Track fastening systems are seeing steady and increasing business from the Class 1s, shortlines and transits, as suppliers produce these ever-important pieces to keep track in place.
Amsted says 2014 has been a steady year of growth. The company says it takes great pride in listening to customers and as railroads evolve, new developments and initiatives for the Amsted RPS line of fastening solutions do, as well.
Amsted RPS says it has expanded its product portfolio to support the industry's growth. After its introduction of the ME63 "Skl" style system for heavy-haul applications last fall, the company launched production of the Amsted RPS e-clip style, elastic fastener clip began, which it manufactures in its Atchison, Kan., facility and is made for use on all types of track, from heavy haul to transit.
"The Amsted RPS e-clip is produced with an innovative low-stress manufacturing process that significantly improves performance and enhances the working range of the clip, offering an improved fatigue limit for long life and reduced maintenance costs," explained John Stout, vice president of sales and marketing.
During 2014, Amsted RPS focused on the development of fastening systems that last the life of the rail to minimize maintenance and maximize track utilization.
"We continually look for new materials and manufacturing techniques that move our products towards the optimal performance combination of durability and resilience, while still being easy to install and maintain," said Stout. "To support this trend, Amsted RPS has added more than 30 new products over the past three years to our portfolio."
Last year, Amsted RPS entered into a joint venture with Switzerland-based Schwihag AG to manufacture "Skl" style rail fastening systems for global heavy-haul customers. In conjunction with Schwihag, Amsted RPS says it has established new manufacturing capacity at the Atchison, Kan., facility to serve North American Class 1 railroads and provide Buy America-compliant products.
The first product launched from the new venture was the ME63 "Skl" style system. The system includes the ME1 clip, rail pad, abrasion plate, field guide plate, gauge guide plate, screw spike and dowel.
In 2014, Amsted RPS participated in multiple projects, including the supply of their Loadmaster Fastener on the the Gold Line and Union Station projects in Denver, Colo.
"The Loadmaster is a dual-stiffness, rugged, resilient track fastener specifically designed to provide railroads with a greater range of options for bridge, tunnel or slab applications," noted Stout. "Denver Gold Line selected this product for its containment design providing innate 'fail safe' characteristics not seen in similar products and dual stiffness features to ensure a uniform ride under multiple load conditions while matching the track modulus of ballasted track with a service record of more than 25 years, in some of the most challenging areas in North America."
Ballast Mat is another Amsted RPS product designed to provide reduction of ground or structure borne vibrations and was used on Canadian bridges this past year. Ballast Mat consists of reinforced rubber with the upper surface textured to permit the ballast to nest for track bed stability, load distribution and protection against contaminants that may filter through over time. Amsted RPS carries Type 1, Type 3 and Type 4 for a range of axel loads.
"Studies have shown that Ballast Mat can double the life of the ballast and reduce vertical track modulus by 55 percent in concrete tie track," explained Stout. "Ballast Mats can be ordered in rolls or sheets to meet various project needs and requirements."
"2014 is shaping up to be a very solid year for the fastener business," explained Bill Treacy, general manager, Transit Products, L.B. Foster Co. "While this year we are winding up deliveries for the Honolulu Area Rapid Transit (HART) project, which was the largest single order in company history, we are experiencing a sustained flow of other opportunities among a variety of North American transit agencies. We continue to see these projects come from three key areas: ongoing maintenance programs, rehabilitation and replacement of existing lines and new lines and expansions. We believe that positive momentum will carry over into next year."
Treacy notes that the use of heavy, commuter and light-rail modes of mass transit continues to grow. As U.S. demographics continue to shift towards a younger population, for a variety of reasons, he expects that the use of mass transit will increase and says a lot will depend on the successful passage of the next transportation bill.
"The current legislation, MAP-21, expires at the end of September," he said. "Right now, there is much uncertainty about the duration of the next bill, transit funding and the seemingly conflicting rhetoric coming out of Washington D.C. We have not felt any impact yet, but suspect that the transit agencies do not have a clear view of the future."
L.B. Foster continues to develop new technologies to meet changing industry demands.
"To meet transit agency requirements, our technical efforts revolve around the development of new products for those specific needs," said Korhan Ciloglu, R&D manager, Rail Products. "In addition, we continue our focus on the issue of stray currents in track, which can cause problems, such as electrical interference and premature track degradation due to corrosion. Through the novel use of coatings, we have several solutions involving application to specific elements of the fastener to mitigate stray currents."
Lewis Bolt & Nut
Lewis Bolt & Nut Company says that 2014 has started out ahead of the strong pace it saw in 2013. With record spend at BNSF, along with correspondingly high maintenance-of-way budgets at the other large roads, the railroad supplier base is and should be doing respectable at a minimum, notes Dave Barry, vice president sales.
"Discussions with the Class 1s reveal that this pace should continue for the next few years, barring unforeseen circumstances," he explained. "Sales across all of the Lewis product lines are up (some more than others) from the same period last year. Our Evergrip™ line of tie plate fasteners is once again showing solid growth. Customers continue to appreciate the benefits of this product, especially considering the difficulty in obtaining ample track time.
In recent tests, the Evergrip takes up to 75 percent more torque to turn them out versus traditional screw spikes, Barry says. It also cannot be over driven, as they stop when the meet the plate.
"Old style lags, often based on torque, can be easily overturned (or under), potentially leading to issues, such as broken screws," he said.
