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By Angela Cotey, Associate Editor
Railroads' snow removal equipment usage in any given year can be as hard to predict as the weather, particularly of late. In recent years, some parts of North America that typically get little to no snow during the winter months have seen a fair share of snowstorms. In other regions, milder-than-usual winters have meant railroads are dealing with one or two large storms each season rather than the more regular snowfall they are accustomed to.
As a result, some railroads may use snow and ice removal equipment only a handful of times in a season, while others might have equipment at the ready six months out of the year. That's why suppliers offer equipment that's as wide-ranging as seasonal needs, from air blowers designed to keep switches clear of snow and ice, to self-propelled plows tailored for quick clearing of the heaviest of snowfalls, to plow attachments that can be attached easily to existing equipment.
As ever, suppliers are working to make those products as economical and efficient as possible, whether it be by developing switch heaters that consume less fuel or providing more equipment that can be used for varying purposes.
Progressive Railroading recently checked in with nine suppliers that provide equipment for fighting ice and snow to learn about their product offerings. The information, culled from emailed responses and company literature, is included in the pages that follow.
Condor Signal & Communications Inc. provides a range of air blowers designed to keep switch point areas clear of snow and ice buildup.
The T1000 High Velocity Cold Air Blower features a motor-driven, high-efficiency fan that generates ambient air flow exceeding 3,300 cubic feet per minute, according to company literature. Like most of Condor's blowers, the T1000 features an on/off switch, motor overload protection and phase protection, with additional options such as local/remote switch, temperature controller, snow sensor, three-position switch, four-position switch, delay timer, indication contacts and a radio controller.
Condor also supplies a T2000 High Velocity Cold Air blower that includes the same features as the T1000, but is designed for unprotected areas that could be susceptible to theft or vandalism, according to a product information sheet. With an enclosed outer box that encases the motor, as well as a protected air intake, the blower also is protected from severe winter conditions and "extreme" snow accumulation, the company said.
Condor provides a series of hot-air blowers as well, including the T2000 Electric Hot Air Blower, which features a motor-driven, high-efficiency fan, plus a 48kW duct heater to generate high-volume hot air. Heated air flow is directed through a duct system to produce two high-velocity jet streams of air blowing directly into the switch points. Condor is manufacturing a stainless-steel version of the T2000 for the Toronto Transit Commission that can be used in a yard or on a mainline.
The T4000 Natural Gas Hot Air Blower also uses a motor-driven, high-efficiency fan, as well as a Blue Flame High Efficiency Natural Gas Burner to generate high-volume hot air. The heated air flow is directed through a ducting system to provide two high-velocity jet streams blowing toward the switch points and tie cribs containing switch machine operating rods, according to Condor.
The T3400 Chinook Dual-Mode Hot/Cold Air High Velocity Blower combines Condor's hot- and cold-air blowers into one machine. The blower features independently controlled, high-velocity cold air blowers in one package.
Meanwhile, Condor offers the T2000-HBD Hot Box Detector, which is designed to move two steady streams of high-velocity ambient temperature air along both sides of the scanner to prevent falling and blowing snow from interfering with the scanner's operation. The T2000-HBD can be applied to either side of the track and in either direction of the nozzle position.
Hovey Industries Inc. manufactures switch clearing devices known as the Hellfire series, which are propane- and natural gas-fired heaters designed to melt snow and ice on a switch and evaporate the moisture it creates. The heaters are available in 900 kBtu/hr and 400 kBtu/hr versions, depending on the size of the turnout.
The Hellfire switch heaters feature a direct-drive electric motor, impeller and complete air distribution system that "ensure the hot air gets where it is needed," said Vice President of Sales and Marketing Mike Wilcox in an email. The heaters can be started manually at the site, remotely by the dispatcher or automatically through an energy management system, using a contact closure triggered by ambient conditions.
The heaters are 98 percent fuel efficient, too, due to the use of blue flame, high-efficiency burners and ongoing refinements to the energy management system, which is designed to ensure the heater only operates when necessary, Wilcox said.
Hovey currently is redesigning the control system on the heaters to feature a new proprietary controller that adds network capability, enhanced operating modes and more indications. It also will eliminate several individual components, Wilcox said. Meanwhile, the controller's RS-485 communication port enables the heater to be connected to a communications network, and remote control and monitoring system software.
