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— by Walter Weart
Railroads use a variety of material handling equipment to perform an array of maintenance-of-way-related tasks. We recently asked a cross-section of material handling equipment providers to share information on their respective offerings; we also asked them to discuss rail-world applications that, in their view, best illustrated their material handling and/or distribution equipment "in action." Eight suppliers took us up on our request. Their responses follow.
Railroads often need a rail-capable material handling truck on short notice, but the lead time for this type of equipment can be quite lengthy, says Jeff Mower, Auto Truck Group's railroad sales manager.
"In those situations where there is an immediate requirement, our inventory of 'Rail-Ready' trucks, outfitted with hi-rail equipment and, depending on the truck, material handling equipment, if not in stock, is available on a greatly reduced lead time," he says.
For example, the Spec #755 Material Handler features a 22-foot platform body and crane, grapple, magnet and rail gear. Another Rail-Ready unit is the Rotary Dump truck, which is equipped with a 12-cubic-yard dump body that can rotate 180 degrees. The rotary dump truck was in high demand last year as railroads repaired washouts in remote areas in Colorado, Mower says.
"We try to keep one of each of the larger trucks and four of the smaller pickup-style trucks in stock at all times," he says.
Brandt Road Rail Corp. customers — which include freight railroads, transit-rail agencies and industrial users — wanted a piece of equipment that could serve several purposes, including freeing locomotives from work-train service. Enter the Brandt R4 Power Unit.
Powered by a 600-horsepower Cummins ISX 15 Tier 4 emission-compliant engine, the R4 travels into and out of worksites via highway or rail, and then pulls the rail cars full of material to the work site, eliminating the need for a work train, says Brandt Sales and Marketing Manager Neil Marcotte.
"The R4 can be equipped with a crane or OTM Tracker Lift deck, making it a very efficient material handling tool," Marcotte says. "The unit can also pull rail cars to and from the work site."
The R4 can handle six to eight rail cars; grade affects capacity, Marcotte says.
Last year, Brandt announced the first R4 and OTM Tracker deliveries to Union Pacific Railroad. UP integrated the OTM Tracker System, combined with the R4, with its parallel lift deck and specialized trailer in an effort to improve mobile productivity and safety, Brandt officials said in a press release.
"The R4 can raise its deck to allow the OTM Tracker to be positioned on an open-top rail car, then it can move from car to car to handle track maintenance materials," Marcotte says, adding that the R4 also can pull the cars to be used with the OTM Tracker to the worksite.
As Class Is seek automation solutions, they expect suppliers to incorporate sophisticated technologies that provide the latest advances in material-handling efficiencies to replace "passed-down" knowledge and experience-based, subjective methods, says Lynn Turner, vice president of marketing and sales for Georgetown Rail Equipment Co. (GREX).
BallastSaver®, a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology-based inspection system, was developed by GREX to accurately assess the existing roadbed ballast profile and overlay that data against the customer's ideal or standard profile. The existing profile conditions, with variations for curves and other anomalies, ultimately can be transformed into a fully automated system planning tool or simply a spot analysis for a few miles of problematic track. With the addition of lateral instability detection, or LID, BallastSaver can detect areas subject to erosion of the roadbed and exposed end of ties, where dangerous conditions might develop and derailment risk could increase.
A hi-rail-based platform, BallastSaver can perform as a stand-alone service or be combined with GREX's GateSync automation technology; BallastSaver also can be customized to meet customer requirements. Data collections can be done day or night, or in inclement weather. The combined services of BallastSaver and GateSync enable customers to determine GPS-specific ballast tonnage requirements laterally along the track, and deliver them at speeds up to 10 mph — exactly where needed, Turner says.
Both BallastSaver and GateSync have been independently tested and field tested for accuracy and repeatability, providing railroads with the ability to objectively assess, predict, plan and deliver their ballast requirements in a fully automated manner over vast territories and regions, Turner says.
"The combined solutions provide the railroad industry with state-of-the-art technology that is both safe and efficient," he adds.
Railroad ballast maintenance programs of the past were determined by manually estimating ballast quantities and distribution locations. While this approach was successful, the results were not always consistent or efficient. Herzog Railroad Services Inc. addressed this issue with the development of a new technique that allows a railroad to execute with greater precision.
"Herzog has developed a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) application, which is used in our ProScan hi-rail truck," says Vice President of Marketing Tim Francis. "This allows the railroads to spread ballast with accuracy, efficiency and improved safety."
The process begins with the railroad creating a template of the ideal ballast profile; Herzog's LIDAR truck scans the track, and then determines the amount of ballast that should be spread to fill the railroad-provided template.
After the data is processed and analyzed, it is uploaded to one of Herzog's Programmable Linear Unloading System (P.L.U.S.) or SMART ballast trains. The train then proceeds to distribute ballast according to the LIDAR data, Francis says.
For example, a Class I using the ProScan truck determined that it would require two 60-car trains to spread sufficient ballast to restore the desired profile.
"After we conducted a survey with a ProScan truck, our data showed they already had sufficient material and only needed to redistribute it, making the ballast trains available for other projects," says Project Manager-Research and Development Nathan Landes. "The ProScan truck can provide 360-degree, high-definition video offering visual detail and the data can be used in connection with Google maps to deliver additional information."
The scanning can be performed at speeds up to 30 mph, Landes adds.
The three Herzog ProScan trucks have been utilized by Class Is, regionals, short lines and transit properties, says Francis.
Transporting equipment to work sites can be a problem for railroads, particularly when the site is near roads. It's a problem Hytracker Manufacturing Ltd.'s equipment is designed to solve.
"We have been manufacturing equipment for railroads and railroad contractors for 33 years, and our equipment is designed to quickly get equipment to rail sites and to quickly get off and on the tracks," says Chuck Douglass, who retired last month after a long stint as Hytracker's marketing manager.
For example, Hytracker's Rail Cart System is designed as a mobile platform to work integrally with a hydraulic excavator. The system uses the excavator's hydraulics to power it on track at speeds up to 20 mph. Once at the work site, the excavator can perform a variety of tasks, such as ditching or improving drainage by removing material from the edge of the right of way. The excavator also can work independently of the cart.
"The Rail Cart can also tow our Ditching Gondola, which can be used to either bring to or remove material from the work site, simplifying the maintenance task," Douglass says.
Another challenge Hytracker equipment is designed to meet: the need for railroads to deliver propane to switch heaters, regardless of location.
"We provided our Low-bed Rail Equipment Mover [to a railroad], and the railroad was able to load a propane truck on this, taking the truck to any location where there is a switch heater," says Douglass.
The self-propelled Low-bed Rail Equipment Mover can handle 50 to 60 tons, operating at speeds up to 25 mph, according to Hytracker's website.
Railroads continue to find ways to outsource a range of functions, including the offloading of rail. Although Class Is usually can order enough continuous-welded rail (CWR) to require a full rail train, smaller railroads may not be able to do so.
"We wanted to develop a method where regional railroads could take advantage of using our welded rail trains, so we developed a method where we could combine multiple orders on the same train," says Joe Mahoney, director of rail sales for L.B. Foster Co., which for more than 30 years has offered CWR trains to North American railroads and transit agencies.
The company has four CWR trains, and can add a fifth rental train if needed. Recent CWR train customers include the Evansville Western Railway, which needed to haul 65,000 feet of rail, and the Indiana Rail Road Co., which shipped 15,000 feet of it. Another notable CWR train project involved an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-funded rail improvement program for the 394-mile New England Central Railroad.
In addition to developing new methods to upload product more efficiently and quickly, L.B Foster color-codes the rail on CWR trains to ensure customers receive the right orders.
"We also send a supervisor with the train to ensure accuracy and customer satisfaction," Mahoney says.
When railroads replace welded rail with new rail, the old rail must be picked up for reuse or disposal — which, historically, was a dangerous job that required a large crew.
"We developed the Raptor Rail Handling System to not only to pick up the old rail more quickly and efficiently, we wanted to make this job significantly safer," says Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. Manager of Product Development Scott Diercks.
The Raptor Rail Handling System is designed to make loading, unloading, cutting, joining and delivering rail safer, faster and more reliable. It features twin independent gantry cranes with telescoping booms, a three-car work unit with rail joining workstations and integrated power cars, and high-capacity rail transport trains. The Raptor retains "total control over the old rail" from pick up to placement, enabling crews to work in centralized workstations that enhance productivity and safety, Diercks says.
The Raptor's first three cars feature high-mounted gantries that grasp the old rail, lifting it onto the train. "These three cars have workstations which can cut and join the rail into strings as well as drilling bolt holes, making the rail relay ready," says Diercks.
Offered as part of a pick-up and delivery service, and fully staffed, supervised and supported by Loram, the Raptor can handle rail lengths up to 1,500 feet and rail sizes up to 141 pounds per yard.
The Raptor requires a seven-person crew versus the 15 to 20 people railroads may use to perform the same work using other methods, Diercks says. The Raptor can load 3,000 feet of rail per hour, doubling the productivity over older methods. The train is capable of holding slightly more than 15 miles of rail, he says.
Railroads often have to position welded rail strings on ties, and Rail Construction Equipment Co. (RCE) has developed a machine that is designed to handle that task quickly and safely.
"Our 544K Series 5 Swing Loader can quickly and easily handle this job as well as others much more efficiently than other machines," says RCE Sales Manager Dennis Hanke.
The unit features a high drawbar pull to handle the positioning of continuous-welded rail strings, Hanke says. Because it can perform this task, another machine is not required. "The 544K Series 5 is also fuel efficient and designed to reduce operator fatigue, decreasing cost and increasing productivity," Hanke adds.
The swing loader can be equipped with buckets ranging in size from two-and-one-half to six-and-one-half yards. It also can be equipped to handle ties.
"We received a request from a Class I for an excavator that could work both on and off the track and would handle a variety of jobs, so we put hi-rail equipment on a Deere excavator, modifying it for use both on and off track," says Hanke, noting that the 225D Railavator® High Rail Excavator can handle ballast, clear rock from cuts and shoulders, clean culverts, and tow a side dump cart.
Another Class I had a problem using Grove-style cranes in the front of their steel gangs; the crane's stabilizers must be deployed any time the boom is being used, requiring the crane to be stationary. That made it impossible to remove rail anchors in a continuous movement with the outriggers deployed. RCE recommended that the railroad use the 225D, given the machine's "exceptional ability" to handle heavy loads and provide stability in transit, Hanke says.
Meanwhile, another railroad needed a better way to install signal foundations for its positive train control (PTC) program. Typically, it would take a day or two to dig a hole and pour the cement for the standard concrete base.
"As they had a large number of PTC signal masts to be installed, they decided to use a H-beam piling to support their masts," Hanke says.
So, RCE developed a 225D High Rail Excavator outfitted with a Hercules Machinery Corp. excavator-mounted vibratory hammer to install the pilings, and a cart the excavator could tow to carry the supplies and masts needed to complete the job. The railroad subsequently has been able to install five to 10 pilings per workday, Hanke says.
Walter Weart is a Denver-based freelance writer.