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June 2022

Rail News: MOW

Ballast management update: Rock-solid solutions

The Brandt Power Unit is used by Class Is as an integral part of their track and rail maintenance programs.
Photo – Brandt Road Rail


Compiled by Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor

Brandt Road Rail 

For more than 20 years, the Brandt Power Unit has set the standard of versatility and efficiency for rail-car movers, Brandt Road Rail officials said in an email. The unit is used across North America on Class I systems as an integral part of track and rail maintenance programs, including ballast management, they said.  

Brandt offers the R4 Power Unit, which is designed to deliver the power, versatility and safety needed to perform tasks quickly and efficiently. The unit offers 600 horsepower and 50,000 pounds of tractive effort without requiring more weight added to its deck, and can pull heavy loads up steep grades at high speeds without losing traction, Brandt officials said.  

For increased versatility, the R4 can be customized to meet equipment operators’ specific needs. It also can be operated on road or rail via a rapid three-minute conversion.  

Since safety is crucial when it comes to rail equipment, the R4 offers features that ensure operator safety, Brandt officials said. The company’s hi-rail system is the most robust and reliable in the industry, and its 26C brake system delivers enhanced stopping power for maximum rail-car control, they said.  

Brandt strives to continuously improve its equipment through a process of engagement with customers — both railroads and contractors — to receive feedback on equipment performance and determine opportunities for improvements. The approach is employed at every phase of development to revise and improve equipment, such as the Brandt Power Unit, so the company can provide the highest-performing rail solutions in the industry, Brandt officials said. 


For digging and cribbing ballast, the DymaxRail cribbing clam bucket can help remove cemented ballast in the crib.

DymaxRail’s drive to develop specialized attachment solutions that increase productivity and efficiency continues. 

“It’s been a bit crazy the last few years to say the least, but our customers continue to reach out to us every day to solve problems,” said DymaxRail Sales Engineer Carl Williams in an email.  “We offer one of the most extensive attachment lineups in North America, and any of these products can be made to better meet our customers’ requirements.” 

The company offers attachments for undercutting, tamping, placing, loading or sweeping ballast. For track undercutting, the DymaxRail Ballast Blaster is used around the globe to remove ballast faster and more efficiently, company officials said.   

Recent developments include a DymaxRail cast chain option for larger models. The new chain features twice the strength and durability due to its cast steel design, company officials said. Its floating pin design enables operators and mechanics to more easily service the chain in the field, and it’s available with bullet point teeth or Dymaxrail bi-directional cutting teeth. 

For digging and cribbing ballast, the DymaxRail cribbing clam bucket can help remove cemented ballast in the crib. It can also change-out or insert ties, or handle small pieces of rail. It offers less changing of tools, which is more efficient and reduces the risk of losing tools in the field, company officials said. 

DymaxRail plans to soon announce a Ballast Broom attachment for rail-bound construction machinery. 

The Automated Conveyor Train is in use near Lake Borgne in southern Louisiana to support ongoing maintenance efforts.


This spring, Herzog’s Automated Conveyor Train (ACT) has been busy assisting several Class Is with trackbed restoration work.  

The ACT most recently was deployed in an area along the Arkansas River in Muskogee, Oklahoma, to help reconstruct an 800-foot stretch of track that suffered a sub slide due to rising water levels. The train was ideal for the job because it efficiently unloaded ballast in a curve and targeted precise unloading locations along the right of way, Herzog officials said.  

Alongside a fleet of side dumps that also unloaded replacement rip rap, the ACT rapidly delivered material overnight, they said. Maintenance crews then could raise the track the following day, begin installation of multiple french drains and prepare the area for a second ACT ballast dump four days later. Not only did the ACT help to quickly transport and unload the materials needed in the severely eroded area, but it also stockpiled the remainder of ballast nearby for later use, Herzog officials said. 

