Friday, March 23, 2012

Boosting ballast for better track

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Suppliers use the latest technology to offer superior ballast maintenance services and machinery.

Suppliers up their ballast maintenance offerings to include GPS technology and other upgraded effrorts to ensure a safe and smooth right-of-way for the railroads.

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Georgetown's BallastSaver scan, using LIDAR technology.

Balfour Beatty

During the past 12 months, Balfour Beatty Rail, Inc. has made a significant investment in its Track Solutions division, particularly its maintenance-of-way equipment. These investments include the acquisition of three new high-output MK IV tampers and a new range of track inspection and measurement technologies designed to support maintenance-of-way activities.

“Through the use of these technologies and a new process called Work Order Recommendation (WOR), Balfour Beatty Rail is able to provide scientific information with unrivaled accuracy,” said R.T. Swindall, director of track solutions. “It enables us to make recommendations to the client regarding the most cost-effective and appropriate method of track maintenance. Recommendations may include surfacing, undercutting, shoulder cleaning and/or track and drainage work or nothing at all. This approach to MOW has proven to reduce the need for costly rework, improve track utilization and maximize budgets.”

The results are available via the Rail Asset Scanning Car (RASC) Viewing desktop software tool. It offers a flexible range of datasets in a synchronized format that clients can use to perform high-level track inspections, planning of maintenance and repair. Data sets include Ground Penetrating Radar metrics, ballast/structure profile, track video, track geometry metrics, terrain mapping and GPS-positioned results within Google Earth.

“Through advanced laser lining and computerized operations, our fleet of new MK IV tampers is setting unprecedented daily production records for surfacing, allowing Balfour Beatty Rail to deliver a superior quality product at an affordable price for our clients,” noted Swindall.

Brandt

Brandt Road Rail Inc. opened a new contract services division (Brandt Rail Services) in the U.S. last year. The new division provides packaged services utilizing the Brandt family of rail products. Daily and weekly packages are available for the Brandt Power Unit, the Brandt Rail Tool and the OTM Tracker units. The company provides services including: spot undercutting and ballast car pulling, Power Unit emergency use and high-production car-top material loading and unloading. This new division offers its customers an option for getting more work done, safely and quickly.

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A scan taken by using Herzog's Pro Scan Lidar truck.

BTE/BTI

Ballast Tools Equipment Company has been developing and implementing innovative solutions for both on-track and off-track maintenance equipment. BTE has introduced a line of products that will easily attach to various sizes of excavators and backhoes. These attachments include tie-handling, undercutting and tamping units, high-rail systems and other specialized components for bridge work and repair. 

“The railroads have been looking for answers to spot track problems,” said the BTE engineering sales teams. “The BTE Beast excavator undercutter offers ‘More power to the cut’ with a high-horsepower dedicated drive chain drive system, spoils-removal wheel and bar lengths of up to 18 feet, to undercut a full switch track in a single pass. This machine also clears its own path with the BTE spoils wheel, allowing faster, continuous undercutting.”

Ballast maintenance introduces many challenges and areas for improvement in efficiency, safety and productivity, notes the staff.
BTE has recently built ballast testing equipment to gauge ballast performance and breakdown in controlled cyclical loading situations. BTE is partnering with customers to meet their project needs with innovative and custom solutions. 

“Ballast Tools Incorporated is innovating ballast regulator broom box baffles with a long-wearing skeleton baffle system that will make baffle maintenance and change-outs much easier,” explained the team. “Now available for all models and makes of machines, the installation of BTI’s skeleton baffle (a framework which carries highly wear-resistant wear plates) will allow an operator or mechanic to efficiently replace individual baffle wear plates as required. This will avoid the dangerous and time consuming process of complete baffle replacement.”

With the cost of materials and labor consistently on the rise, the company’s customers are looking for parts that will wear longer, perform better and protect both the bottom line and equipment. 

“Our efforts focus on engineering and building the best wear-resistant tungsten carbide parts to protect the ground engagement (wear) components of MOW equipment,” the staff noted. “This year, we have been targeting and improving performance in adzer bits, regulator wings and tamping tools. 

We are also introducing high-performance chains and bits

for a variety of undercutting/ballast-cleaning equipment.”

BTI is currently engineering and testing improved tamping tools for mainline tamping machines for both concrete and wood tie applications. BTI is also focusing on a green packaging initiative to combine better product delivery with easy recyclability.

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Montana Hydraulics' ballast plow located at the center of the car.

Dymax

“With thousands of operating hours worldwide, DymaxRail ballast undercutters have proven they demand the least amount of maintenance, helping operators achieve maximum production during precious on-track time,” said Scott Balderson, vice president of Dymax.

Dymax says it achieves its goals through innovation and by keeping customers’ needs foremost in mind. Balderson says the company engineers its ballast undercutters to meet the railroads’ demands for efficient, low-maintenance, highly-productive ballast management tools. In the past year, Dymax has made enhancements to the DymaxRail Ballast Blaster undercutter line, including full 360-degree rotation of the cutting bar, allowing ballast to be remediated from both sides of the track and cutting loss of limited track time spent to adjust the position of the undercutter.

