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Rail News Home MOW

August 2012

Rail News: MOW

Rail fastener suppliers share product information

— compiled by Walter Weart

Fasteners are a critical component of track structure, so naturally, railroads are seeking more robust, longer-lasting and maintenance-free fastening products to bolster track for the long haul.

Last month, Progressive Railroading contacted six fastener and fastening system suppliers to learn how they're working to meet those demands. Company officials also provided an assessment of the North American rail market and how it's impacting their business. Via five emailed responses and one phone interview, the message was the same: Increased freight and passenger traffic has caused demand to surge for all track products. Strict Buy America clauses included in many transit- and freight-rail project contracts are giving U.S.-based suppliers a business boost, as well.

Following is a snapshot of each company's product portfolio and their efforts to ensure fasteners and fastening systems meet railroads' needs.

Amsted RPS

Amsted RPS has experienced steady growth the past 12 months. The company supplies rail anchors and cast plates for wood ties, U200 and e-clip components for concrete ties, and a line of direct fixation fasteners. Amsted RPS now has long-term agreements in place to supply rail anchors to all seven Class Is, according to Director of Sales John Stout.

And during the past year, four Class Is have installed Amsted RPS' MACRO Armor line of abrasion-resistant fasteners for concrete ties.

"One of our goals is to solve the issues of rail-seat abrasion and insulator wear that have plagued concrete ties for several years," Stout said in an email. "We have adapted the unique properties of MACRO Armor from its origin in military and aerospace applications to railroad use, and recently introduced a MACRO Armor Repair Plate to repair abraded concrete ties."

The repair plate provides uniform bearing and restores the tie to its original geometry, according to Amsted RPS.

"We're finding that installation time has been cut by 25 percent due to the lightweight design and improved installation methods, resulting in reduced maintenance costs," Stout wrote.

Meanwhile, under a new partnership with Netherlands-based edilon) (sedra bv, Amsted RPS now offers noise- and vibration-reducing products, such as a ballast mat, embedded block and embedded rail solutions for passenger and freight railroads.

Amsted RPS officials also are analyzing ways the company can reduce maintenance on and extend the life of fasteners, particularly as North American railroads seek to increase capacity.

"We have successfully accomplished this with our new 6030 rail clip that has improved reach, increased toe load and a higher fatigue limit," wrote Stout, adding that the 6030 clip was developed and tested at Amsted RPS' in-house lab in Atchison, Kan., in conjunction with the company's testing facility at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In addition, Amsted RPS is pursuing opportunities to supply rail fasteners around the globe, particularly in markets where the firm has an established footprint. Amsted recently opened an office in Regensburg, Germany.

L. B. Foster Co.

L.B. Foster Co. officials are working with transit customers to provide products that meet their specific needs, said General Manager, Transit Products Hakan Eksi during a phone interview. For example, the company supplies fasteners designed for non-ballasted applications, such as resilient concrete pads and fasteners with specific stiffnesses.

"We were able to supply [Bay Area Rapid Transit] with an improved restraining rail fastener, and when the original supplier for the San Francisco Muni System went out of business, L.B. Foster was able to a direct replacement," Eksi said.

Since L.B. Foster owns CXT® Concrete Ties, the company also is developing a resilient tie for transit applications when the tie is embedded in concrete, Eksi said.

Eksi points to the trend of eight straight quarters of increasing transit ridership, which translates to more trains, higher speeds and tighter maintenance windows, as an opportunity.

"This means that our transit customers will be looking for longer lasting, more robust and practically maintenance-free fasteners, a driving factor in our research," Eksi said.

L. B. Foster also is studying "green" manufacturing, recycling and energy generation, he said.

Lewis Bolt & Nut Co.

Lewis Bolt & Nut Co. continues to offer a core set of fasteners designed for track, grade crossings and structures, timber screws for grade crossings, and bridge bolts and timber pins for timber structures.

The company also manufactures the Evergrip™ Spike, which can either be driven or turned in. By using a Nordco Inc. Model CX Spiker, the Evergrip can be driven in, similar to a cut spike, according to Lewis Bolt & Nut Vice President of Sales Dave Barry.

"This eliminates the issue of inconsistent installation often seen on typical screw spikes where lag machines are based on torque," he said in an email. "When Evergrips are driven, you cannot over- or under-drive them. They seat perfectly against the plate each time, thereby taking advantage of whatever holding power is available from the tie."

Lewis Bolt & Nut's ultimate goal: to provide railroads with high-quality fasteners that help reduce installation costs as well as "lifetime" costs of the track system as a whole, said Barry. Railroads also are seeking fasteners manufactured in the United States.

"Overseas quality, as well as delivery, is an ongoing issue," Barry said. "Being a manufacturer allows us to control what we do. If there is a bridge out or a derailment, we're able to react instantly by producing the parts and getting them to the desired destination, often the next day."

The strict Buy America clauses for many freight- and transit-rail projects has provided Lewis Bolt & Nut a business boost of late, as well. To help meet increasing demand, the company is building a 50,000-square-foot addition at its La Junta, Colo., facility. Scheduled to be complete later this year, the addition will provide space for order staging, inventory and additional manufacturing equipment.

