trackside PROTECTOR® IV units to protect the same length of track, he said.

At the request of some customers, L.B. Foster also has developed a petroleum-based lubricant as a lower-cost option to KELTRACK.

The company continues to improve equipment reliability and develop new product application bars for both gauge face and top-of-rail products, said Fletcher.

“And for our onboard AutoPilot™, we have simplified the application system by eliminating the need to use air in atomizing the spray, and we have reduced the system energy requirements,” he said.

In order to provide environmentally friendly options, the KELTRACK family of products are water-based and biodegradable, said Fletcher. L.B. Foster also offers CATCH-ALL™ track mats that employ “Geocomposite” technology to contain materials that might otherwise spread to the ballast or soil, he said.

Loram Maintenance of Way Inc.

Loram Maintenance of Way Inc.’s friction-management products include top-of-rail systems for wayside and onboard-mounted applications. 

The company’s TracShield™ friction modifier lubricates the top of the rail and rail gauge corner. Combined with the firm’s top-of-rail modifier TorExtend™, TracShield provides “a very safe and effective solution” to customers’ friction-management needs, said Jon Behrens, general manager of Loram Friction Management Services. So far this year, Loram has installed about 600 TracShields in North America.

Loram also offers TracGlide™, an onboard top-of-rail application system that applies a friction modifier on both rails in both directions every time a train passes over an application area. The friction modifier is then carried by the train’s wheels for up to one mile. 

Both TracShield and TracGlide assist railroads in controlling lateral and vertical forces, as well as optimize the coefficient of friction to deliver reductions in rail wear and fuel consumption, said Behrens.

In addition, Loram markets YardGlide™, which usually is installed immediately following each group retarder in a hump yard or the master retarder in a flat yard, he said. Currently installed at more than 100 locations, YardGlide helps keep car speed consistent and reduces wheel lateral forces on curves, lowering the probability of collisions and derailments, said Behrens.

Overall, Loram’s application systems feature customized controllers and positive displacement pumps to ensure the precise amount of friction modifier is applied to a rail. A dual-pump design ensures proper modifier distribution on each rail. Systems also can be customized so that the proper amount of modifier is applied in every situation, said Behrens.

Loram also aims to be an environmentally conscientious organization, which extends to all its products and services, he said. The wayside top-of-rail system features dual-wall construction to retain product and ensure friction modifiers are environmentally safe and clean, said Behrens.

RBL Inc./Robolube

RBL Inc./Robolube currently is supplying several Robolube Hyrail Lubricators to BNSF Railway Co., CSX Transportation, Union Pacific Railroad and other customers. 

Although the company historically has been focused on only applying lubricant to the gauge face, it now is building a unit designed to apply grease to the gauge face with a separate tank and pump that also will apply friction modifier to the top of a rail in a hi-rail truck, said RBL/Robolube President Robert Pieper.

“We have tested the friction modifier product in our system and found that the Robolube system can apply the top-of-rail friction modifier with no problems,” he said.

RBL/Robolube also has developed a new technology in the “wayside arena,” said Pieper. The company is in the final testing stage of a completed design for the Robolube “Linear™” Wayside Lubricator, which can reduce site contamination from wasted, unconsumed grease applications involving current technologies “to virtually zero,” he said.

The “Linear” Wayside Lubricator is designed to provide lubricant via a hi-rail application style — a bead of grease on the gauge corner/face — for each train, said Pieper. The application assembly unit can be placed in the middle of a curve since there is no contact with the train, allowing “excellent” bi-directional lubrication, he said. 

Preliminary tests with a prototype unit verified a two-mile carry after only two weeks of operation, said Pieper.

“This methodology is the most precise, effective application for rail lubrication,” he said. “It virtually eliminates any waste of lubricant, and the wheels of the train will dictate where the grease is required.”

RBL/Robolube also is improving its design for a Bulk Wayside Filling unit for maintaining lubricant levels in existing wayside units.

RSC Bio Solutions L.L.C.

Railroads seek friction modifiers to enhance performance and reduce friction in curves. RSC Bio Solutions L.L.C.’s EnviroLogic® 801 LCG rail curve grease, which is formulated to perform in environmentally sensitive applications, can help railroads accomplish those goals, said Debbie Mills, a market manager for the company. In January, the firm changed its name from Terresolve Technologies Ltd. to RSC Bio Solutions after Blumenthal Holdings L.L.C. acquired a majority stake in the company.

EnviroLogic 801 LCG is a multi-purpose, biodegradable grease that demonstrates “superior” dropping point, water resistance and structure stability over a wide range of temperatures, said Mills.

The company’s rail curve grease and hydraulic fluid offerings are designed to deliver needed performance along with reduced environmental impacts, she said.

“Railroad operators continue to look for solutions that will minimize environmental impact should a unit leak or hose blow, or even just run off from rain water on the tracks,” said Mills. “RSC Bio Solutions offers products that meet the criteria for being considered readily biodegradable and bio-based.”

To meet regulations such as storm water requirements, transit companies must be aware of the products they use during operation, and the impact those products could have on the environment, said Mills. In the event of spills, federal and state requirements can come into effect regarding the way and degree to which clean up and remediation is handled, posing significant costs for companies not utilizing readily biodegradable products, she said.

SKF Lubrication Business Unit

Rail and wheel wear rates, and noise can be reduced by applying lubricant to the wheel/rail interface to reduce friction, said Drew Welch, rail lubrication product manager for SKF Lubrication Business Unit. By applying the precise amount of lubrication at the proper time, customers realize
reduced track wear and maintenance while minimizing costs associated with friction modifiers and greases, he said.

To provide another means of lubrication, SKF has added a 35-pound wayside application system (the amount of lubricant held by weight) to its product line.

Developed primarily for the transit industry, the high-pressure, high-capability system lubricates rails and can be mounted on a pole in a stainless steel housing to save space, said Welch. The 35-pound system features the same components as the company’s 800- and 200-pound systems, but uses a five-gallon bucket to hold the lubricant, he said.

All SKF/Lincoln rail systems operate at high pressure, about 4,000 psi. SKF isn’t aware of any competitive products that operate at high pressure exceeding 1,000 psi, said Welch. High-pressure systems ensure a more accurate spread of the lubricant material, are more consistent in different types of weather and help prevent blockages, he said.

To address the risk of spills, the company’s wayside lubrication systems feature a “double-tank” design to contain any spill from the inner reservoir.

SKF Group acquired Lincoln Industrial Corp. in December 2010, and since has combined their research and development efforts to ensure continued innovation, said Welch.

“The expanded global railroad footprint has allowed us to share successes, and to collaborate on innovative developments and on enhancements to existing product solutions,” he said. “Externally, we conduct field surveys of our systems, meet with lubrication maintainers and conduct tests with our railroad customers.”

Walter Weart is a Denver-based freelance writer. Email questions to


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