As speeds increase on the rails in North America and Mexico, suppliers for specialized trackwork materials and services are upping the ante on product offerings and railroads are answering with increased investment in the areas of diamonds, frogs, turnouts, crossovers and switches.
Cleveland Track Material
Cleveland Track Material currently has special trackwork projects in various stages of completion for transits in Portland, Ore., Minneapolis, Minn., Chicago, Ill., Calgary, AB, Canada, Boston, Mass., Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Pa., and in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition, CTM has several trackwork projects for various New York City-based transits. The projects vary from existing maintenance items and upgrades, all the way up to major extensions and line renewals. The company notes that Class 1 trackwork orders have continued to keep business lively.
CTM has recently initiated several new product design improvements and new product developments that are currently in various stages and destined for testing and evaluation when completed. CTM is in the processing of upgrading its various facilities with about $5 million worth of new equipment coming on line to improve product flow and targeted to maintain the delivery requirements of customers.
Railroads in Mexico are demanding more innovative specialty trackwork, notes Mexico-based company Nortrak-Damy.
"We are following what voestalpine Nortrak is doing in the U.S., said Alex Damy, director general and CEO. "We are in the process to introduce hytronics with the different Class 1 railroads in Mexico. Different switch machines are in the testing process. Railroads are demanding more and more BNSF/UP common standard materials. We have done tests with Class 1s on the jump frog and WBM welded boltless manganese frog with a high level of benefits for special traffic applications."
The company has noticed higher budgets during 2011 and 2012 in Mexico. Damy notes that Class 1s are investing in infrastructure projects in order to increase average speeds on their trains and expects a continuous high demand for 2013.
Nortrak-Damy is servicing major transit systems in Mexico City and Guadalajara. Development of transit systems within Mexico is still in the early stages.
"There are a few projects for passenger transit in some major cities since the mid-2000s but the economic and political environment hasn't been appropriate," he explained.
Mexican railroads are demanding more anti-vandalism products in order to avoid accidents due to materials missing on track, Damy says. Theft of track materials and goods has increased from year to year, affecting the operations of railroads. Expenses on security features and personnel are increasing to levels never seen before.
Progress Rail Services
"At the request of the BNSF, Progress Rail Services has developed a switch to complement our Lift frog, which essentially makes the turnout invisible to mainline traffic," noted the company. "It has been labeled the Vertical Switch and was built and tested at our Sherman, Texas, facility. It's now installed at TTCI in Pueblo, Colo., for further equipment testing and will then be placed in service on BNSF later this summer."
In addition, PRS has installed a new table top welder, allowing the company to weld manganese castings to steel rail. The frogs PRS has produced have been tested, installed in track and are performing very well, according to the company. Having this machine allows PRS to increase its product offering to the railroads and respond to their needs.
Forged compromise and milled transition rails are manufactured at its Danvers, Ill., facility. Transition rails are also produced at the PRS welding plant in Pueblo, Colo. Both compromise and transition rails are machined on programmed milling centers. An induction furnace is used to control heating the rail prior to forging. Compromise rails are flash-butt welded and tested to meet AREMA and customer specifications. Both compromise and transition rails are available in varying rail sizes and lengths per the customer requirements.
Turnout frogs and crossing diamonds continue to be the highest impact areas for special track components and require the most maintenance, notes PRS. Since it first introduced the Lift frog in March 2006, the company says it has made great strides in developing other new products to achieve this goal. It has delivered four full-flange bearing crossing diamonds to a Class 1 railroad and as of this writing, PRS notes that three are installed and performing very well, with the forth scheduled to be installed soon.
Its Clamptite boltless adjustable rail brace has proven itself in new track construction with no reported switches coming apart during installation, says PRS.
"This is unheard of with any other boltless adjustable rail brace on the market today. The PRS Clamptite boltless brace is currently approved on BNSF, UP, CSX and CN," noted the company.
Progress Rail Services UK Ltd., PRS's trackwork group located in the United Kingdom, is currently supplying 780 hollow steel switch tie sets and 344 hollow steel frog tie sets, including operating bars for inclusion with Ansaldo M3 switch machines to Vale in Brazil.
Last year, voestalpine Nortrak Inc. introduced a family of Buy America-compliant turnouts for embedded street and tram application. The design incorporates a double flexive tongue switch and can be tuned to the specific operating requirements of individual transit operators. It offers the key performance characteristics of European designs, while utilizing 100 percent domestic materials. Most recently, tram systems in New Orleans and Tucson have adopted the design.
"We are expecting others to follow suit," noted Brian Abbott, executive vice president engineering.
"At the recent RSSI show in Cincinnati, Ohio, we were proud to unveil a new dual control Switch Drive AutomaterTM for the yard automation market," he explained. "The new HY-100 Automater retains key features that have been the hallmark of the success of our original AutomaterTM: trailability, reliable hydraulic actuation and a solar power source. Operation in manual mode has been greatly improved, however. The original hand pump has been eliminated in favor of a user-friendly mechanical hand throw lever. To operating personnel, the new dual control HY-10 Automater will have the same look and feel as a conventional mainline dual control switch machine."
Last year, voestalpine Nortrak says it had a very strong demand for trackwork in both the freight and transit sectors. All indications are that demand will remain strong through the current year. The comapny sees the railways adjust their capital plans in response to changes in traffic commodity mix. Nevertheless, the company is anticipating overall levels of investment to remain steady.
Another key trend the company sees shaping the industry's future is the rapid attrition of experienced personnel.
"Nortrak anticipates that this loss of practical know-how will drive an increased demand for turnkey solutions," noted Abbott. "Rail operators will be looking for integrated product offerings comprising of support systems (ties and plates), trackwork, switch drive and monitoring systems. Product integration and factory pre-assembly promise to improve installation efficiency, enhance quality and expedite procurement and field logistics. Again, as a fully-integrated supplier, Nortrak has a unique capability of meeting this challenge."