Once the responsibility of gandy dancers traveling in handcars, railroad track maintenance has come a long way in the past 150 years, particularly in regards to the equipment and technologies available to perform upkeep procedures. Today, the track maintenance business is all grown up, as North American rail operators spend about $6 billion a year on related products and services.
Despite this growth, one thing still holds true — railroad track needs consistent, thorough maintenance to remain in good order. And the faster the train or the higher the occupancy, the more frequent maintenance duties need to be performed.
Rail track maintenance primarily involves a combination of routine inspection, cleaning tracks, replacing worn rails, draining ballast, clearing the right of way, checking catenary and correcting shifts in the track caused by the trains’ centrifugal force. It is also important to control the effects of the environment, which include snow, ice and unwanted plants and weeds.
Many intangibles also underscore the importance of good track maintenance. For example, in autumn when leaves begin to fall, they often come to rest on tracks and, over time, leave an oily residue that can cause problems with the operation of trains. It is important to keep railways clear at all times of waste, debris and environmental byproducts.
Track maintenance is performed by a variety of specialized machines. These include ballast cleaners and regulators, tamping machines, track stabilizers and an assortment of other heavy equipment. There is only a handful of highly specialized companies that currently supplies the majority of these and other track maintenance technologies to the North American public transit industry. Here, METRO gives a brief glance at several of the more prominent providers.
Plasser American Corp.
Plasser American Corp., based in Chesapeake, Va., is known for offering an extensive array of track maintenance machines to both freight and passenger rail applications. With more than 50 years of experience, the company has worked with numerous agencies and has thousands of machines in use around the nation and worldwide.
Among the company’s more popular products is the 09 DYNA-C.A.T., a combination switch/production tamping machine (which corrects rail surface, cross-level and alignment) with dynamic track stabilization capabilities. Plasser also offers the PTS 61 C that performs both track stabilization and catenary measuring. Additionally, Plasser’s high-capacity ballast cleaning machines provide for properly drained ballast sections resulting in longer track life and extended maintenance cycles. The company also provides grinders, regulators, stabilizers, welders, catenary maintenance machines, parts and training for its equipment.
Progress Rail Services
Albertville, Ala.-based Progress Rail Services supplies trackwork components, maintenance-of-way equipment, railway parts, repair facilities and more. Progress Rail Services is one of the largest providers of railway products and services in North America, with facilities in 27 states, Canada and Mexico.
Progress Rail provides cranes, regulators, welders, ballast cleaners, right-of-way cleaners and various other machines through its subsidiaries Kershaw Mfg. and All-Track Equipment.
Portec Rail Products Inc.
Portec Rail Products Inc., headquartered in Pittsburgh, has provided rail freight and transit operators with maintenance and engineering products and services for 100 years.
Trackwork products include rail lubrication and friction management systems designed to reduce wear, increase productivity and save money. Portec also offers an array of other machinery such as locomotive pullers, rail joints, anchors and environment-friendly cleaners and degreasing chemicals for rail protection.
Loram Maintenance of Way
Since 1954, Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. in Hamel, Minn., has been providing railroad maintenance equipment and services in three specialized areas — rail grinding, ballast cleaning and ditching.
Loram’s RG48 rail grinder reduces irregularities in rail to extend track life. The HP Shoulder ballast cleaner drains and reinforces ballast, while the Badger ditch cleaner uses a swinging boom to take care of ditches on either side of the railway. The company also provides a variety of digging, excavation, cleaning and draining tools, with support service and training available on all products.
Harsco Track Technologies
Harsco Track Technologies in Columbia, S.C., provides a number of track maintenance tools to the rail industry, including tampers, grinders, ballast maintenance equipment and maintenance software.
Ballast Tools Inc.
Ballast Tools Inc. provides maintenance-of-way products such as tampers and ballast regulators. The company is based in Crystal City, Mo., and uses an ISO 9000-2001-certified production process to manufacture its range of tools.
Geismer Modern Track
Geismar Modern Track Machinery has been serving the North American railroad industry for 30 years. The company offers a line of track maintenance products that includes tampers, catenary maintenance equipment, cranes and pullers.