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Compiled by Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor
Last year, the rail fastener market rebounded after a trying 2009, when the recession softened demand. Seven-plus months into 2011, this year is shaping up to be an even better one for rail fastener suppliers.
“We believe 2011 will be a strong year for the fastening market,” said officials from fastener and fastening system supplier Pandrol USA L.P. in an e-mail.
With business on the uptick, suppliers are stepping up efforts to boost production while they continue trying to develop products that can keep track components fastened for the long haul.
“Railroads continue to want rail fastenings and related components that are rugged enough to provide a long service life even when faced with today’s challenging operating conditions,” Pandrol officials said. “In addition, they are looking for fastening systems that offer lower installation and maintenance costs.”
In the passenger-rail sector, transit agencies are seeking softer, long-lasting fasteners that can optimize noise and vibration dampening, yet retain gauge and maintain electrical isolation, L.B. Foster Co. officials wrote in an e-mail. So, the company developed both a “substantially softer-than-traditional fastener, as well as a high-resilient fastener,” they said.
L.B. Foster also is analyzing new fastener technologies with enhanced loads or longer cycles that could help extend a product’s longevity.
To examine the state of R&D and production advancements in the fastener realm, Progressive Railroading e-mailed questions to six suppliers. Their responses follow.
Now is a “very important” time for Unit Rail as it continues to grow and expand its product portfolio and engineering expertise, said officials of the company, which is owned by Amsted Rail Co. Inc. Rail anchor manufacturing has been Unit Rail’s core business for nearly 100 years, but recent acquisitions of Airboss Rail Products and Advanced Track Products (ATP) have expanded the company’s reach into the resilient fastener and direct-fixation fastener markets.
“It is clear our customers want high-quality, high-performance products that reduce maintenance intervals and minimize their total cost of ownership,” Unit Rail officials said. “To meet those demands, we have expanded our engineering staff and invested in our manufacturing facility in Atchison, Kan., to ensure we have the right products and the capacity to deliver them in the volumes needed.”
The latest addition to the Atchison plant is an engineering facility that houses a state-of-the-art pulsating load test machine (PLTM). Unit Rail also operates a PLTM in a University of Illinois lab.
“Having two test labs provides us with the capacity to respond to the needs of our customers in rapid fashion by fast-tracking product development while completing production testing aimed at ensuring product quality and specification compliance,” Unit Rail officials said.
In terms of R&D, Unit Rail is developing a “potential game-changer” for concrete- and wood-tie customers: the Tie Armor™, which is produced from “Macro Composite,” a proprietary material that’s very durable, abrasion resistant, non-conductive, stable in extreme temperatures and UV-resistant, Unit Rail officials said.
“We have taken a technology developed for military and aerospace applications and re-engineered it for railroad and transit uses,” they said.
Tie Armor can be installed on concrete ties to address rail seat abrasion problems, and wood ties to address the premature deterioration of resilient clip insulators and minimize plate cutting. Lab tests have shown Tie Armor can outlast conventional insulators and abrasion plates by three to four times, Unit Rail officials said, adding that Class Is are closely monitoring development and plan to test Tie Armor products in track.
ATP, Unit Rail’s transit-focused group, is developing new products and entering new markets, as well. During the past year, ATP has designed and qualified four new system-wide direct-fixation track fasteners for projects in cities ranging from Washington, D.C., (for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) to Taipei, Taiwan.
The company historically has focused on premium direct-fixation fasteners aimed at reducing noise and vibration in specific problem areas, but recently has leveraged its design expertise “to develop fastening solutions that can be economically installed systemwide,” ATP officials said. The company’s products range from the Loadmaster, which is in service on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and is approaching 400 million gross ton-miles of service at the Transportation Technology Center Inc.’s heavy-axle load test track in Pueblo, Colo., to the SW24V standard fastener that was developed to address extreme corrosion experienced by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in Buffalo, N.Y.
During the past year, L.B. Foster Co. has developed and introduced several new fastening systems for the North American transit industry by working in close collaboration with various industry partners. For example, under a license agreement with Delkor Rail Pty. Ltd./TMT in Australia, the company completed qualification testing for a new high-resilient fastening system.
L.B. Foster continues to pursue two new product initiatives in Canada: a F29L0 fastener that will be used by the Calgary, Alberta, light-rail system, which required working through Canadian agent HJ Skelton Canada Ltd.; and a new F20L0A fastener for the Calgary West Project, which involved collaboration with track subcontractor SNC Lavalin.
The F29L0 fastener incorporates a German-style bolted spring clip while the F20L0A fastener is designed to reduce stiffness within the existing geometrical footprint. Due to tight time constraints of the F20L0A project, L.B. Foster relied on its “extensive engineering analysis and laboratory testing capabilities” to qualify the new design with the Calgary agency, company officials said. L.B. Foster also recently introduced a new restraining rail fastener for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).
In terms of business generated by recent transit projects, the supplier has provided fasteners for Minneapolis’ Central Corridor and Houston’s North Corridor light-rail lines. L.B. Foster also continued to supply fasteners to MTA New York City Transit, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and BART under multi-year contracts, and provided direct-fixation fasteners to Miami-Dade County Transit for the Airport Link project.
The company is “continually evaluating and making appropriate modifications” to its production capabilities to meet changing demands, L.B. Foster officials said. For example, the supplier recently incorporated “smart tooling” using lean manufacturing techniques to minimize scrap and finishing, and increase production velocity, they said.
Lewis Bolt & Nut Co. is constantly seeking ways to improve its product line to “add value for our customers,” company officials said. For example, Lewis Bolt & Nut added the option of a rectangular head for the Evergrip™ Spike to provide more socket bearing surface when the fastener is turned in or out.