“With an advanced hydraulic nose tensioning system, the undercutter’s chain always stays tight,” he explains. “There’s never a need for manual tightening. Dymax’s exclusive tooth design with double-carbide tips allows the chain to cut both forward and reverse, significantly increasing productivity.”

Balderson noted that one customer told him, “finally, someone listened.”

DymaxRail offers Ballast Blaster undercutters for Caterpillar, Komatsu, John Deere, Volvo and many other machine brands. In 2012, the company will expand the Ballast Blaster line from three to five models, making both larger and smaller undercutters to accommodate the needs of railroad customers worldwide.

Georgetown

“Since its inception in 1993, Georgetown Rail Equipment Company (GREX) has become a leader in ballast maintenance tools for the railroad industry, offering many innovations now recognized as a ‘best practice’,” said Lynn Turner, vice president of marketing and sales. 

Some of these tools include the Dump Train, Slot Machine, SPS and GateSync. The Dump Train is regularly utilized for many different types of jobs such as, but not limited to: stockpiling, crossing rehabilitation, new track construction and flood recovery. In 2005, GREX introduced the Solaris/GateSync system, which allows railroads to convert and modernize existing assets for the automation of ballast delivery. Consisting of an upgrade kit that is installed onto manually-operated ballast cars, Solaris/GateSync allows for automated delivery at speeds of up to 10 miles-per-hour. In 2011, GREX unveiled its most recent technology enhancement to the GateSync System and dubbed it BallastSaver.

“BallastSaver’s goal is to remove the guesswork from ballast management,” explained Turner. “It employs state-of-the-art LIDAR technology, an encoder wheel and videography to determine the exact amount of ballast required to achieve the customer’s ‘ideal’ ballast profile. Once the amount of ballast needed is determined, the data can then be directly fed into the system for precision delivery of the ballast at speeds of up to 10 miles-per-hour. BallastSaver assures that the exact amount of ballast required is ordered then delivered precisely where it is needed. The data derived from BallastSaver allows for budget tightening without sacrificing safety and the integrity of the track by helping to prioritize annual ballast programs.”

Along with the addition of BallastSaver, GREX is also working on an expansion program of its fleet of traditional equipment to keep up with the market demand. “GREX has become known by its slogan, ‘A Better Way to Work’,” says Turner. 

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The BTE clipper in use.

Herzog

“The future has arrived and Herzog Railroad Services Inc. is again forging the way,” noted Timothy Francis, vice president of marketing at Herzog Railroad Services, Inc.  “Our industry-leading high-speed ballast unloading system is even better. The pre-dump survey is as important as the ballast spread itself.” 

Francis notes the Herzog Pro Scan Lidar truck will take the guesswork out of the survey, speed it up and ensure that the ballast spread is more accurate. Instead of a standard pre-dump survey, in which the technician rides with the railroad, Herzog would survey with its Lidar truck and scan that same track surface. That information would be uploaded into the Herzog GPS train for a seamless ballast spread that fulfills the template provided by the railroad. 

“The railroads spend millions of dollars per year on their ballast programs in order to maintain the integrity of their track surface and lengthen the life span of their ties and rail,” explained Francis. “Incorporating this cutting-edge technology will remove the potential human miscalculation and ensure ballast is placed where it is needed.”

This technology is capable of working in conjunction with Herzog’s first generation P.L.U.S. train and second generation SMART train. The Herzog Pro Scan Lidar truck is said to improve ballast unloading efficiency and speed up survey times. It also promises to reduce cycle times, allow for better resource utilization and reduce the time needed to surface the track because too little or too much ballast was dumped. 

Knox Kershaw Inc.

Knox Kershaw Inc. recently introduced a new snow switch cleaner attachment with a high-capacity blower unit to complement their new KSF 940 snow fighter/ballast regulator. 

The company is currently developing dual-gauge ballast regulators for railroads with two more gauges, so one machine can be utilized throughout its systems. 

“We have also upgraded our small tie inserter to include joysticks and an air-conditioned cab,” noted George Pugh, vice president of operations. “This economically-priced machine will enable a small crew to exchange several ties an hour; it can also power the necessary hand tools required to finalize the installation process.”

Over the past year, Knox Kershaw Inc. has received requests from customers to design a brush cutter attachment for its ballast regulator. Due to the demand, this option is in the prototype stage and should be available for purchase in 2013.

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Loram's Track Lifter on Union Pacific tracks.

Loram

Loram Maintenance of Way, Inc., has continued development and testing of its Track Lifter Undercutter (TLU) Series, which is said to provide a more productive and cost-effective alternative to traditional undercutting services. With growing demand in North America and globally, Loram’s third Track Lifter will be introduced in summer 2012. 

“BNSF and Union Pacific utilized the Track Lifter throughout 2011 to address track issues associated with the spring floods,” noted Joe Ashley, manager of marketing and product development. “The Track Lifter lifted track up to 10 inches to allow ballast to fall through the track, reestablishing strong track structures. BNSF plans to continue use of the machine through 2012. Canadian National has been using the Track Lifter to establish a firm track foundation and adequate drainage. Traditionally, CN elevated the track with multiple lifts from several tampers. By using the Loram Track Lifter in conjunction with tamping equipment, the track rehabilitation process is expedited and CN’s total cost is lowered by using less tamping equipment.”