The company also offers a software application suite and compatible hardware controller so switch clearing devices can be remotely monitored and controlled.
"The software is broadly based on an original [switch clearing device] pilot for GO Transit; however, it has a higher-level functionality, particularly associated with control modes, built-in data analysis, computer-to-computer data exchange, interface design and user-level graphical configuration interfaces," Wilcox said.
For the winter months, Knox Kershaw Inc.'s KSF 940 converts from a ballast regulator and brush cutter to a snow plow. The KSF 940 Snow Fighter features a 50,000 pound working weight, a cab large enough to accommodate a second operator's seat, and specially designed wings, plows and brooms. The snow wings are 36 inches high and stretch 16 feet from the center of the track, and have a hydraulic breakaway feature that enables them to be deployed and retracted quickly, said Vice President of Operations George Pugh in an email.
The 940 four-season plow has a heavy-duty structural frame and bolt-on curls for high-capacity snow removal, Pugh said. Knox Kershaw also offers a "V-type" snow plow, upon which the 940 broom assembly sweeps snow into a special auger assembly that directs the snow toward the center, where it is pushed into the blower. The blower impeller throws the snow up the outlet chute to be discharged. The blower chute tilt and discharge angles can be hydraulically adjusted, enabling snow to be blown to either side as far as 20 feet from the center of the track. Knox Kershaw designed the broom assembly at the request of U.S. passenger railroads, Pugh said.
Modern Track Machinery Inc. (MTM) has added snow- removal features to some of its traditional maintenance-of-way equipment. For example, the firm can equip its track motor cars with snow throwers for larger jobs.
About six years ago, MTM introduced a cold-air snow blower attachment for its Geismar 360 On/Off Track Crane.
"Railroads have an ongoing need to keep the trains moving and need to keep the switches open," said General Sales Manager Al Reynolds. "Traditionally, this was done with jets of fixed rail heaters/cold air blowers. We decided to give the railroads portability by designing an attachment that can be used on their crane for cleaning switches."
The attachment has been well received by railroads because it maximizes the use of the crane, Reynolds said.
"Traditional dedicated snow-fighting equipment is necessary, but only utilized when a storm wreaks havoc on train movements," he said. "When the weather improves, the crane can be fitted with other attachments for normal maintenance requirements."
Nordco Inc.'s M7 Ballast Regulator/Snowfighter is a four-season machine that can be used as a ballast regulator during the spring, summer and fall seasons, and converted into a snow plow during the winter months by swapping out several components. Heavy-duty snow wings offer a 16.5-foot reach on either side of the track. The plow features a three-stage snow auger and blower, and the plow can be positioned into a V-configuration for left/right snow placement, according to Nordco literature.
The machine also features additional lower snow curls, upper snow curls for the front plow, a brake de-icing component, cab-controlled power lockups for snow wings, a center flanging plate, diesel-fired cab and engine heaters, a snow screw and blower, and a fully enclosed, climate-controlled cab.
In addition, Nordco offers a snow plow attachment for its Shuttlewagon series of rail-car movers. The plow blades move up and lock into travel mode, enabling the unit to operate at speeds up to 35 mph, according to a company brochure.
R.P.M. Tech Inc. manufactures a range of snow-removal equipment for railroads, including cold-air blowers, snow blowers that can be mounted on other equipment and a self-propelled snow blower.
The company's AF1 cold-air blower is R.P.M.'s "most popular equipment to clean the switches and crossings," said Vice President of Development Gilbert Bédard. Mounted on hi-rail equipment, the blower blasts air at 435 mph and features "many benefits" compared with jet engine blowers, which are noisy and consume a lot of fuel, Bédard said.
R.P.M. Tech also offers the LM220 snow blower, which can be mounted on a ballast regulator. The company custom manufactures the attachments to fit a railroad's existing equipment.
R.P.M. Tech's Rapid Snow Removal System (RSRS) features a fan-type blower, hydrostatically operated front-mounted broom and side brooms for rail and third-rail clean up. The blower has a snow clearing capacity of up to 3,000 tons per hour and can cast snow left or right, to a distance of up to 125 feet, according to R.P.M.'s website. The unit can be operated from inside the cab via a plug-in, remote-controlled panel, and the snow sweeper is hydrostatically driven by a heavy-duty hydraulic motor with cab-mounted rotary speed control. A self-propelled version also is available.
