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By Michael Popke
When it comes to meeting demands in the hi-rail marketplace — from light-duty trucks to rail gear to maintenance-of-way vehicles — suppliers continue their mission to provide versatile equipment that’s reliable, easy to use and affordable.
Several manufacturers plan to introduce new products to keep up with demand and ease the strenuous work of projects requiring hi-rail equipment.
“We feel that the railroad industry, as a whole, is headed in a positive direction,” said Joe McCulley, vice president of operations for Cahaba Truck and Equipment Inc., whose offerings include hi-rail equipment. “With the activity we have seen and the orders we have already received for 2018, we are confident that this trend will continue for the upfitting, contracting and railroad fleet segment. Track maintenance [also] should stay consistent to uphold safety standards and keep things moving efficiently.”
Indeed, several suppliers of hi-rail gear note a steady upward trend in railroads’ infrastructure investments.
“We are hopeful that this trend continues and carries through to the contracting side for maintenance of way,” said John Gallo, business development manager for hi-rail supplier Omaha Track Equipment LLC.
Crossties rank among railroads’ largest maintenance-related expenditures, so it’s no surprise that some of the latest offerings in the hi-rail segment include vehicles to facilitate their transport. Other new products include a two-in-one backhoe, hydraulic suspension gear and trucks.
“Lifecycle product value is something that we’re continuing to hear more about from the railroads,” said Mark Anderson, sales manager for Vancer, which offers a range of equipment, including hi-rail units. “Railroads and contractors need products that perform multiple functions, providing operators and rail maintenance crews versatile options while maintaining rail lines.”
Progressive Railroading recently reached out to hi-rail equipment suppliers for information on their latest wares. Emailed responses from eight providers follow.
The 300-horsepower CTB41B Hi-Rail Excavator marketed by Vancer offers the highest horsepower available in the market via a single-motor hi-rail excavator, according to the company.
The CTB41B also features a hydraulically powered hi-rail gear undercarriage with train air brakes, multiple tool carrier functionality, dual pivoting rail-car couplers, and expansive travel and transport capabilities. The machine is engineered and built to deliver versatility and strength, allowing operators to undercut, trench, insert ties, tamp, cut brush, move rail cars and complete other tasks.
Vancer’s team of engineers also has developed several custom-engineered features that provide safe, easy access to machine components, the company said.
Custom Truck & Equipment’s Rail Division offers the Workhorse X1, a rail-car mover built on a Freightliner 122 SD Tri Drive that comes equipped with a Detroit Diesel DD15 505-horsepower engine.
While on the road, the Workhorse X1 can reach speeds of 70 mph. On the rails, the machine’s sled system optimizes weight distribution of the rail-car mover, depending on operating conditions, said Tim Minor, sales operations manager for the company’s rail division.
For example, to move a light rail-car consist, the sled is moved back to balance the load between the front and rear bogies.
The weight also can be moved all the way to the front when weight is shared from the first rail car to maximize capacity.
Additionally, in-cab video is provided by four mounted cameras to provide the driver full views of the bogies.
An optional event recorder collects data about the operation of Workhorse X1 controls and performance. Manufactured by Wabtec Corp., the unit records data regarding the machine’s speed, direction of movement, distance, throttle position, amps and brake application over the previous 48 hours of operation.
Georgetown Rail Equipment Co. (GREX) offers a fleet of 15 hi-rail-equipped Aurora® trucks. The newest version is the Aurora Xiv ™, which merges all GREX track inspection technologies onto a single platform. Aurora Xiv trucks will be widely available in 2018, the company said.
Within the Aurora Xiv truck, the traditional Aurora system uses 3-D machine vision technology to complete surface assessments of wood ties while also measuring rail seat deterioration on concrete ties. Aurora Xiv simultaneously uses backscatter X-ray technology to measure wood-tie density, and the company’s BallastSaver track inspection system uses Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology to analyze an existing ballast profile and identify ballast deficiencies.
In 2018, GREX plans to “bring a new hi-rail based solution” to the industry by utilizing the company’s automated tie assessment system to automatically mark tie replacement plans, company officials said. By utilizing Aurora machine vision technology, customer tie-grading standards and location information of each tie, the new solution will be designed to accurately mark ties at a much faster pace than traditional methods, the company said.
