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November 2016

Rail News: MOW

Railroad equipment update: Surfacing and tamping

A Harsco Rail tamper featuring the Callisto geometry system, developed by Harsco subsidiary Protran Technology.
Photo – Harsco Rail

— Compiled by Pat Foran, Editor

Surfacing and tamping are integral elements of railroads’ maintenance-of-way (MOW) programs. They help railroads boost track stability, and in turn operate more safely and efficiently. And there’s plenty of surfacing work on their MOW plates this year.

For example, CN’s project slate includes surfacing 10,500 miles of track, according to Progressive Railroading’s 2016 MOW Spending Report, which was published in the April issue. And CSX planned to surface 3,000 miles and perform out-of-face surfacing on 2,200 miles.

A number of regionals and short lines also had surfacing work on their respective 2016 agendas. For example, Alaska Railroad Corp. planned to accomplish ballast surfacing work on about 125 miles spread throughout the railroad’s 466-mile route. Conrail planned to surface 90 miles, Texas Pacifico Transportation Ltd., 120 miles, and Iowa Northern Railway Co., 80 miles. And seven OmniTRAX Inc. short lines — the Alabama Tennessee River Railway; Chicago Rail Link; Georgia and Florida Railway; Illinois Railway; Nebraska, Kansas & Colorado Railway; Kettle Falls International Railway; and Panhandle Northern Railroad — this year planned to surface a combined total of 268 miles of track.

What are railroad MOW managers and contractors looking for when it comes to surfacing and tamping equipment? Pretty much what they’re always looking for: cost-effective, user-friendly and reliably productive machines that enable them to complete the work quickly.

What follows is a sampling of those machines and, in some instances, the new technology suppliers are incorporating in them. The information was provided by these five suppliers and service providers: Ballast Tools/Ballast Tools Equipment, Harsco Rail, Modern Track Machinery, Nordco Inc. and Plasser American Corp.


Ballast Tools (BTI) has been producing surfacing and tamping equipment for 40 years. BTI Xtreme Tungsten Carbide Tamping Tools and BTI T/C Wear-Edges for ballast regulators are designed for long service life and consistent performance “in the toughest ballast conditions,” the company says.

BTI manufactures wear-resistant ballast engagement tools for virtually all types and models of tampers, regulators and ballast cleaning (undercutting) equipment. The company also offers custom designs for specialty applications.

Ballast Tools Equipment (BTE) incorporates BTI technology into its range of hi-rail MOW construction and maintenance equipment. Building out a line of CAT™ equipment for MOW use, BTE incorporates quick on- and off-track capabilities, and smart-tool attachment recognition and configuration; there’s a complete line of BTE rail-specific attachments for each machine, the company says.

The machines are available in a variety of sizes, ranging from smaller skid-steer units to 35-ton excavators. They can be equipped with four- or eight-tool tamping heads, ballast buckets and cribbing attachments, ballast undercutting and culvert cleaning capabilities, and specialized rail tools.

For example, the new BTE 318 wheeled-excavator with hi-rail is a “one-machine surfacing system,” the company says — it can undercut, tamp, move and place ballast from on- or off-track positions, then travel quickly by either road or rail to the next work location.

Harsco Rail

Harsco Rail, which offers a range of tampers, continues to incorporate new technology into its equipment development mix.

“Automation advances, such as drone technology, are being incorporated into our next-generation tamper, creating a highly productive machine that requires minimal operator interaction,” Harsco says, adding that the machine has yet to be released on the market. “Our goal is to let the operators focus on applying quality corrections and not worry about where the next tie is located.”

Harsco subsidiary Protran Technology developed the Callisto geometry system, which is designed to improve quality and production.

Modern Track Machinery

Modern Track Machinery offers the model MB-8AC, a tamping head attachment designed to work off the company’s hi-rail crane.

Due to its fully adjustable traversing tamping heads, the unit can tamp tangent track and switches. A remote control located in the crane cab enables the crane operator to “fully perform the entire tamping operation,” the company says. The ballast tines can be used to set the tamping depth.

The unit, which enables customers to complete tamping in short track work windows, can operate in line or on adjunct track — then quickly “boom off” to allow quick and easy clearing of the track, the company says. “It is ideal for transits, allowing them to handle or supplement all of their requirements without the expense of a traditional tamper(s),” the company adds. The unit also can be adjusted to several different track gauges, and can be moved quickly and efficiently over the highway so that it’s ready to work once it’s at the location “with a simple coupling to the crane,” the company says.

Nordco Inc.

In August 2015, Nordco Inc. unveiled the RoadReady™ Surfacing Team. The RoadReady RST-1000 Production Switch Tamper and RBR-1000 Ballast Regulator form a mobile Surfacing Team that individually attaches to over-the-road tractor-trailers for easy transport between job locations.

All components lift and fit within the frame to meet height and width requirements for permit-free travel, and can ride at posted highway speed limits, enabling operators to get on and off the track much quicker than with rail-bound surfacing equipment, the company says.

The RST-1000 and RBR-1000 are equipped with an integrated turn table that allows the machines to deploy at grade crossings with a clear 30-foot turning radius. The RBR-1000 can go from RoadMode to RailMode in under 10 minutes.

Plasser American Corp.

TampLink® is Plasser American Corp.’s universal interface to connect different types of Plasser American machines and equipment with a GRM3000T Tamper. The idea: to increase work performance and provide more flexibility. The interface includes all necessary electrical, electronic, hydraulic, pneumatic and mechanical connections. Now, TampLink is included as standard equipment on all of Plasser American’s GRM3000T tampers.

Customers can choose between a GRM2X Tamping Trailer, PST16SW Switch/Spot/Chase Tamper or a PTS90C Dynamic Stabilizer to connect to a GRM3000T Tamper to fulfill the ordered work performance without needing to modify the machine/equipment — and without additional operators, the company says. All three machines can be switched out between the same GRM3000T Tamper.

The PLC control system automatically detects what type of machine or equipment is connected and sets up the linked machines or equipment accordingly: “You gain the ability to purchase the basic machine/equipment today, and expand the product and service portfolio by purchasing additional equipment later,” the company says.

Customers’ existing PTS90C Dynamic Stabilizers and PST16SW tampers can be upgraded with TampLink to work with a GRM3000T. The machines still can be operated as separate units.

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