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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

They've been working on the railroad to make the tracks smoother

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Sparks have been flying along Yuba-Sutter railroad tracks near Marysville, Calif., in the last few days, the Appeal-Democrat reports. Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. wrapped up its periodic grinding of area Union Pacific rails March 22 after smoothing nearly 100 miles of local tracks. The routine maintenance eliminates cracks caused by typical train traffic.

Grinding improves rail safety by maintaining the wheel-rail interface, and it also raises fuel efficiency, minimizes noise and increases ride smoothness, said Joe Ashley, manager of marketing and business development. He compares the importance of rail grinding to a process many Yuba-Sutter residents can understand - "It's a bit like pruning a tree," Ashley said.

Without the routine maintenance, the rail metal starts to fatigue and crack. Cracks not caught when small can grow exponentially, and then create safety hazards and require costly and time-consuming replacements.

Rail quality, while important everywhere, is crucial in Yuba Sutter. Binney Junction is the intersection of the major north-south line between Roseville and Portland and a major east-west line that starts in Sacramento. Train traffic figures at the crossing near Marysville High School were not available.

The region's frequent train traffic is a bit of a balancing act for the railroad and Loram, Ashley said.

"While railroads want to grind rails so they are safe and smooth, when our grinder is out there, they are not making any money," he said.

The maintenance company has been grinding Union Pacific rails for more than 20 years, with a focus on speed, performance and reliability, Ashley said. The grinder runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week, and can smooth 15-50 miles a day.

Loram is the only rail grinding company that can operate under the California Air Resources Board's strict standards, because it has a system that captures most of the dust created in the process, Ashley said. The dust is nontoxic but can be a nuisance.

As the golden-yellow machine roared across the region this week, sparks flew from the undercarriage during grinding. A following stream of water shot across the tracks and surrounding areas to minimize fire risks.

Two men standing on the rear of the caboose watch for fires and monitored grinding quality as residents responded with smiles and waves, said Michael Brownfield, assistant regional manager of production rail grinding.

"Back in the old days everybody waved at people on the back of the caboose," he said.