Battling brush with smart vegetation management programs

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor
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Suppliers of intelligent herbicides and technologically- advanced machines update their offerings to help wage the war on unwelcome vegetation.

Suppliers of intelligent herbicides and technologically- advanced machines update their offerings to help wage the war on unwelcome vegetation.

When it comes to vegetation management, versatility of equipment and the ability to get on and off track quickly to accommodate tight track times, are two of the most sought after features. Suppliers and manufacturers have worked on these and other quality enhancements in the past year for the betterment of the railroads.

Over the past two years, Asplundh has implemented its Automated Vehicle Management System (AVMS) to monitor all of its spray vehicles and track the GPS locations the herbicide is being applied. This information is overlaid onto customer track layouts in an online system. Asplundh is able to obtain real-time information on location of assets and spraying operations, as well as archive this information for future access.

The company also utilizes a SkytTrim truck, which is a 70-foot boom SkyTrim mounted onto a truck chassis. This vehicle is designed to be more productive and efficient by eliminating support vehicles and department of transportation permitting for moving standard skytrims and jarraffs.

“As track time continues to be a challenge for our customers and our operations, we continue to look for innovative ways of completing our work and reducing the time on track,” said Randal Haines, manager, Railroad Division, U.S. and Canada operations. “Whether it is a spray train or utilizing specialized equipment, such as our SkyTrim truck, we feel we are able to reduce customer costs associated with vegetation management.”

Haines says the market will always continue to drive customers’ budgets and what they are able to allocate towards vegetation management; however, the company has been fortunate enough with railroads adding bridge projects, cutting at satellite locations and other cutting programs.

“We have our Rail Tool equipped with a 54-inch brush cutter that is a beast when clearing brush on the rail,” noted Shaun Gettis, Brandt Road Rail sales manager.”The Rail Tool is equipped with its own self-powered rail gear that makes it a breeze to get on and off the tracks.”

The tool has an auxiliary 200 horsepower engine to provide hydraulic power for the attachments. It is a universal unit that has the ability to pull cars with its own train brake system designed for versatility of multiple uses, including high-capacity brush cutting/clearing.

In Canada and the Northern U.S., Gettis notes that it is a critical component for keeping the track clear of snow for winter operation and essential for visibility at crossings.

He says that brush cutting is always a priority for the railroads.

“It does not go away whether times are good or tough,” he said.

Dow AgroSciences
Dow AgroSciences LLC says it has committed extensive resources to developing new and innovative herbicides suited for the railroad market and plans to add a couple to its portfolio in 2016. First, is a high-load, four-pound amine triclopyr formulation, which has a “Caution” signal word instead of the previous “Danger” signal word carried by the current Garlon 3A specialty herbicide and generic options.

The company will also be introducing a new, branded bareground product, which Dow AgroSciences says will offer incredible control for bareground applications, along with season-long residual activity. These products have undergone extensive testing and are in the final stages of approval with the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Customers want economical solutions to their vegetation challenges, such as managing resistant species,” said Homer Deckard, railroad vegetation control specialist. “Vegetation control managers realize that rotating prescriptions is essential, especially in bareground applications, for the long-term efficacy of the herbicides we use today.”

Managing weeds in bareground applications to avoid resistance is an important part of effective vegetation management, noted Deckard. Repeating the same prescriptions year after year has proven to be a recipe for resistant species to develop and thrive. The railroad industry has seen this with a number of the products, which were considered the standard mixes 10 years ago and are now essentially ineffective today.

“We are in a time where some brush programs are driven solely by a dollar figure with no regard to the efficacy of the mix used,” explained Deckard. “This is the reason so many brush applications fall short when it comes to the amount of re-growth experienced. A good brush application that uses the proper herbicides is very economical considering the added three-to-five years of control. A poor brush program using whatever is cheapest at the moment is less economical considering a much shorter frequency of application. In the end, a good vegetation manager is better off treating fewer acres effectively than more acres poorly.”

Dow AgroSciences says it is working to offer alternatives for effective resistance management, as well as developing better formulations of existing market standards.

“Key drivers of demand are efficacy of products prescribed, economics and whatever Mother Nature throws our way,” noted Deckard. “We have few effective alternatives for bareground applications. By managing resistant species through rotating our herbicide mixes, we can extend the life of the products we have in the railroad market. The best applicators and vegetation mangers realize this and practice these principles in their programs, which drives demand and affects their choices for the best program. There will always be misses and escapes in any program. Managing these issues with the right prescription and application technique is the key to effective vegetation management. Everyone is looking for the better mousetrap for less money. Sometimes, the cheaper alternative is an effective solution, sometimes it warrants a more expensive solution. As a successful vegetation manager, you have to know the difference and what each situation calls for.”

President of Mitchell Rail Gear, Estel Lovitt, says customers have been asking for lower-cost solutions for vegetation control. For this, Mitchell has developed a rail gear system for track Skid Steer Loaders that will accept a variety of brush cutting and mulching attachments independent of the Skid Steer Loader quick coupler.

