Suppliers have done their homework when it comes to developing fastening systems to keep track secure and railroad budgets in line.
Increased traffic along freight lines and ridership growth on transits is fueling a healthy demand for track fastening systems. Manufacturers are allying resources among organizational divisions and across companies to speed up production, develop new solutions and control cost, while extending service life.
Collaboration has been a valuable tool to Amsted RPS, allowing the company to enhance and expand its product offering. The company recently announced a joint venture with Switzerland-based Schwihag AG, which specializes in the development and manufacturing of advanced switch and rail fastening technologies. Amsted RPS says this combined effort will result in the manufacture of "Skl"-style rail fastening systems for the worldwide heavy-haul market.
The first product launch from this new "Skl" system is the ME63. The system includes the ME1 clip, rail pad, abrasion plate, field guide plate, gauge guide plate, screw spike and dowel.
"An advanced manufacturing technology is used, resulting in less stress present in the clip and a higher fatigue limit, resulting in longer life and reduced maintenance costs," said Jose Mediavilla, director of engineering.
Last year, Amsted RPS partnered with edilon)(sedra, a Netherlands-based company known for its noise and vibration reducing products. The partnership allows Amsted RPS to provide a line of complementary products to its resilient bonded direct fixation fasteners, such as embedded block, embedded rail systems and resilient Trackelast pads.
The company continues to manufacture bonded fastening systems, such as the System Wide series, which is engineered for standard direct fixation applications and specialty fasteners, such as the Egg and Loadmaster, which were designed for high attenuation and heavy-axel-load environments. Additionally, Amsted RPS says it continues to evolve its MACRO Armor line, developed to repair abraded and protect new concrete ties with the ultra abrasion resistant and highly-durable MACRO material. An added benefit of the material is that it can be molded into shapes that act as a form, allowing epoxy to be pumped through the MACRO Armor repair plate to fill the void created by rail seat abrasion.
The company's Atchison, Kan., manufacturing facility will be expanded to accommodate capacity for new products, as well as meet "Buy America" compliance requirements.
"Over the past five years, we have invested in a number of process improvements for rail anchors, added a new flat stock clip line to make our 2000 and 6030LR Safelok style clips, built a state-of-the-art test laboratory and we are now building a round bar clip line for ME1 production to support our customer's need for high quality, U.S.-based manufacturing," said Wes Hodges, vice president and general manager.
Amsted RPS says listening to its customers is what steers product development initiatives and as those customer needs evolve, so do the products offered.
Amsted RPS points to its 6030LR rail clip as one example of this development. The company says the 6030LR has a longer reach than the 2000 or standard Safelok-style clips, a higher toe load and a higher fatigue limit. The company has also introduced two products in response to industry needs. The first, the Amsted RPS Under Tie Pad (UTP) by edilon)(sendra, consists of elastic polymer layers affixed or integrated on the underside of the concrete or wood ties for use in ballasted track to prevent degradation, protect railroad structures and provide noise and vibration attenuation.
"The benefits of our UTPs include: easy in-plant installation, reduction of vertical track modulus, resistance to deterioration in harsh environments, extended life of ballasted track bridge decks and prolonged tie life," said John Stout, director of sales.
The second new product is the Loadmaster Timber Tie Fasteners. Amsted RPS said its engineers took the technology of the Loadmaster and adapted the product for use on open-deck timber bridges. The company says Loadmaster Timber Tie Fasteners can be used to match the track modulus of the adjacent ballasted track with that of open deck bridges thereby increasing the life of the structures and reducing maintenance on the ties and bridge ends.
"We are constantly looking for new materials and manufacturing techniques that move our products toward the optimal performance combination of durability and resilience, while still being easy to install and maintain," said Mediavilla.
Markets for the company's various direct fixation fastening systems in late 2012 and 2013 continue to slowly improve.
Per L.B. Foster, passage of the latest U.S. transportation legislation, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), last summer, gave some stability to federal funding of transit projects across the U.S. However, as this bill expires in September 2014, it does not give the length of time wanted as the successor to the six-year SAFETEA-LU and it kept funding essentially flat rather than increase spending, but it will encourage a number of projects to come forward. In addition, mass transit ridership in general and the use of heavy, commuter and light-rail modes in particular, continues to grow. According to the American Public Transportation Association, ridership on those three forms of rail grew by 1.6 percent in 2012 and had increased in 10 consecutive quarters before slipping slightly the past two quarters. Use of mass transit continues to expand as U.S. demographics shift towards a younger population.
Specifically, the company's Transit Products team participated in a number of projects in supplying Direct Fixation Fasteners to New York City Transit, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and other agencies.
Last year, the company also won the largest award of business in L.B. Foster history for rail and related accessories for Honolulu Area Rapid Transit. Included in that award are approximately 170,000 Direct Fixation Fasteners. Shipment of those fasteners will begin later this year, continuing into 2014. L.B. Foster worked closely with the contractor, Kiewit/Kobayhashi, on this project.
The company also continues to develop new fastening technologies to meet changing industry demands. Per Korhan Ciloglu, R&D manager, Rail Products, stray currents in track cause numerous headaches for transit operators, including interference and premature track degradation due to corrosion.
"Based on feedback from our customers in North America and abroad, we are in the midst of developing new solutions that will mitigate stray currents. These solutions will provide significant operating and maintenance benefits to our customers," said Ciloglu.
The Transit Products team also continues to work quite closely with other product teams within L.B. Foster to bring new designs forward. Resilient Ties were supplied to BART with the support of the CXT® Concrete Ties team. And utilizing the unique talents and technical consulting capabilities of the UK team in Sheffield, the company continues to establish a growing presence in global transit markets. As a result of steadily growing markets and internal collaboration to develop unique technical solutions, L.B. Foster remains quite optimistic about the future of fastening products.
Lewis Bolt & Nut
"We're continually looking to innovate with new products and to improve those already on the market. An example is the patented Evergrip™ Spike. Since its introduction, we've made numerous improvements to extend the service life and improve production times for our customers," said Dave Barry, vice president-sales at Lewis Bolt & Nut Company.
Barry named several of these improvements, including a refined point for installation ease, the addition of a double head for removing with a spike puller and increasing the strength properties.
Realizing that some customers prefer to use typical AREMA square hole tie plates, Lewis Bolt used the Evergrip concept and applied to it to the new Permagrip™ Spike meant to be used in square holes.
"With an 11/16-inch diameter and lengths to 6-3/4 inches, the Permagrip really is filling an important need by offering a tremendous improvement in gauge control without the need to change to round hole plates," said Barry. "Like the Evergrip, the patented Permagrip can be driven or turned in. The built in fins lock the spike in place, thus preventing backout. The part is now being produced with or without a 13-degree beveled washer to go against the rail base or to use in gauge holes."
Citing customers' need for quick product turnaround, Barry points out the company has expanded operations by adding primarily warehouse space, which will help the company to inventory more material to meet the demand.
Pandrol USA says 2013 has continued the strong demand for high performance elastic fastening systems the company experienced in 2012.
"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, including the increasing need to transport crude oil by rail as a result of the boom caused by the availability of shale oil," said Pandrol.
The company says its fastening systems are finding a place among track in heavy-haul freight service in territories with high degrees of curvature and grade. According to Pandrol, railroads are looking for fastening systems that can withstand the challenges presented by these operating conditions, providing both the holding power and durability required. Additionally, Pandrol says the stiffer track modulus provided by its fastenings increase locomotive fuel economy.
Pandrol USA also notes it continues to upgrade and improve its product line and its manufacturing facilities, such as adopting changes in its fastening manufacturing facility that streamlined its production and increased efficiency.
The company has also invested a significant amount of money in a captive plastics plant located near its facility in Bridgeport, N.J. This investment has added machinery to increase production of tie pads and insulators, as well as undertake a research and development program to determine the best plastic materials for insulators and pads in differing operating conditions. Both railroads and resin manufacturers are providing assistance to this program, which has involved the development of new testing rigs and new and revised material formulations. Pandrol says the development program is expected to result in parts designed to better meet tough operating conditions, as well as increasing the life for the plastic parts that are an integral part of today's fastening systems.
