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by Walter Weart
Some maintenance-of-way (MOW) machinery is bulky and difficult to operate. Ditto for some of the equipment used to handle or transport trackwork materials.
Railroads' ongoing mission to make their MOW department more productive continues to prompt department managers to seek machinery that's easy to operate, flexible and affordable, yet provides more output. In turn, railroads' machinery demands are pushing material-handling equipment suppliers to develop new models or provide additional features to help railroads excavate soil, transport and unload rail or ballast, or haul materials to and from a derailment site.
Railroads want "versatility and reliability" in the equipment they use, said Dennis Hanke, sales manager for material-handling equipment supplier Rail Construction Equipment Co. (RCE), in an email.
RCE has tried to respond by increasing the number of machines the company offers and developing additional attachments, such as under-cutter bars that mount on excavators for off-track undercutting work, and various tie and tamper heads, he said.
The company's tie crane line now comprises four models: the TC75D, TC85D, TC120D and TC135D. The TC85D and TC135D tie cranes offer a reduced tail swing design that enables work to be done on track without fouling an adjacent mainline, said Hanke.
RCE also has introduced a line of hi-rail excavators and expects to introduce additional models in the next few months, he added.
Brandt Road Rail Corp. also is striving to better meet railroads' material-handling equipment needs by offering more machinery. In March, the company introduced the 225D, a larger version of the Brandt Rail Tool.
The machine provides twice the lifting capacities of the 120D Brandt Rail Tool, says Brandt Road Rail Sales and Marketing Manager Neil Marcotte. The 225D also offers additional horsepower, which enables the machine to pull the same load at a higher speed.
"We use a 200-horsepower engine in a rear engine assist mode and combine this with the excavator's engine to provide speeds of up to 30 miles per hour," says Marcotte, adding that the 225D can power many attachments that, in the past, would have required skid-mounted power supplies.
Both the 225D and 120D feature couplers and an air-brake system to enable the excavators to haul rail cars. Brandt Road Rail so far has produced 15 225D and 120D models. In addition, the company built two custom units for Amtrak.
Herzog Corp. has a new version of a material-handling machine, too. Last year, the company began offering the automated SMART Train, a GPS ballast train version of the Programmable Linear Unloading System, or PLUS, Train. The SMART Train, which unloads ballast inside and outside rails, can be used for surfacing and undercutting projects, said George Farris, vice president of marketing for Herzog Railroad Services Inc., in an email.
Each door on the SMART Train features specialized sensors designed to enable a technician to verify that ballast is flowing via a computer and ensure an even spread. The train can be unloaded at speeds ranging from 3 mph to 20 mph.
Hytracker Manufacturing Ltd. continues to refine its equipment portfolio, as well. The company markets a low-bed rail equipment mover designed to be moved via a Hytracker excavator on a rail cart, car mover or any track crane with a knuckle.
Featuring a ramp and 30-foot deck, the mover can handle 140,000-pound loads, enabling the machine to transport a crane with as much as a 250-ton lifting capacity, says Hytracker Marketing Manager Chuck Douglass.
"This is ideal for derailment situations and bridge projects where those cranes are often needed at remote locations without road access," he says.
Hytracker also offers a self-propelled, low-bed rail equipment mover designed to transport 120,000 pounds and operate at track speeds up to 25 mph. It can be hauled over the road using a conventional fifth-wheel attachment and used to carry heavy equipment or materials to work or derailment sites, says Douglass.
In addition, Hytracker offers both side- and end-load rail carts designed to transport hydraulic excavators to a work site by using an excavator's hydraulic power system. The excavator and rail cart can operate at speeds up to 20 mph.
"When not on the rail cart, the modification to the hydraulic excavator does not affect its ability to be used in other off-rail applications, leaving the full versatility of the equipment unaffected," says Douglass, adding that the Alaska Railroad Corp. is using the excavators on a Hytracker rail cart to replace some aging mobile, on-track cranes.
To enable equipment to handle standard rail cars, Hytracker is working on an A9 valve replacement, says Douglass. The A9 is an industry standard valve that can recycle train air in the rail-car handling process.
"The challenge is to get enough ports in the rotary manifold of the excavator to control this valve from the cab of the excavator," says Douglass.
Fleet Body Equipment Inc. already has enhanced its material-handling equipment, primarily by upgrading the machinery's electronics. The company's cranes now can monitor performance and usage, said Tim Minor, Fleet's assistant manager-customer support and inside sales, in an email.
A user can download operational data from a crane to a laptop computer, and use the information to determine if the crane is properly sized and suited for a particular job.
In addition, an operator now can observe load capacity on a remote-control display and use the data to determine if a crane is reaching an overload condition and what function is being overloaded; and control the outrigger function via a radio remote, saving time when moving the equipment to a new work area.
To improve equipment efficiency and versatility, Fleet is extending the lengths of its material handlers and adding a self-steering, liftable auxiliary axle, said Minor. The axle is available as an option for the 22-foot material handler to increase carrying capacity, he added.
The company also aims to help railroads deal with tight MOW work windows by offering equipment with improved control systems, better entry and access functions, a quicker set-up time and various boom attachments, said Minor.
Railroads' narrow work windows are top of mind at Georgetown Rail Equipment Co. (GREX), as well. The company is "engaged in conversations with a number of customers" to implement technological enhancements to improve the productivity and analytical/decision-making capabilities of its material-handling equipment, said GREX Vice President of Marketing and Sales Lynn Turner in an email.
The improvements would increase the ditching work capabilities of GREX's Slot Machine and SPS self-powered machine, and ballast delivery functions of the company's Dump Train and GateSync automated ballast delivery system, he said.
"While these systems have high initial costs, they have the ability to extend service lives while offering tremendous savings associated with the greatly reduced delivery time in narrow work windows," said Turner.
Optimal speed, performance and reliability also are top material-handling equipment goals for Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. The company's Raptor Rail Handling System offers double the production of a system focused solely on rail delivery and provides a better overall solution, said Loram Manager of Marketing and Business Development Joe Ashley in an email. Productivity and process improvements can reduce overall rail logistics costs through increased handling capacity and the capability to pick up and transport rail so it easily can be relayed or scrapped, he said.
Introduced in 2005 and used by Union Pacific Railroad, the Raptor system uses a gantry crane, which pulls rail over the length of a train vs. a system that pushes rail onto cars, said Ashley.
The Raptor also incorporates a stable, ergonomic work platform on one of the cars to increase safety while rail is loaded. The platform is designed to lock rail in place mechanically when an operator comes in physical contact with the rail. Since the Raptor's introduction, Loram's rail handling crews have gone a company record 2,300 days without a lost-time injury, said Ashley.
Meanwhile, Modern Track Machinery Inc. (MTM) continues to offer equipment with more attachment options to enhance safety or boost productivity. The Geismar 360 now has numerous attachments geared to material handling, such as a tamping unit, small ballast plow and broom, said MTM General Sales Manager Al Reynolds in an email.
"Even though the crane has been around for a while, we have continued to add attachments to enhance its versatility," he said, adding that forks, hooks, rail threaders and magnet generators have been available as attachments since the equipment's introduction.
To ensure their material-handling machinery continues to be productive and reliable for a long time, suppliers expect to continue gauging — and fulfilling — railroads' needs for fast, easy-to-operate and versatile equipment.
"[By] demanding innovation from suppliers, railroads are being rewarded with better work methods, reduced track downtime, and most importantly, a better class of track that lasts far longer," said GREX's Turner.
Walter Weart is a Denver-based free-lance writer.