“Re-growth is a problem that has to be constantly dealt with by all size railroads,” explained Lovitt. “Allocating railroad track time for on-track brush cutters can be difficult, considering that railroads make their revenue by running freight. Across many industries, Skid Steer Loaders have become a low-cost solution to vegetation control.

It is a solution that Lovitt says delivers flexibility and maneuverability sometimes better than many larger machines. A Skid Steer Loader with rail gear does not limit the machine functionality and maneuverability. It can travel to areas of overgrown vegetation and get off track and clear large areas of vegetation and trees and then get back on track to travel to other areas with very limited track down time.

“There are a variety of companies that make excellent vegetation control equipment, such as brush cutters, mulchers and spray equipment,” he commented.

“There are also a variety of companies that manufactures Track Skid Steer Loaders. Mitchell has married these two products together with our Skid Steer Rail Gear System that will provide an affordable solution to vegetation control for all class railroads.”

NMC Railway Systems
NMC Railway Systems is continuing to expand its line of hi-rail equipment to combat remote vegetation growth and other maintenance-of-way projects. Mark Anderson, sales manager, says one of the most popular pieces of equipment in the company’s product line is the CHX20E Hi-Rail Excavator. This 320-sized model allows railroads and rail contractors to utilize multiple tool functionality including brush cutters available 36-inches in diameter.

He notes that the flexibility of the CHX20E Hi-Rail Excavator provides operators access to remote rail areas to manage potential overgrowth areas early in the season. In addition, when paired with a Rototilt, the operator has the ability to rotate the attachment head 360 degrees.

“Weeds and overgrown trees can reduce visibility – making this uncontrolled vegetation a potential safety and operational issue. We recommend getting into the field as early as possible, potentially before trees bud,” explained Anderson. “The more time crews have to combat brush and tree overgrowth on track lines, the less likely railroads are to have issues with vegetation on track lines later into the spring/summer. Our hi-rail product line is equipped to handle these maintenance-of-way projects to prevent downtime during peak transport seasons.”

NMC Railway Systems says machines that allow for multiple tool functionality are driving demand, which allows for increased productivity on rail maintenance projects without causing downtime during open track windows.

Progress Rail
Progress Rail’s Kershaw Division has been serving the vegetation management industry since the early 1970s. The company’s latest offering combines field expertise in vegetation control and railroad maintenance. Progress Rail has outfitted a third-party highway chassis with both hi-rail gear and technology stemming from its 75-foot SkyTrim tree trimming unit. This allows maintenance-of-way customers to manage vegetation challenges along the many miles of track in their care. The company says its updated SkyTrim offers the flexibility of production cutting, while also mobilizing quickly and easily to isolated jobsites. This latest unit in the product line, which includes an all-terrain, rubber tire 75-foot SkyTrim model, is available with track gear and friction drive hi-rail options.

“We have listened to our customers’ feedback when it comes to equipment, which offers greater flexibility both in trimming technology and unit mobility,” noted the company. “As worksites are often far apart and difficult to reach, our customers need equipment that can make it there fast and be handled safely, while offering reliability. The market demands equipment that places operator safety first, but must incorporate the highest level of performance and cost effectiveness. Progress Rail Services has continually positioned itself to meet those customer demands and looks forward to meeting the future market challenges with safe, reliable and economical equipment that meets our customer’s budget guidelines.”

Rail Construction Equipment Co. (RCE), has focued this past year on expanding the Railavator (hi-rail excavator) product line. The Railavator serves as the prime unit for RCE’s brush cutters and, now, the company has four Railavator models available that can support a brush cutter. The models range in size, starting at the 85G, 135G, 245G and 250G as the largest, boasting cutter heads up to 72 inches wide.

Offering multiple options, RCE’s brush cutters can be customized by excavator model (hi-rail and conventional) and size of tree grinding and brush clearing heads. The available mowing heads make a clear cut without the hazards of flying debris, notes RCE.

“We’ve noticed a mix of strategies in the current marketplace – some railroads are building up their own maintenance fleets, while others are continuing to hire contractors,” explained Dennis Hanke, sales manager. “Uncontrolled vegetation is a safety and operational issue, so it continues to be maintenance priority to our customers.”

Supertrak introduced three Tier 4 models, including the SK170RTL wheeled model 170HP, 140HP powerpack and 350HP powerpack for excavators, which are all equipped for operating mulchers with maximum cooling and performance, the company notes.

“When selecting vegetation equipment, always review the cooling system and how to clean out compartments to determine the efficiencies with maximum performance and uptime,” the company said. “The vegetation market has always wanted more horsepower in a smaller package. Supertrak meets that need. As the emissions regulation changed, it allowed us to focus on customer demands to implement the latest technologies into a more efficient machine.”

Categories: Class 1, Commuter/Regional, OFF Track Maintenance, Safety/Training, Shortline/Regional