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Rail News: Maintenance Of Way

Precision ballast dumping a PLUS to CPR

Things are a little less rocky for Canadian Pacific Railway's ballast operations these days. The Class I is speeding the ballast spreading process and reducing material cost by using a 60-car Programmable Linear Unloading System or PLUS train it's leasing from Herzog Contracting Corp.

Designed as a high-speed ballast unloading system, PLUS features a Global Positioning System (GPS) transponder and hi-rail truck. Using a laptop computer, a track maintenance supervisor can survey a stretch of track and determine locations where ballast should or shouldn't be distributed. The PLUS train then spreads ballast in areas pinpointed by GPS.

"We can now efficiently dump ballast at any time and at a speed that will increase the overall capacity of the corridors on which we are working," said Vern Graham, CPR vice president of engineering operations, in a prepared statement.

It previously took CPR crews about 70 hours of track time to dump 60 carloads of ballast. Four or five workers would monitor ballast-car doors to prevent obstructions.

"The new GPS system is supported by ballast cars equipped with electronically controlled, fully automated hydraulic doors," said Graham. "Now, we can dump the same amount in two-and-a-half to four hours, day or night, with only one technician."

By August's end, CPR's PLUS train will dump more than 250,000 tons of ballast on lines in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northern Ontario. The railroad will save more than $500,000 annually on ballast operations and 10 percent on ballast cost because of precision dumping, CPR officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/21/2004