“We also increased the tensile strength to give it more ability to withstand the shear effects that occur in track,” company officials said.
Railroads want fasteners or fastening systems that are easy to use, with as few parts or components as possible, and that can reduce the total lifecycle cost of the system they are used in or with, Lewis Bolt & Nut officials said. The Evergrip offers faster installation and improved holding power, and can be quickly and easily removed with a spike puller — the type of fastener improvements that freight railroads and transits are searching for, they said.
The company has produced variants of the original Evergrip to meet specific customer requirements, such as two variations for the Chicago Transit Authority. One of the spikes incorporates a larger shoulder, and the other includes varying diameters and lengths.
In addition, Union Pacific Railroad earlier this year adopted the Evergrip and added the spike to its standard plan for use on severe curves as well as in special trackwork. WMATA and MTA Long Island Rail Road also have switched to the new rectangular-head Evergrip Spike, Lewis Bolt & Nut officials said.
The company continues to work to match capacity to the “increasing volume of new orders,” they said, adding that during the past year, orders have climbed higher than anticipated.
“We’ve ordered a considerable amount of new equipment to ensure that we continue to meet or exceed the increasing needs and demands of our customers,” Lewis Bolt & Nut officials said.
Pandrol USA L.P. is in the final stages of developing the SAFELOK V captive fastening system. Like the SAFELOK III system, SAFELOK V will be installed at a concrete tie plant with the clip, pad and insulators already in place, according to Pandrol.
SAFELOK V will feature a clip with a new shape and single toe, and incorporate an enhanced shoulder with an increased bearing area. The ties designed for the new SAFELOK V system are in production and the system should be installed in track by the end of the third quarter, Pandrol officials said.
The SAFELOK V, SAFELOK III and FASTCLIP captive fastening systems all have fastenings and components installed at a tie plant, which “reduces the manpower and equipment needed at the job site,” Pandrol officials said, adding that all the systems are rail ready and can secure the rail without the need to adjust any bolts or other parts.
The FASTCLIP FE, which the company introduced last year for transit and “normal freight” services, will be in track on five North American rail systems by year’s end, Pandrol officials said. The system can reduce installation costs, de-stressing and maintenance, they said. In addition, a newly designed and strengthened shoulder reduces weight and provides a lower profile, according to the company.
In terms of R&D, Pandrol is in the midst of an “extensive program” to determine the optimal plastic materials for insulators and pads in various operating conditions, company officials said. With help from railroads and resin manufacturers, Pandrol is developing new testing rigs, and new and revised material formulations.
“The development program is expected to result in parts designed to better meet tough operating conditions as well as increasing the life for the plastic parts that are an integral part of today’s fastening systems,” company officials said.
In addition, Pandrol is conducting a “major revitalization” of its manufacturing facilities to reorganize work flows, make manufacturing processes more efficient and advance efforts to become an ISO 14001-certified supplier, they said.
United Steel & Fasteners Inc. (US&F) has renewed its ISO 9001-2000 certification for 2011-2012.
“This accreditation, along with our AAR M1003 certification and NVLAP approved on-site laboratory, has been instrumental in gaining wider acceptance of our product offerings to the Class Is, transit systems, short lines, regionals and industrial railroads in North America, and around the world,” US&F officials said.
The company’s new “beaver” twin-lead timber screws, “common standard” screw spikes, AREMA-specification spring washers, all-metal square locknuts, 1-3/8-inch diameter grade 8 frog bolts and “G” elastic rail clip fasteners all have been approved and utilized by every rail market segment, they said.
US&F also offers C10 knuckle pins, brake pins, Y47 coupler pins, center pins, brake shoe keys, follower blocks, break-off bolts, and other locomotive and freight-car fasteners. In addition, the company markets a range of bridge fasteners, such as forged head hook bolts, one-piece washer nuts, three-quarter-inch-diameter hex and square head bridge bolts, drift pins, dome and square washer head drive spikes, malleable and ogee washers, crossing timber screws, tie plate screws, cut spikes and boat spikes.
US&F’s R&D engineering team constantly strives to respond to customers’ needs and feedback by developing “more effective and efficient fastening components and systems” for testing, evaluation and eventual adoption in the marketplace, company officials said.
US&F also offers different packaging types, weights and sizes based on customer requests “to make our products easier to ship, store, install, inventory and handle,” they said.
The DFF Metro system, which can be used on light-rail systems and slab tracks, is a new development for Vossloh Fastening Systems (VFS).
The “cost-efficient” rail fastener features elastically mounted base plates produced from a two-component plastic, VFS officials said. The DFF Metro system has double gauge adjustment of plus or minus 20 millimeters using strips and bushings, and a high degree of elasticity of up to eight kilonewtons per millimeter, VFS officials said, adding that elasticity isn’t impaired as a result of the elastomer’s slight pretensioning.
The system ensures high electrical resistance by featuring plastic base plates, high-quality insulation and special anti-tilting protection at the middle bend of VFS’ Skl 25 tension clamp, they said.
“Additional tilting protection is ensured by the geometry of the base plate,” VFS officials said.
The system is compatible with various rail profiles, and can be used with a screw/dowel or anchor bolt combination.
To preserve its high quality standards, VFS established a new technology center at its Werdohl, Germany, headquarters on July 1. The facility’s open architecture “brings forward the communication between divisions, increases the capacity and advances the whole development process,” VFS officials said.
A new rail fastening system has to pass through 12 modules to advance from the idea phase to series production, they said.
The company developed the step sequence over many years, interlocked the process, and created a modern technological and organizational infrastructure.
“All batches now get tested intensively regarding system and components analysis, and large-scale testing, in one building” VFS officials said.
The technology center strengthens the company’s ability to set international standards that ensure performance, even under extreme safety conditions on track, they said.
E-mail questions or comments to Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor