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Rail News Home MOW

April 2012

Rail News: MOW

Maintenance of way technology: Top-of-rail lubrication and friction modifiers


— by Walter Weart

Maintenance-of-way (MOW) planners are always seeking new or improved methods to reduce friction, rail wear and lateral forces, and improve fuel economy. MOW execs also want these options to be environmentally friendly.

What's available in the top-of-rail lubrication and/or friction modifier product arena these days? What product improvements are railroads seeking, and how are suppliers attempting to heed the calls?

For insight, we contacted a cross-section of rail lubrication/friction modifier suppliers. Their responses follow.

L.B. Foster Friction Management

L.B. Foster Friction Management offers an array of products that exemplify the advances the rail industry has made in top-of-rail friction control, said Donald Eadie, vice president of technology and innovation. The company offers KELTRACK® trackside products, which toxicity and bioassay studies have shown to be environmentally benign, Eadie said. The water-based, liquid friction modifiers are applied using PROTECTOR® top-of-rail application systems. When applied, KELTRACK is transferred to rail vehicles from the top of rail and establishes dry, thin film friction control at the wheel tread/top-of-rail interface.

"Another benefit is that there has been a reduction of fuel consumption by 3 to 5 percent, as well as reducing lateral forces and extending rail life," said Kevin Oldknow, vice president of technology and business development.

Other L.B. Foster Friction Management products include:

  • AutoPilot™, an on-board lubrication system designed to apply KELTRACK on the top of rail over a broad territory. Although the current system is rail-car mounted, a Class I is "experimenting" with a locomotive-mounted system, Eadie said.
  • LCF (Low Coefficient of Friction) solid-stick gauge wheel flange lubricant, which transfers the material to the wheel flange and, in turn, to the gauge face of the rail. A thin film is left behind on the gauge face to provide lubrication to the wheel/rail interface throughout the railway system. Transit operators currently are "the biggest users" of LCF, Eadie said.
  • ROAD-RUNNER® 361, a system designed for low-tonnage Class II and III railroads. The system "allows the operator to control the application of the lubricants and friction modifying products with roller nozzles spraying on the rails," Oldknow said.

Loram Maintenance of Way Inc.

In September 2011, Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. and Tranergy Corp. announced a definitive agreement under which Loram acquired all of Tranergy's assets. Tranergy, which became a Loram subsidiary, supplies friction management products. The acquisition was a natural fit because both companies are "committed to extending the life of rail," said Joseph Ashley, Loram's manager of marketing and business development.

Accordingly, Loram offers a range of lubrication and noise suppression products, including TracShield™ — "a wayside top-of-rail applied friction modifier for both curves and tangents that help reduce lateral forces which tend to push the rail out," Ashley said.

Another product, TOR-XTEND™, is applied to the rail based on the number of train axles. Wheel detection devices, either single or double wheel detectors, determine speed and direction. More than 90 percent of the lubricant is applied, which minimizes waste, Ashley said.

The company also offers TracGlide™, an on-board application system that is sprayed on the railhead slightly ahead of the wheels and is designed to extend rail life.

"The TracGlide system's application rate is pre-set based on a site survey that includes a variety of factors, including annual tonnage, direction of traffic, track curvature and grade," Ashley said. "The train crew does not need to adjust the system prior to departing, ensuring that the system does not further complicate the job of the locomotive engineer."

"Various Class Is" have used TracGlide, and they have documented fuel savings and extended track component life, he added. "When the unit needs to be serviced or refilled, it can remotely alert the appropriate personnel via text message or email," Ashley said.

Midwest Industrial Supply Inc.

Switches always have lubrication needs so that the switch points can be moved easily and safely. Given that switch points are metal on metal, proper lubrication is important, said Eric Vantiegham, manager of rail products for Midwest Industrial Supply Inc.

He has witnessed what he terms as a "change over" from graphite to Glidex®, a synthetic organic rail lubrication liquid. Glidex is non-hazardous, so there are "significant savings in shipping and storage," Vantiegham said.

"It is much more environmentally friendly than the products it replaces, does not need DOT hazardous paperwork, and has no special storage requirements," he added.

Moreover, Glidex lasts longer than graphite or petroleum products, and provides a non-freezable barrier to snow and ice, Vantiegham said.

SKF Lubrication Business Unit

In December 2010, SKF Group acquired Lincoln Industrial Corp., providing SKF increased access to the railroad lubrication market. The company currently offers a range of products for gauge face, top-of-rail systems, and on-board options for rail and transit customers, said Pete Laucis, global director of product management for SKF Lubrication Business Unit.

