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— by Angela Cotey, senior associate editor
Progressive Railroading recently checked in with suppliers of special trackwork to learn about the latest product offerings and rail industry trends that impact the trackwork sector of the market.
Five suppliers responded via email to our request, submitting details on products such as frogs, switches, insulated rail joints and turnouts. They also noted some newer offerings and tweaks to existing products.
Although the types of trackwork that fall under the "special" category vary, railroads' expectations of product manufacturers do not.
"The industry remains highly motivated to squeeze the maximum possible value from its infrastructure investments," said Brian Abbott, executive vice president-engineering for voestalpine Nortrak Inc. "Minimizing maintenance workloads also continues to be a key driver in railroad decision-making."
With that in mind, special trackwork suppliers are developing products designed to last longer and reduce railroads' total cost of ownership. Following is information on some of those products.
Vossloh North America's Cleveland Track Material Inc. (CTM) subsidiary provides a range of special trackwork products: switches; guarded switches and UIC (International Union of Railways) thick web design switches; turnouts for various alignments; crossovers and double crossovers; various guard rail designs; manganese and alloy frogs; flash butt welded frogs; elevated lift frogs; and various spring frog designs.
In addition, the company offers various American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association crossing configurations, including flange bearing designs, single and double slip switches, joint bars, compromise joints, special platework, transition rails, manganese switch point guards, and expansion joints and rails. CTM's specialty? Various designs of joint spans for bridges, such as swing, lift and bascule, said James Remington, CTM's R&D project engineer.
In recent years, CTM has worked with Norfolk Southern Corp. to develop a range of pre-mounted machine gage plate sets for a variety of turnout alignments. The plate sets are designed to accommodate a number of power machines, as well as several hand-throw operations, said Remington. These days, CTM is working on an updated design for its elevated lift frog, or ELF, which is scheduled to be unveiled later this year.
CTM also is working with Vossloh and its worldwide Vossloh Cogifer partners to develop high-speed and heavy-axle load turnout designs. Those designs will be used to benchmark performances and focus on total lifecycle costing considerations, said Remington.
"We are focusing on a number of new projects that will come out in 2014 that will enhance our current product lines, but it is premature to elaborate at this time," he said.
L.B. Foster Co. manufactures insulated rail joints (IJs), including bonded and polyurethane insulated joints. The IJs can be provided in a double rail configuration for guarded turnouts and diamond crossings, as well as with clearance for rail clips.
L.B. Foster also manufactures a signal bond plate that is attached to its bonded IJ assembly to facilitate signal bond attachment. In addition, the firm supplies a line of Curv Bloc rail fasteners designed to prevent rail roll-over in curves, and a line of high-performance insulated tie plates for open track and special trackwork applications.
L.B. Foster is incorporating a number of "discrete" design elements, and improved materials and processes into its new ENDURA-JOINT® system, said Sid Shue, general manager of L.B. Foster's Allegheny Rail Products division. The ENDURA-JOINT system features the company's TEMPRANGE® III adhesive, a new hi-modulus insulated joint bar with improved geometry and material properties, a new ceramic end post that serves as a key structural element, and a high-strength insulated tie plate, said Shue.
In 2013, L.B. Foster introduced its second-generation Curv Bloc™ that's designed to prevent low rail rollover in curves with varying track speeds, heavy loads and intermodal traffic, said Shue.
"The fastener is designed to withstand lateral loads while preserving the floating rail system, and is equally effective in preventing high rail rollover in higher-speed applications," he said. "The rail fasteners also minimize gauge widening forces, as well as track dislocation due to sand and ice build-up between the rail and tie plate."
The second-generation product features a shear area that is 80 percent larger than previous designs and can handle a repeated lateral load that also is 80 percent higher compared with older models, according to the firm.
Also in 2013, L.B. Foster began marketing Tracksure bolts in partnership with United Kingdom-based Tracksure Ltd. The bolt assembly incorporates a left-hand threaded nut and special locking cap to ensure the track bolts used in both standards joints and special trackwork don't vibrate loose or break in service. The Tracksure bolts help reduce overall costs by eliminating the need to retorque or replace loosened joints, cutting maintenance time and reducing secondary damage caused by loose joints, said Shue.
A subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., Progress Rail Services manufactures a full line of special trackwork, including turnouts, crossing diamonds and maintenance trackwork in various sizes and designs for the rail, transit and industrial markets.
In recent years, Progress Rail has been working to reduce product lifecycle costs by designing its products to accommodate heavier loads and higher impacts as rail traffic and tonnage has increased, said National Sales Manager-Trackwork Scott Campbell.
For example, Progress Rail has developed a full flange bearing crossing diamond designed to eliminate the flange way opening that causes high impacts, and can lead to high maintenance costs and the replacement of castings and subcompontents.
And, with the introduction of a lift frog unveiled in 2006, Progress Rail developed a switch that makes the turnout invisible to mainline traffic. The initial switch has been in revenue service since spring 2013 and has "performed very well," said Campbell, adding that the company plans to install more of the switches this year.
Progress Rail also continues to increase the availability of sizes for its taper heel frog.
"[That product] has performed well in reducing impacts through the heel area of frogs," said Campbell.
Progress Rail also has equipped its manufacturing plants with CNC machining and robotic work centers, which has reduced overall lead times. In addition, the company maintains an "extensive inventory of material" to better meet customers' project requirements and expedite the manufacturing process, said Campbell.
Unitrac Railroad Materials Inc. provides such special trackwork products as switch points, Solid Manganese Self Guarded and Railbound Manganese Insert frogs, switch point guards, switch plating, guard rails, switch stands and transition rails.
Like other trackwork manufacturers, Unitrac is constantly being challenged by its customers to improve all aspects of production, from quicker turnaround on engineering drawings to improving each component that goes into making a turnout, said Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Phil Pietrandrea.
In the meantime, customers are getting more accustomed to placing trackwork orders ahead of schedule, knowing the products often have long manufacturing lead times, Pietrandrea added.
As a "fully integrated" trackwork supplier, voestalpine Nortrak Inc. manufactures concrete ties, machined components, manganese and ductile iron castings and injection molded synthetics. The company also supplies "hytronics" switch drive and wayside monitoring systems, according to the firm.
In addition, voestalpine Nortrak provides engineering and design capabilities, and is "always eager" to collaborate with railroads, engineering consultants and design-build contractors to develop and deliver solutions for any track or drive system-related problem, said Executive Vice President-Engineering Brian Abbott.
In the new products arena, voestalpine Nortrak recently developed a new spring wing control device that provides several advantages over conventional retarders, such as low operating pressures and robust components to prolong service life, field maintainability, and adjustable rail closure times that facilitate customer control of wheel impact forces. The spring wing control devices address problems railroads have had with conventional dampening hardware for spring frogs, said Abbott.
"Recent field trials in both Class I and transit applications have been successful, confirming a quantum improvement in performance," said Abbott, adding that voestalpine Nortrak soon will introduce the product to the commercial marketplace.
The company also has several other "irons in the fire" that it plans to launch soon, Abbott said.
In the meantime, voestalpine Nortrak continues to see "strong interest in premium products," such as welded boltless manganese and welded spring manganese frogs that are designed to reduce maintenance and improve lifecycle costs.
The company also is seeing increased interest in its line of concrete turnout ties designed for transit applications. The ties offer lower lifecycle costs, easier installation and improved ride quality through the turnout, said Abbott.