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Compiled By Vesna Brajkovic, Associate Editor
Whether undertaking large-scale brush clearing efforts or working to prevent grasses and shrubs from impeding sightlines around public grade crossings and signals, railroads are tasked with constantly keeping vegetation at bay near their tracks.
Trees, shrubs and weeds can cause serious safety hazards if not managed properly, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s track safety standards. For example, overgrown trees can come into contact with overhead catenary lines, causing a fire hazard, or can interfere with railroad crews trying to perform trackside duties.
To stay ahead of the safety curve, railroads rely on a combination of herbicides and mechanical tools. They also rely on vegetation management solution providers, who continue to enhance their product and service offerings to better control pesky vegetation.
Earlier this year, Progressive Railroading reached out to a number of those equipment and service providers to share their latest offerings for controlling weed and brush. Following are emailed responses from eight of them.
Since some railroads have scaled back their workforce and lowered the priority of vegetation management during the COVID-19 pandemic, Asplundh Tree Expert LLC is leaning on its spray train offering for Class I customers.
The spray train offers higher production in a shorter time frame, company officials said. The train’s engine and crew can cover the same amount of track that would require multiple hi-rail spray truck pilots over multiple days, they said.
This year, Asplundh has expanded its fleet with a more modernized spray train for greater herbicide application efficiency. The train offers high capacity for long distances of mainline and is equipped with a new programmable automated control system to program “no spray” zones, Asplundh officials said. Enhanced features of control are programmed with GPS coordinates for crossings, bridges and structures.
A new spray car features bay windows on both its sides for greater visibility and mounted cameras to improve line-of-sight during herbicide sprays. The cameras also enable operators to spray herbicide in either direction without having to turn the car.
Additionally, Asplundh is utilizing its truck-mounted canopy cutters and eco-cutters for mechanical trimming and brush cutting tasks. The solutions are equipped with hi-rails and can be set on and off track at most crossings to save track time.
To help meet the need for maximum operational safety, Brandt Road Rail provides two maintenance machines: the Brandt Rail Tool, a hi-rail John Deere 225 excavator; and the RTB130, a hi-rail John Deere 710 backhoe.
The Brandt Rail Tool features a 52-inch brushcutter attachment powered by a 200-horsepower, rear-mounted auxiliary engine. It can cut large swaths of grass and shrubs along rights of way and across large areas, such as subdivisions.
The RTB130 can be equipped with a 36-inch brushcutter attachment and offers a 26-foot reach. It delivers excellent results for smaller-scale activities, such as preventing grass and small brush from impeding sightlines around public crossings and signals, Brandt officials said.
In addition, the company offers a broad range of repair and maintenance attachments for the units. Brandt also can provide custom maintenance-of-way systems for a range of applications, including multipurpose rail-car movers, specialized on-track cranes and custom rail cars.
Corteva Agriscience offers an evolving portfolio of selective herbicide products that support the management of problematic vegetation throughout a variety of application sites, including ballast zones, crossings, right-of-way corridors and off-track areas, company officials said.
TerraVue™ herbicide is Corteva’s latest advancement. The herbicide is registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and offers control of more than 140 broadleaf weeds and brush species. The herbicide’s Rinskor® active ingredient offers season-long residual control, low volatility and flexibility across use sites. The low-order formulation can be used on grazed areas and offers safety to desirable grasses and shrubs.
The selectivity of TerraVue helps create a natural barrier against incompatible or invasive species, which can reduce retreatment requirements and future maintenance costs for railroad vegetation management programs, Corteva officials said. The results also minimize environmental hazards and threats to railroad infrastructure, including poor drainage, rail-car slippage, compromised railroad mechanics, line-of-sight issues and fire hazards.
When used for total vegetation control on most bareground sites, applications of TerraVue can be made by broadcast, pretreatment or spot treatments.
Industry-Railway Suppliers Inc. is the distribution representative of Supertrak machines. Supertrak builds custom machines for vegetation management, including the Supertrak SK170RR Hi-Rail Excavator.
Based on a CAT313 hi-rail platform, the excavator features a single 170-horsepower engine, and a dedicated high flow with reversing fans and multifunctionality. The hi-rail is equipped with four-wheel drive and four-wheel brakes. It maintains huge power in a small package with zero permit required for transportation due to its compact size, making it well-suited for land clearing and vegetation management in remote places, according to Industry-Railway Suppliers.
