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Rail News: Norfolk Southern Railway
Class Is boost 07 MOW budgets to keep up with track maintenance, capacity needs
By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor
Trains continue to pound track, infrastructure capacity remains a priority and maintenance-of-way (MOW) material costs keep rising.
Accordingly, the eight Class I respondents to our annual survey are budgeting a total of $5.1 billion for MOW this year compared with $4.9 billion in 2006.
Five of the large roads’ budgets are up year over year, while Union Pacific Railroad’s 2007 plan calls for expenditures totaling a Class I-high $1.5 billion — the same amount UP spent in 2006.
Following are MOW snippets from three Class Is that set aside more dollars in ’07 to build and maintain more track.
BNSF Railway Co. has budgeted $1.23 billion, up slightly compared with 2006’s $1.22 billion.
“It’s a big year for maintenance, and a big year for expansion projects on top of that,” says BNSF Vice President of Engineering Greg Fox.
On the expansion side of the equation, BNSF plans to install 39 miles of triple and 21 miles of quadruple track in Wyoming’s Orin Subdivision on the Powder River Basin joint line the Class I shares with UP. By 2007’s end, the 103-mile joint line will be completely triple- or quadruple-tracked, says Fox.
BNSF will install new second, third and fourth mainlines totaling 151 track miles compared with 74 in 2006.
“About 110 of the miles will be coal-focused,” says Fox.
The railroad also will begin a three-year project under which crews will upgrade an Avard, Okla.-to-Birmingham, Ala., line as part of the Class I’s ’06 agreement with CSX Transportation to jointly create a high-volume southeastern intermodal corridor.
This year, six BNSF production gangs will replace rail and ties, and perform undercutting work as part of the project’s $10 million first phase.
Two-part plan of attack
Rail and ties are a big part of BNSF’s ’07 track maintenance work, too. The railroad will replace rail on 834 track miles, up 20 percent compared with last year. The Class I needs to replace more curved and tangent rail, says Fox.
“We’ve had our fifth-straight year of double-digit growth, so our curves are wearing out,” he says.
BNSF also plans to install slightly more concrete ties (160,000 in ’07 vs. 124,000 in ’06), but replace fewer wood ties, which will total 2.64 million this year compared with 2006’s 2.72 million.
However, BNSF this month will begin using a high-speed production tamper on wood ties — the first such machine to be used in the United States, says Fox, adding that one is used in Europe.
Built by Plasser American Corp., the tamper features an automated “tie finder” system with surface mapping capability designed to map out 10 track miles at a time so the machine can correctly tamp ties the next pass.
“It can tamp two to three times faster for wood ties,” says Fox.
In summer, BNSF also will acquire its second Plasser 09-3X Dynamic Tamping Express for concrete ties. After increasing its high-production tamper fleet to three, the railroad will complete surfacing work on heavy axle-load line segments more quickly, says Fox.
“With the growth rate we’re seeing, we can’t just rely on a traditional fleet of tampers,” he says.
To complete track maintenance work as quickly as possible, BNSF conducted blitzes earlier this year in two subdivisions. In February, the railroad capped off a $16 million, month-long blitz in the Bakersfield Subdivision on a Fresno-to-Bakersfield, Calif., line. And last month, the Class I completed a blitz in the Birmingham Subdivision.
For the 10th-straight year, CSXT is planning a blitz, as well. To be conducted in July, the “Jamboree” will involve the coordination of hundreds of workers and dozens of machines to upgrade a main coal route between Elkhorn City, Ky., and Spartanburg, S.C. Crews will install about 36,000 ties and complete surfacing on 35 track miles.
“We didn’t do any ties in last year’s Jamboree, just rail and surfacing,” says CSXT VP of Engineering Don Bagley.
Steel prices a real concern
The railroad also will install continuous-welded rail on 410 track miles as part of ‘07 MOW work. Although that amounts to seven fewer miles than in ‘06, the rail will cost more this year because steel prices have steadily risen the past 18 to 20 months, says Bagley.
Rising track material costs are the primary reason CSXT’s MOW budget is up from $548.8 million last year to $589.9 million in ’07, he says. For example, crosstie prices have increased $3 per tie because of wood-treatment costs.
“Creosote is petroleum-based and oil prices have increased,” says Bagley.
In addition, Grade 3 yard ties are in short supply, so CSXT might install more relay ties to compensate, he says.
Although CSXT plans to install 3 million wood ties this year — the same amount as in ‘06 — crews will install an additional 150,000 ties as part of a $120 million capacity project on the railroad’s Southeast Expressway between Chicago and Jacksonville, Fla.
Budgeted separately from CSXT’s MOW program, the project calls for installing track and signals on 50-plus track miles, and building 10 miles of track to support CSX Intermodal’s new Chambersburg, Pa., terminal scheduled to open in fall.
“We’re using contractors to build the new track so the project doesn’t eat into our manpower when we do our normal capital work,” says Bagley.
The ‘heart’ of the matter
Norfolk Southern Railway also has a major multi-year project slated for ’07: the Heartland Corridor. To be completed in mid-2010, the double-stack container line between Columbus, Ohio, and Norfolk, Va., will shorten NS’ current intermodal route by 300 miles.
In August, crews will begin lowering or realigning track in six tunnels, performing structural modifications to 21 tunnels and modifying eight bridges.
NS’ MOW budget has increased from $496 million in ’06 to $568.4 million in ’07, but not because of the corridor. The road plans to install more rail this year.
“We’ll install 40 more miles of new rail and 40 more miles of relay rail,” says NS VP of Engineering Gary Woods.
The railroad will install the following double track: 8.8 miles in Jamestown, N.C., 5.1 miles in Lindale, Ga., 4.7 miles in Howardville, Tenn., and 2.4 miles in Irondale, Ala. NS also will replace 90 miles of curved rail — a typical amount for a given year, says Woods.
KeywordsBrowse articles on maintenance of way spending MOW spending infrastructure spending track maintenance railroad maintenance railroad capital spending rail spending Union Pacific BNSF Norfolk Southern CSX CN Canadian National Canadian Pacific Kansas City Southern KCS Ferromex
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