One of the company’s newest ACTs also continues to be used near Lake Borgne in southern Louisiana to support ongoing maintenance efforts associated with Hurricane Ida, which swept through the area in September 2021. The primary route into the Port of New Orleans has remained on slow orders since that storm occurred.  

The ACT’s automated plow was crucial in leveling off any ballast that was off-loaded directly in front of the machine along this route, Herzog officials said. The train can unload 2,900-plus tons of material up to 50 feet from a track center in just one consist, they said. Herzog expects the ACT to continue operating in the area into summer until the track is deemed fully operational. 

Loram Maintenance of Way Inc.  

Utilizing patented digging wheels, Loram’s undercutters meet the mounting need to quickly cut in under track and begin ballast work.
Loram Maintenance of Way Inc.

In order to maintain industry leading equipment availability, Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. strives to continuously maintain and upgrade its ballast management equipment. 

The company is currently in the process of upgrading its fleet of ballast machines to state-of-the-art remote-monitoring technology. Remote monitoring will enable Loram to centrally manage machine health, allowing for more efficient scheduling labor and parts for maintenance, company officials said. 

Railroads consistently ask Loram to help them target the right maintenance at the right location with minimal track occupancy, they said. The industry is moving away from out-of-face undercutting to targeted undercutting of specific mudspots and severely fouled ballast locations.  

The shorter work locations require equipment that can quickly cut in under track and begin working, Loram officials said. Utilizing patented digging wheels, the company’s undercutters meet this need, they said.  

For work in track occupancy windows as short as two hours, the Loram LRV Vacuum Excavator is designed to efficiently spot undercut short sections of track. 

Loram Technologies Inc. 

The economics of shoulder ballast cleaning can now be calculated using a ballast lifecycle cost (LCC) model, according to Loram Technologies Inc. The LCC model determines how much money can be saved as the result of a reduction in tamping frequency and an extension of ballast life that allows the postponement of a costly undercutting and ballast renewal operation.  

The model is designed to consider the relationship between ballast settlement behavior and fouling condition. In addition, LCC takes into account the amount of ballast breakdown that results from the combined degradation mechanisms of loading and tamping, Loram Technologies officials said. 

Moreover, the model considers the costs of future undercutting and repeated tamping over a certain time period, and uses a present value calculation to provide costs in present-day dollars.  

“The results in this model might propose performing shoulder ballast cleaning to delay ballast undercutting (renewal) for several years, or it might propose performing undercutting or replacing ballast as more economical solution in the present year, depending on the input data provided by the user,” Loram Technologies officials said. 

Miner Enterprises Inc. 

The solar-powered AggreGate is designed to provide independent operation of a rail car from anywhere within a ballast train.
Miner Enterprises Inc.

Miner AggreGate ballast/MOW outlet gates are available in electric, air-powered and manual operating models, and are all suitable for both retrofit and new rail-car systems. The AggreGate can effectively dump ballast inside, outside or on both sides of a rail simultaneously, Miner Enterprises Inc. officials said. 

The outlet gates feature large guillotine door openings designed to stop ballast flow with minimum effort, ballast shutoff capabilities at switches, crossovers and bridges, and single- or double-door control options. 

The solar-powered, stand-alone electric AggreGate — which can be operated without a connection to another car for power — is designed to provide independent operation of a car from anywhere within a ballast train. That eliminates the need for grouping manual and automatic cars, Miner officials said. An optional remote control with a push-button override is available that allows individual car and gate selections. 

Miner also offers the dual-cylinder, air-powered AggreGate in either a push-button or remote-control operation. The remote-control system enables an operator to select a specific car and gate as well as control ballast flow, ensuring more accurate ballast discharge from distances up to 300 feet, Miner officials said. The standard transmitter — which can select up to 999 cars for remote control — features an override air valve to continue ballast operations if power is lost. 

The manual AggreGate is available with transition sheets designed to enable new or retrofit applications to any open-top hopper car. It features a three-position handle to make door opening and closing easier. Spring tension holds the door in position at any opening for controlled ballast flow, Miner officials said. 