When upfitted with the heavy-duty hydraulic-powered Bull Hog mulcher, the SK170RR becomes a more powerful machine for quickly clearing large trees and heavy brush along railways or in preparation for new track, company officials said. The mulcher’s low-maintenance design supports tool durability with optional knives or carbide teeth, and also offers a custom variable displacement motor and three rotor choices to match application needs.
This year, Loftness Specialized Equipment has introduced new models of its Battle Ax mulching attachment for excavators.
Models are now available for skid steers, excavators up to 20 tons and prime movers up to 375 horsepower. The heavy-duty models are ideal for withstanding the work conditions of vegetation management along tracks, Loftness officials said.
The Battle Ax rotor features a depth gauge design, which functions similarly to raker teeth on chainsaws to prevent the mulcher from engaging too much material at one time.
This rotor design is more ideal for managing the amount of material being fed into the attachment than ring-style rotors, which many operators find to be overly limiting, Loftness officials said. The design also works well with either sharpened knives or carbide cutting teeth.
The Battle Ax also features a two-stage cutting chamber. Material is initially cut by the primary shear bar, which is located on the rear bumper. Then, an angled deflector drives material back down into the knives for further processing before it is discharged to the ground.
Other standard features of the Battle Ax line include anti-wrap bearing protection, a staggered, spiral tooth pattern, single-bolt tooth mounting and premium strength steel housing.
Progress Rail serves Class Is and short lines, departments of transportation, utility companies, contractors and municipalities by manufacturing a range of heavy-duty Kershaw® equipment for vegetation management.
Multiple Kershaw machines enable railroads to perform brush clearing, tree trimming and general vegetation control so crews can access track or rights of way quickly and easily, Progress Rail officials said.
Kershaw offers the SkyTrim 75G2 Hi-Rail for specialized vegetation control, the SkyTrim 75 HRT for on-highway and rail applications, the Klearway 500 industrial brush cutter for overgrowth and the All Terrain Carrier for specialized bucket lift configurations.
Developed specifically for electrical utility and railroad applications, the Kershaw SkyTrim 75 HRT is an over-the-road, rubber-tired prime mover vehicle. It is outfitted with a rear-mounted, air conditioned tilt cab with ergonomic joystick controls and an attached telescoping boom.
The boom on the SkyTrim 75 HRT includes a saw-type cutter head designed to extend up to 75 feet to trim trees. Equipped with hydraulically deployed wheels and a standard 100-gallon fuel tank, the machine can propel down the track in a matter of minutes to clear limbs and overgrown brush, Progress Rail officials said.
Most brush management programs tend to be put off to the back of the list for other track maintenance, and then are addressed once it becomes a critical issue, RCE Equipment Solutions officials said.
Cutting both sides of the track at the same time is not possible on multiple track systems and machines used in the past were known to throw debris, which can lead to damage claims, they said. As a solution, RCE provides hi-rail excavators equipped with a brush cutter head so brush management can be achieved both in an on- and off-track mode.
The company has noted an increase in the number of hi-rail excavators being used with brush cutter heads. RCE’s hi-rail excavator can be used for a wide range of rail maintenance duties, such as removing and installing ties, undercutting ballast, laying new rail and standard excavation tasks.
In the past couple years, RCE has expanded its Railavator lineup, including two new models — the 245G and 250G. The company now provides seven John Deere models, including the 50G, 85G, 135G, 210G and 350G.
RCE also offers an all-makes rail gear package, so it can now equip Cat, John Deere and Komatsu 20-metric-ton excavators with hi rail.
Maintaining remote vegetation can be a challenge. If it isn’t combatted early in the season, it can lead to high fire risks and rail cargo damage. To efficiently manage vegetation, it is necessary to use hi-rail equipment outfitted with tools such as brush cutters, mowers and mulching heads.
The word “versatility” describes the Vancer CHX25 Hi-Rail Excavator, company officials said. The excavator is ideal for remote rail areas, and its 20-ton model allows for multiple tool functionality, they said. It can be paired with an attachment to rotate the head a full 360 degrees.
When paired with the brush cutter attachment, the machine can remove large tree branches and brush. The excavator also can be paired with a mower deck to control grass and weeds, and with drum-style mulching heads to cut and grind trees and stumps.
Vancer also offers a chainsaw attachment that uses a grapple system to securely cut and dispose of branches. A tow cart can be added to the CHX25 to gather branches in bulk and reduce time spent clearing work areas.
Vancer’s other vegetation management options include skid steers outfitted with tools for removing brush, mowing and mulching. The Huddig backhoe is designed for efficient vegetation management with an articulating center pivot system and multiple attachments.
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