Meanwhile, R.P.M. two years ago manufactured specialty equipment for the Edmonton Transit Authority that cleans flanges on crossings by removing sand, aggregates, ice and hard-packed snow to help prevent derailments, said Bédard. The agency has purchased three units so far.
Railway Equipment Co. manufactures a variety of switch heaters, the most popular of which is the Magnum series of gas hot-air blowers, said Sales Account Manager Joe Leaf.
The switch heaters operate on propane or natural gas using a 2-, 3-, or 4-horsepower motor with up to 40 feet of track duct. The heaters are equipped with snow-detection devices that turn the machine on when snow begins to fall; a two-stage system conserves energy when full power is not needed, Leaf said.
The company also offers electric hot-air blowers and electric cal rod heater control systems.
Railway Equipment continues to upgrade its switch heaters with new technology. For example, the machines can be outfitted with the company's Sno-Net® remote asset-monitoring system that enables users to remotely monitor, control and troubleshoot their switch heaters from any location with Internet access.
The company aims to help its customers address snow-removal concerns, as well. For example, last winter, one of Railway Equipment's Class I customers had an issue with snow piling up on hot-box detectors, covering the sensors used to read the temperature of the bearings that pass on trains. Railway Equipment supplied the Class I with its Pan Heater Control System, which is designed for hot-box detectors, and fabricated mounting brackets to install a pan heater under each rail, said Leaf. The company also developed a control system coupled with a rail temperature sensor that activated the pan heaters once the rail temperature fell below a set point, keeping the hot-box detectors free of snow and ice, Leaf added.
In April, Rails Co. introduced the latest in its line of snow-removal equipment: the Model C-2 Compact Hot Air Blower (HAB). The product features an electronic combustion-controlled burner head, which provides higher combustion efficiency, longer service life, and lower maintenance and operating costs, according to company literature. The C-2 HAB also includes internal controls, flame rod flame verification and diagnostic LEDs that help with trouble shooting. The equipment provides direct air output of 1,470 cubic feet per minute, the company said.
Safety features include an air flow/blower safety shut-off, circuit breaker disconnect, multiple trials for ignition, an intermittent spark transformer that turns on when needed, and pre-ignition and post airflow purge.
The units can be fueled by propane or natural gas, and operate automatically with a snow detector or by dispatch control, according to Rails Co.
The company offers five other types of switch heaters, as well: Type TH Tubular Electric switch heaters, available in round or flat profile for switches up to 45 feet long; Type HAB switch heaters, which use high-pressure blowers to distribute hot air throughout the switch area to keep switches open and operating; Type RTS switch heaters, available in propane- or natural gas-powered versions, which apply uniform heat over the entire length of the switch; Type LP switch heaters, which are designed for low-pressure natural gas installations; and Type CAB Cold Air Blower Systems that direct ambient temperature air to keep switches and tie spaces clear in moderate snow and freezing conditions.
Rails Co. also manufactures a range of switch rod heaters, cold air blowers for hot-box detectors, trainstop rod hairpin heaters, ballast heaters, snow detectors, and automatic control systems and accessories, such as insulated heat retaining rods.
Teleweld Inc./Flink Co. supplies a range of one-way and reversible snow plows. There are multiple tripping options available, as well as both steel and poly versions.
In March, Teleweld/Flink introduced the Flink FXP expanding plow, an 11-foot plow that expands up to 17 feet horizontally, said Flink Sales Manager John Plese. The operator can expand or retract the plow while behind the wheel by flipping a lever; the right and left side of the plow move independently of each other. The plow does not have pivoting sections or pins.
A heated calcium chloride deployment system is designed to help the FXP remove both ice and snow from tracks and switches. The skid-mounted plow can be used on hi-rail trucks for switch yard applications. The operator cab is fully enclosed and heated.
Teleweld/Flink also offers a variety of tailgate and under tailgate spreaders, as well as auger and drag chain hopper spreaders that disperse materials such as salt and sand to help prevent or melt ice buildup. Teleweld/Flink supplies pickup-sized spreaders up to eight feet in length and dump truck-sized spreaders up to 21 feet in length.