Greg Grissom, GREX’s chief operating officer and executive vice president for customer delivery, expects continued growth for the entire Aurora fleet — especially the Aurora Xiv, because of its ability to collect massive amounts of data with minimal track time, he said.
Omaha Track Equipment LLC engineers and upfits material-handling, or grapple, trucks. The vehicles’ configuration allows for widespread usage by railroads and contractors alike, the company said, and the vehicles are equipped to load and unload rail, ties and other track materials.
Trucks feature a grapple, magnet system and creep drive system that permit the operator to drive on rail from the upper-crane operator seat. A pintle hitch with electric and airbrake hookups also is integral to the vehicle’s design and can be used to tow equipment trailers and material carts.
The company also has recently introduced newly designed and customized heavy-duty hi-rail carts: one for hauling rails and one for hauling ties. The carts are lighter in weight with higher capacity than Omaha Track Equipment’s previous carts and are placed on the track with the grapple truck’s on-board crane. Designed to hold up to 100,000 pounds, the carts are equipped with insulated flanged guide wheels, and each wheel has integral air-actuated brakes.
In 2018, Mitchell Rail Gear plans to offer its hydraulic suspension rail gear for Class 7 and 8 trucks. The equipment is designed to ease the process of loading and unloading rail, as well as provide solutions for variances in rail wheel back-to-back dimensions, varying truck loads, and jounce and rebound from traveling on uneven track, said Mitchell Rail Gear President Estel Lovitt Jr.
Mitchell’s rail gear for light-duty trucks already addresses those issues — the greatest challenge with heavier trucks is jounce and rebound, Lovitt said. Jounce is the upward movement or compression of suspension components, while rebound is the downward movement or extension of suspension components. Mitchell’s new hydraulic suspension rail gear works in conjunction with the truck’s suspension to control jounce and rebound, Lovitt said.
Because railroads have different back-to-back rail wheel dimension requirements, the new equipment features axles that are designed to easily adjust to provide one common axle.
Progress Rail, a Caterpillar company, offers the Kershaw SkyTrim 75 G2 Hi Rail, a rough terrain, rubber tired vehicle with telescoping boom and saw-type cutter head designed to trim trees. Equipped with hydraulically controlled rail wheels, the machine can propel down the rail track in a matter of minutes, according to the company.
The vehicle is equipped with a liquid-cooled, 4.4-liter Caterpillar® diesel engine rated for 127 horsepower at 2,200 rpm. It features hydrostatic four-wheel drive with propel motor driving through a heavy-duty, two-speed powershift transmission. The two-speed hydraulic motor is coupled to front and rear axle with direct chain drive.
The hi-rail vehicle’s cab is equipped with a 1 1/4-inch tinted Lexgard® top, engine instruments and an ergonomic seat. It also is equipped with a light-touch hydraulic pilot pressure joystick for extend-lift-swing-tilt boom controls.
The Cahaba Material Handler with a hybrid tie bed is the company’s newest equipment offering.
The bed includes a removable bulkhead extension that protects the cab when used strictly as a tie truck. The extension can be removed so that the truck can operate as a material handler and transport various materials, including rails. This gives railroads and other operators the flexibility to use the truck in a variety of ways, Cahaba’s McCulley said.
Cahaba’s product line also includes a variety of hi-rail work trucks and equipment — from hi-rail rotary dump trucks to railroad crane-mounted material handler trucks.
Brandt Road Rail Corp.’s new RTB 130 backhoe combines an excavator and wheel loader into one machine. It’s mounted on a John Deere 710 base chassis and powered by a 130-horsepower engine. High-capacity hydraulics ensure maximum power flow to the attachments to perform such work as tie, rail and ballast maintenance, undercutting, tamping or brush cutting.
Capable of traveling up to 21 mph via road or rail, the vehicle offers a reach of 26 feet and a maximum lift of more than 7,500 pounds on the backhoe bucket and more than 13,000 pounds on the loader. The quick-attach coupler makes interchanging accessories on site simpler and allows for a continuous 360-degree swing of any attachment, the company said. Additionally, suspension on both front and rear hi-rail gear provides added stability and improved operator safety while allowing for better handling of variations in track geometry.
The AREMA-compliant hi-rail gear features 10-inch wheels with 4-inch double-roller bearings.
Michael Popke is a Madison, Wisconsin-based freelance writer. Email comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.