Pandrol USA

Celebrating its 75th year in business, Pandrol USA L.P. is working to keep up with demand for high-performance elastic fastenings while continuing product development efforts.

The company recently built a new stand-alone plastics plant near its Bridgeport, N.J., facility, and has launched an extensive research and development program to determine the best plastic materials for insulators and pads in different operating conditions, said Pandrol President Frank Brady in an email. Under the program, Pandrol and its railroad and resin manufacturer partners have developed new testing rigs, and new and revised material formulations that are expected to help the company manufacture higher-quality parts that can better meet tough operating conditions, he added.

In the meantime, Pandrol is in the final development stages for the SAFELOK V fastening system, which, like the SAFELOK III system, can be installed at a concrete-tie plant with the clip, pad and insulators in place. The SAFELOK V will feature a clip with a new shape that has a single toe, as well as an enhanced shoulder with an increased bearing area. The ties designed for the new system currently are in production and Pandrol expects to have SAFELOK V systems installed in track by year's end.

The fastening system will enable Pandrol to meet a growing trend of pre-plating fastening systems at tie plants, Brady said. Pre-plating helps cut railroads' track installation costs because they can reduce gang size and equipment requirements, and don't need to maintain a large parts inventory, he added.

"This trend started to expand rapidly when Pandrol developed the fully captive FASTCLIP system," said Brady. "Pandrol also has developed captive systems that use Pandrol SAFELOK fastenings. The most recent of these developments is a cast tie plate suitable for use with the Pandrol FASTCLIP system on wood ties."

An earlier version of Pandrol's SAFELOK I is getting a facelift, as well. The company is working to modify the SAFELOK I clip so it's easier to install and remove, and features improved holding power.

Another Pandrol product has registered a "rapid increase in market share," according to Brady. The VICTOR plate system for wood ties "combines the durability of an [American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association] tie plate with the benefits of resilient fastenings," he said.

"The flat tie plate provides a bearing area 37 percent greater than existing tie plates for resilient fastenings," Barry said. "Testing, with 39-ton axle loads, has shown a five-fold decrease in gage widening when using resilient fastenings on wood ties, and the Pandrol VICTOR system is demonstrating its value on bridges and curves with significant annual tonnage."

United Steel & Fasteners/ National Trackwork Inc.

United Steel & Fasteners Inc. offers "beaver" twin-lead timber screws, "common standard" screw spikes, AREMA-specification spring washers, all-metal square locknuts, one-and-three-eights-inch-diameter grade 8 frog bolts and "G" elastic rail clip fasteners — all of which have been approved and utilized by all rail market segments, according to Vice President of Sales and Marketing Robert Fiorio.

United Steel & Fasteners also offers 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.

The company's research and development team is constantly developing more efficient and effective fastening components and systems, said Fiorio in an email, adding that the firm provides different packaging types, weight and sizes based on a customer's request to make products easier to ship, store, install, inventory and handle.

Meanwhile, United Steel & Fasteners has received an ISO 9001-2000 renewal certification for 2012-13.

"This accreditation, along with our AAR M1003 certification and NVLAP [National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program]-approved on-site laboratory, has been instrumental in gaining wider acceptance of our product offerings," Fiorio said.

Vossloh Fastening Systems

Vossloh Fastening Systems' products are designed to mitigate single-point stress in concrete applications and spread the stress over the entire shoulder, not just a specific shoulder contact point, according to Vice President and General Manager Ron Martin.

"The screw that maintains the pressure of the tension clamp cannot back out from vibration, similar to a lock washer design, and will also not allow the system to be over-torqued," he said in an email. "If shoulder damage should occur from a derailment, the tie is normally salvaged, whereas most other systems require the tie to be exchanged, which improves the life of both the fastening system and the tie itself."

From a maintenance standpoint, distressing, rail change out and other maintenance crews need only back off the torque of the screw to relieve the toe load on the rail, said Martin. The system stays intact and doesn't need to be removed completely. In addition, the extra bend in the fastener provides tilt-over protection for the rail in case traffic has to move over the area prior to torqueing the system down again, said Martin.

Vossloh Fastening Systems officials have determined their customers are seeking a system that provides the best lifecycle cost value — acquisition cost, long-term durability, reliability, ease of installation and low maintenance.

The transit-rail market in particular seeks to lower lifecycle costs and reduce long-term maintenance requirements, while implementing fastening systems that help reduce noise, Martin said.

"This sounds like a long list of criteria, but a well-designed system — and I stress system — will allow the railroads to achieve these goals," he said, adding that Vossloh Fastening Systems' research and design team continually is testing new designs. And based on Vossloh's experience in international markets, the company can develop specific solutions to "numerous" applications and challenges, Martin said.

Vossloh Fastening Systems is taking steps to meet Buy America requirements and commit to local manufacturing to service all aspects of the rail fastener market, the company said.

Walter Weart is a Denver-based free-lance writer

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