Plasser American Corp. 

Plasser’s RM80 undercutter can target ballast trouble spots.
Plasser American Corp.

Clean ballast that allows for proper water drainage is extremely important to maintaining long-lasting track geometry. A maintenance schedule that includes ballast undercutting and/or shoulder ballast cleaning for removing fouled material from track is essential to retaining long-term geometry, Plasser American Corp. officials said. 

It’s proven that ballast cleaning will increase the time between tamping maintenance cycles, resulting in maintenance cost savings and less traffic interruptions due to a reduction in work windows, they added. 

Plasser is a major supplier and contract-service provider of undercutters and shoulder ballast cleaners in North America. The company offers a versatile fleet of high-performance and high-quality ballast cleaning equipment, including the RM80, RM80-800 and RM802 undercutters, and the FRM85 and FRM802 shoulder ballast cleaners. 

The RM80 can target trouble spots and the RM802 — the highest production undercutter in North America — can be used for out-of-face programs, Plasser officials said. Using the FRM85 and FRM802, shoulder cleaning can be accomplished within a single pass due to the machines’ ability to capture the entire shoulder at once, they said. 

For the past 30 years, Plasser has stressed performance and reliability, with its historical uptime exceeding 98%. Plasser American Contracted Services offers a fleet of six undercutters and three shoulder cleaners that are available as a service for all types of requirements.   

For customers who desire to own their equipment, Plasser offers its machines for purchase. The company manufactures the ballast-cleaning equipment at its Chesapeake, Virginia, plant. 

Presto Geosystems 

Featuring a honeycomb structure, the GEOWEB is designed as a versatile system for new construction and repair work involving ballast stabilization.
Presto Geosystems

For over 40 years, the GEOWEB® Soil Stabilization System has been the rail industry’s go-to solution for challenging ballast and soil stabilization problems, Presto Geosystems officials said. GEOWEB is designed as a versatile and fast-to-install system for new construction and repair work involving ballast stabilization.  

When trains encounter soft soil, railroads institute speed reductions or halt operations, which can lead to costly downtime. In severe cases, a derailment could occur. The GEOWEB (geocells) system’s 3D honeycomb structure is designed to confine and stabilize cohesionless soils, delivering strength and higher performance to such soil, Presto officials said. 

Presto and its partners continue to lead research and development efforts to advance cellular confinement technology for soil stabilization challenges. Rigorous research and testing from the Association of American Railroads at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado, and SmartRock testing at the University of Kansas validates the GEOWEB system’s benefits, Presto officials said. The testing found “minimal movement and rotation of the ballast,” and the ability to limit ballast attrition and degradation due to confinement, they said.  

The 3D system’s ability to stabilize and control ballast results in considerable cost savings by requiring less cross-section (less than 50%) and virtually eliminating maintenance, they said. The system is designed to perform well on mainline track and in heavy stress areas such as grade crossings, bridge approaches and diamonds.  

Presto offers free project evaluations for each project, accredited research and testing, and recommendations for a structurally sound and cost-effective solution. 

Progress Rail Services 

The company offers various Kershaw® maintenance-of-way equipment, ranging from the Kershaw ballast regulator to shoulder ballast cleaners.
Progress Rail

Customers need safe and productive equipment that’s simple to operate, offers high-quality and superior performance, requires fewer people to operate and provides a lower ownership cost over a machine’s lifetime, Progress Rail Services officials said. 

To that end, the company offers various Kershaw® maintenance-of-way equipment, ranging from the Kershaw ballast regulator to tie cranes to scarifiers to tie replacers. Progress Rail also provides shoulder ballast cleaners, sand and snow removal machines, and hi-rail equipment. 

The company’s new equipment enhancements include adding more automation, incorporating technology around machine movements, and improving safety and ergonomics — all of which further improve operator safety and overall performance, Progress Rail officials said.

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