"Our Pump to Port™ technology for top-of-rail, gauge face and restraining rail systems dispenses lubrication evenly through all the ports in the spreader bar, and our high-pressure pump will clear debris from the port," Laucis said.

Because each port has its own valve, each receives equal amounts of lubrication, effectively covering the rail with the correct amount and there is no excess material leakage due to blocked ports and minimal flooding of the adjacent area.

"Usage is less since the application is precise and less likely affected by environmental issues, such as temperature," Laucis said.

Going forward, SKF officials "see a trend towards more communication and diagnostics of the equipment, ensuring effective operation," he added. In response, SKF is offering full-maintenance packages with a network that provides local support, Laucis said.

Terresolve Technologies Ltd.

One reason railroads use lubrication is to reduce friction in curves, and to that end, railroads have tested Terresolve Technologies Ltd.'s EnviroLogic 802 LCG rail curve grease, which is formulated to perform in environmentally sensitive applications, said Terresolve CEO Mark Miller in an email.

A "high-performance" product, the rail curve grease is biodegradable and nontoxic as well, he said, adding that EnviroLogic hydraulic fluids perform well in extreme temperature conditions (both hot and cold), and can extend the time between oil changes two to four times compared with petroleum products.

And rail customers continue to move to bio-based and environmentally friendly products.

"There is a stereotype that bio-based fluids don't perform well, but we hope to overturn that line of thinking," he said.

As an example, Miller cited a railroad in the Northeast Corridor that was "having serious environmental issues" because the petroleum product it had employed frequently spilled into rivers, streams and other environmentally sensitive areas. Terresolve supplied the railroad with EnviroLogic 146 biodegradable hydraulic fluid, which does not pose "any environmental issue when the units do leak, or blow hoses and release hydraulic fluid over a bridge, or run off on the tracks," Miller said.

The Whitmore Group

The Whitmore Group offers rail curve lubricants, top-of-rail friction modifiers and switch plate lubricants, said Director of Railroad Sales Bruce Wise in an email. Customers include Class Is, regionals, short lines and transit properties worldwide.

Whitmore offers several grades of curve lubricants, both mineral oil- and bio-based, with different price points and performance levels, Wise said. Some railroads use multiple products based on the requirements for a specific area; for example, they use biodegradable products, such as BioRail® curve lubricant and switch plate lubricant, in areas near sources of water, where railroads have specific environmental concerns, Wise said.

Produced from vegetable source oils that are 100 percent biodegradable, BioRail forms a vertical bead that is "easily picked up" — it carries through multiple curves and forms a coating on the gage face that is "clearly visible for ease of inspection," according to Whitmore literature. BioRail has been "extensively tested" by U.S. Class Is; field experience to date has shown that the "carry down, coating of the rail, and level of wear protection are equal to Whitmore's non-biodegradable rail curve greases," according to the company.

In response to railroads' need to complete track maintenance work more efficiently, Whitmore has introduced the concept of bulk delivery and filling of curve lubricants, Wise said.

Walter Weart is a Denver-based free-lance writer.


TTCI: Testing for next-level solutions

Track lubrication/friction control product suppliers aren't the only ones pushing the research-and-development envelope. The folks at Transportation Technology Center Inc. (TTCI), too, continue to explore and test next-level solutions.

The focus of TTCI's recent R&D has been on the effects of track lubrication/friction control on rail wear and rolling contact fatigue under heavy axle-load freight operations, Dingqing Li, scientist and chief of government programs for TTCI, said in an email.

In recent years, TTCI has worked with several suppliers to test and evaluate their respective lubrication and friction control technologies at the Facility for Accelerated Service Testing (FAST) track in Pueblo, Colo. TTCI also tested the technologies in revenue service at its Class I eastern and western mega test sites. The eastern mega site is near Bluefield, W. Va.; the western mega site is in Ogallala, Neb. The sites feature curve tracks that handle very high tonnage.

Since 2008, the testing has included both top-of-rail and gauge face lubrication. At the eastern site, the "premium rails have shown excellent wear performance," as Li wrote in a TTCI Digest article titled "Rail Life Extension through Friction Control and Grinding," which was published in September 2011. Rail grinding also was part of the program. Tests at the western site netted similar results. In the meantime, TTCI continues to conduct performance monitoring of the test curves. With more data, a cost-benefit analysis can be performed, Li wrote.

— Walter Weart


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