Pandrol USA, LP says business has remained strong in 2014 after a record year in 2013 and all of its product lines are seeing strong sales, including fasteners and tie plates, as well as its insulator, tie pads and other plastic parts for its fastening systems.
"North American railroads continue to improve their track systems and increase their capacity to take advantage of the benefits provided by the lower fuel costs to move freight by rail and to meet the needs of shifts in demand," said Breen Reardon, director of sales and marketing.
Reardon says Class 1 railroads are seeing an ever-increasing need for high-strength resilient fastening systems to meet the higher speeds and heavier axle loads generated by today's heavy-haul freight service.
"We have seen growth in resilient fastening systems on both concrete and wood ties," Reardon noted.
Pandrol USA is currently developing a number of new and improved fastening systems for concrete and wood ties working in conjunction with Class 1 railroads. A number of products are currently in track undergoing real world tests and according to the company, are performing well.
Recently, a collaborative effort by Pandrol USA, Arkansas Steel Associates and Southwest Steel Processing in November 2013 was made for new robotic tie plate production lines. The new lines are designed to manufacture Pandrol VICTOR tie plates for wood ties.
"The production line more than doubles the capacity to supply VICTOR tie plates," explained Reardon. "Used in conjunction with either Pandrol 'e' clip or FASTCLIP fastenings, the VICTOR tie plate is becoming the standard railroad tie plate system for Class 1s on wood ties for curves of two degrees or greater on bridges, on curves of more than six degrees and on steep grades."
Each of the two production lines is equipped with an induction furnace, a robot to take the heated base plate to a 1,000-ton press and a robot to place the cast shoulders in place to be swaged into the base plate. Each line produces a finished VICTOR plate every 17 seconds and once the shoulders are swaged in place, Reardon says they have a pull out strength more than double those specified for shoulders in concrete ties.
Pandrol VICTOR plates are available in both 16-inch and 18-inch versions and enable the specification of both the type of shoulder and the hole punching type and pattern required. The tie plates can have holes punched for cut spikes, screw spikes or some combination of the two.
"In the past twelve months we have expanded our captive plastics plant to better meet the needs of our railroad and transit customers," noted Reardon. "The plastic injection molding plant has eight high-capacity injection molding machines and a ninth smaller machine for prototyping and short production runs. The plant is solely dedicated to the production of railroad tie pads and insulators that are used with Pandrol's track fastening systems. By vertically integrating to produce tie pads and insulators, as well as rail clips for the various Pandrol fastening systems, we are able to more effectively meet our customers' requirements and control product quality."
Rail Forge has seen recent growth in sales of its GageLok threaded fasteners and says business has been quite strong in 2014.
Driving this growth in sales is the ability of GageLok screws to be installed without pre-drilling, enabling more rail operators to employ the holding power of a threaded fastener, says the company.
"Traffic is high across the rail networks and that is certainly driving a need for increased track maintenance," explained Keith Ishaug, chief executive officer. "This is leading to more and more opportunities for Rail Forge. Railroads have seen how they can obtain superior fastening performance with our GageLok screws while saving valuable track time and money compared to other options."
The company is seeing business being driven across multiple segments of the market, including Class 1s, shortlines, as well as passenger railroads and industrial customers.
Projects range from standard maintenance and renewal projects to special projects undertaken to facilitate new traffic routing patterns associated with ever-increasing movements of energy products from North Dakota, Ishaug explains.
Ishaug also noted GageLok screws are increasingly being specified as the fastener of choice for resilient fastener plates and also in applications using composite ties.
Looking to the future, Rail Forge is developing fasteners with special security features designed to reduce theft and vandalism for locations where these problems exist. The company plans to reveal other new innovations at the AREMA Conference in September.
Vossloh Fastening Systems business levels have been increasing every year, notes Ron Martin, vice president and general manager.
"As more railroads and transits understand the systems and their benefits, complete their field testing and have the results from their labs and ours, the confidence level for our fastening systems has been very high," said Martin. "We have seen a steady uptick in the demand for our products from all rail sectors. The increase in confidence in our engineered products is not surprising. When the system is fully understood and all the benefits are taken into account for durability, reliability, maintenance requirements and long-term costs, our system consistently shows its value. We do extensive testing on all systems from the inception of the design to post field implementation, this is when we like to get material back from the field and do extensive testing, so even the best designs can be made better as field and lab testing is used to validate all aspects of the systems design and durability. Some of our customers do their own testing and have already validated the superiority of the system design."
Vossloh has a new manufacturing facility located just outside Waco, Texas, and will look after all business needs for North America, allowing the company to meet Buy America requirements, as well as allow more control in the development of new engineered products and systems. The company says the facility is equipped with the latest technology for quality testing of all components and will also be outfitted as a test and research lab, which will allow the same testing done presently at its plant in Werdohl, Germany.
"Vossloh Fastening Systems is always looking at product development scenarios to provide the best solutions to the most difficult challenges a railroad or transit may have," explained Martin. "With our engineering and new quality groups' abilities and our newer test facility coming on line soon, we will be in a very positive position to work closely with our customers on solutions they require."
One specific new development this year is Vossloh's new generation dowel and screw combination.
"Optimization in the geometry of both components and a modified dowel material result in decreased stresses within the concrete and improved passage of fines and water, leading to improved crosstie performance and longer life cycles," Martin said.
He notes that the Vossloh Fastening System is designed with components that exceed the requirements of standards and performance specifications. Each component goes through its own rigorous set of tests and design criteria to ensure the assembly performs as a system where the components interact with each other as designed.