"Pandrol has always been on the forefront of development of new fastening systems for the railroad industry. We are committed to a program of new product development and the constant review of our existing products to modify them where appropriate," said the company.
"As part of this ongoing effort, we are currently making improvements to the Pandrol VICTOR plate system for wood ties that has seen a rapid increase in market share. The improvements, which include modifications to the shoulder design, strengthen the system and alleviate torque and turning issues that could occur under severe operating conditions. The Pandrol VICTOR system combines the durability of an AREA tie plate with the benefits of resilient fastenings. The flat tie plate provides a bearing area 37 percent greater than existing tie plates for resilient fastenings," said Pandrol. "The use of Pandrol's fastenings provides all of the advantages of resilient fastenings – holding power, prevention of rail rollover and reduced maintenance. Testing, with 39-ton-axle-loads, has shown a five-fold decrease in gauge widening when using resilient fastenings on wood ties. The Pandrol VICTOR system is demonstrating its value on bridges and curves with significant annual tonnage."
Rail Forge LLC manufactures screws and fasteners that have been developed with installation ease in mind.
"Rail Forge manufactures GageLok screws with a unique design, which allows for insertion into wooden ties without pre-drilling," said Keith Ishaug, the company's CEO. "Customers have long-enjoyed the benefits of the GageLok 11/16 as fasteners for use in standard double-shoulder plates. Working with our customers, we have developed several new screws that bring the same easy installation to other applications. GageLok 3/4 Plus and GageLok 3/4 PL were developed for use in roll plates, switch stands and other plates with round holes up to one inch. GageLok 3/4 LS was developed with a longer shank for use with insulating bushings on electric tracks systems."
Rail Forge, which entered the North American market in 2010, recently opened a new 42,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Morton Grove, Ill. Ishaug says this plant gives the company a centrally-located facility to supply North American railroads and contractors with its rail fasteners, while also housing the company's product development, testing and demonstration centers to drive Rail Forge innovation and quality that is required by the rail industry.
"The rail industry is driven by performance and safety requirements and our products help them achieve those goals," said Ishaug. "For example, using GageLok 11/16 to replace cut spikes allows railroads to significantly reduce gauge and rail rollover issues at a very low cost, improving both performance and safety for our customers. These fastening applications require the proper combination of strength and ductility in the fastener. We work closely with track standards engineers, suppliers and independent testing laboratories on our product design, material selection and production processes to ensure the reliability of GageLok fasteners."
Vossloh Fastening Systems
Vossloh Fastening Systems, part of the Vossloh Group, relies on research and development rather than a "one-size fits all" approach to fastener design.
"Vossloh Fastening Systems is constantly assessing our products, how they perform in our lab and in the field and what we can do to achieve a lower life-cycle cost for our partners. With systems in more than 100 countries and on applications from extreme heavy haul to high speed and urban transit operations, we are educated on all types of operations and have helped develop cost-effective solutions for all users," said the company. "With our extensive laboratory capabilities and constant field presence, we are able to research the best dynamics for any applications requirements and develop the correct system as a solution, whether that be low-axle weight and noise suppression or extreme heavy-haul with tight curves and steep grades."
The company points to its W 40 HH, which was specifically designed for the extreme U.S. heavy-haul market, as one example of its focused research efforts. According to Vossloh, the W 40 HH, maintains the toe load forces longer and enhances the lateral and vertical holding forces, while providing higher fatigue limits to ensure a longer working life and reduced life-cycle costs.
"While accomplishing these goals, we were also able to increase the horizontal forces to ensure a higher level of rail creep resistance. We also developed new support components that help enhance the performance of the whole system and extend its life cycle and reliability," said Vossloh.
Vossloh Fastening Systems believes all its products achieve the goal of high reliability and provide the best performing systems, while controlling the cost of ownership.
"[Our partners have] asked for the most reliable, robust and easiest to maintain systems possible and we've given them what they want," said Vossloh. "As the market here and internationally changes and develops, new and more complex issues to be resolved, like rail life performance, rolling contact fatigue and its relation to the track structure influence and tie life issues, like rail seat abrasion issues, Vossloh will continue to be on the cutting edge of new developments to resolve or minimize the impact of these issues."