Loram continues to offer several ballast services including high performance shoulder ballast cleaning services, spot undercutting services with the Loram Railvac and track lifting services with the Track Lifter Undercutter Series. Loram’s services have not changed in the past year. However, Ashley says Class 1, shortline and transit demand for all of Loram’s ballast services continues to grow. 

“As track windows shrink, it becomes even more important to have high production equipment that is ready to go when the track window opens,” he noted. “To meet this need, Loram designs and maintains its equipment to operate efficiently at 98 percent reliability.”

Miner

Miner Enterprises, Inc., has been developing a plowing system to add to existing aggregate cars.

The company has recently applied a prototype of a new midcar plow system on a Class 1 railroad. The system is mounted to new and existing ballast cars and features stand-alone technology. This technology allows the plow system to be applied to any ballast car (manual, air, hydraulic or electric).

“Miner is the largest and most experienced manufacturer of discharge systems in the world with more than 800,000 discharge gates in service known for reliable operation, rugged long-lasting endurance, reduced maintenance and dependability and more than 4,500 carsets of ballast gates in service worldwide,” explained Christopher Gaydos, manager mechanism engineering. “Miner continues to offer AggreGate ballast discharge outlets in either manual, air-operated, electric and remote-control models to meet virtually any ballast unloading need.”

Gaydos says railroads have been asking for a safe, retrofit-able, maintenance-free way to ballast and that is what Miner is developing its systems to provide.

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The Brandt Rail Tool in action.

Montana Hydraulics

Montana Hydraulics LLC has developed a new type of ballast plow designed to mount in the center of the car. The plow is bi-directional and the blades automatically angle to the direction of plowing when leveling ballast. When the plow is raised, the blades fold in automatically to meet Plate C clearances. The plow is 118 inches in the plow position and folds up to a width of 96 inches in the transport position.

Traditionally, a ballast car with two plows had to be used or maintenance crews had to place a tie in front of the trucks of the car to level ballast. Now, ballast leveling can be accomplished with the use of one plow, hydraulically, no matter which direction the car is moving. The plow features railroad duty hydraulic cylinders and a rephrasing flow divider. This, plus its unique design, is said to keep the plow in constant contact with the rail to ensure complete ballast leveling.

“We have been working with railroads to develop products that improve existing operations for track maintenance,” explained Gerald Zeigler, technical specialist. “Montana Hydraulics LLC has years of experience providing service contracts to maintain all hydraulic and pneumatic operated ballast systems and that extensive field experience has enabled us to develop safer and more productive solutions for ballast unloading systems. We are finding new and innovative ways to improve the reliability, efficiency and safety of existing ballast unloading systems and reduce maintenance and down time.”

Montana Hydraulics is now testing a new type of air cylinder for side dump ballast cars that reduces maintenance and makes the unloading process safer and more efficient. 

“Our goal is to offer products and services to our customers so that they can achieve 100 percent dump rates with their ballast unloading systems,” said Zeigler. “This means offering products that make ballast systems more reliable, less costly to operate and service programs to maintain and repair ballast unloading systems so the railroads can maximize their existing rolling stock.”

Nordco

Recently, Nordco introduced ballast regulator attachments that are transit and third-rail friendly and meet the clearance diagrams of most transits.

Additionally, the company introduced a new product that is designed to help reduce on-track safety incidents involving work equipment. 

“The Nordstar Proximity Awareness System creates ‘virtual’ alarm zones and warns the equipment operators with audible and visual alarms when other machines are too close or if another machine is approaching too fast, so both operators have an opportunity to react,” explained Bob Coakley, director of sales and marketing.

Some benefits of the Nordstar Proximity Awareness System include a real-time system that helps maintain safe and proper distance between work equipment; “virtual” alarm zones that are based on speed, proximity and predictive analysis; it triggers alarms if machines are too close, or closing speed is too fast; Nordstar works when machines are located around curves or are obscured by weather or geographic features. It’s as if the operator can “see” through fog, around corners or through hills and it can retrofit to any piece of work equipment or on-track vehicle.

The NordStar system was created based on feedback and input from the railroads and their desire to improve safety and reduce incidents involving work equipment.

RCE

Rail Construction Equipment Company focuses on machines that can do work on or off the rails.

“Our high-rail excavators equipped with our 12-inch under cutter bar, which has taken off because of its ability to work on-or-off track,” said Dennis Hanke, railroad specialist at Rail Construction Equipment Company.

In the past year, leasing of RCE’s under cutting equipment has increased.

“Mostly, [railroads] have been looking for the ability to lease machines that offer flexibility so they can perform additional rail maintenance tasks besides the under cutting process,” explained Hanke. “This has worked well for our type of equipment that we offer at RCE.”

RCE will be announcing more machine sizes and under cutter bar lengths this year to provide more options to its customer base.

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