Ditching and drainage efforts that go with the flow

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor
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Suppliers provide resources to keep roadbeds clear of water.

{besps}May13_dd{/besps} {besps_c}0|1dd.jpg| The ends of Snap-Tite pipe are designed to snap together in the field during the relining process.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|2dd.jpg| The Herzog MPM digging a ditch to help keep muddy waters off the tracks.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|3dd.jpg| 450 Hi-Rail Backhoe with ditching bucket from Ballast Tools Equipment.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|4dd.jpg| Loram’s Railvac excavating ballast.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|5dd.jpg| NMC Railway Systems’ 312 High-Rail Excavator with ditching bucket.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|6dd.jpg| Plasser’s URM-700 High-Capacity Switch Undercutting/Cleaning Machine.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|7dd.jpg| The RCE 225D High-Rail Excavator ditching and cleaning up rock slides on the Union Pacific.{/besps_c}

Suppliers provide resources to keep roadbeds clear of water.

Water seepage can be a real hazard to the railroads, causing track damage and emergency situations when flooding occurs. Proper drainage along the lines ensures a healthy operation and suppliers are on top of the latest technology and innovations to help railroads achieve just that.


Ballast Tools Equipment Company has been building and upgrading equipment that includes both hi-rail and off-track options this past year. The company focuses on fast, effective and efficient use of track time and results-oriented production. BTE has various sized excavator options and new large capacity back-hoes with hi-rail for multiple situations.

“Customers want the ability to perform on-track, as well as off-track,” noted Matt Weyand, sales engineer. “As a result, our hi-rail systems are becoming increasingly popular. These come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, depending on the customer applications and requirements. Most recently, we have ranged from smaller CAT 312 excavators, up to larger CAT 450 backhoes with a full range of hi-rail capabilities and attachment options.”

For larger projects, the BTE Beast Undercutter is offered. For tight applications, with off-track maintenance, positioning a ditching bucket can be difficult, he says.

“That’s where a combination of a hi-rail system and Rototilt attachment manipulation comes in handy; because you can match the angle of the track without making a ton of adjustments,” said Weyand. “It’s a super time saver and with shortened work windows, that’s a way big deal.”

While BTE does not perform drainage jobs, the company has seen some additional challenges with fouled track and turnouts serviced by its equipment customers. This track fouling has been with a variety of materials, including coal, iron ore, fine powders and dust, as well as good, old-fashioned mud.

“We have found that our aggressive digging chains and attachments have the durability and performance life to work in these difficult situations every day,” explained Weyand.


Georgetown Rail Equipment Company’s (GREX) Self Powered Slot (SPS) machine is a train that consists of gondola cars stretching up to 430 feet in length. With an on-board excavator, an experienced GREX operator and remote-controlled power, the SPS is offered to customers as a ditching solution. Additionally, GREX has recently implemented a new operator training program occurring on a bi-annual basis.

The SPS of today has morphed from the original SlotTrain design, which required a work train for power. The SPS was conceived after demand for self-powered equipment; however, GREX still offers the traditional SlotTrain for those customers who may not need an SPS. With all of the capabilities of an SPS, other than being self-powered, the original SlotTrain still offers customers a ditching solution.

“In our continuous effort to increase production and improve safety, all SPS trains are now equipped with zero-turn radius excavators,” noted Lynn Turner, vice president of marketing and sales. “This feature allows for work to be performed when working on double main territory without fouling the adjacent track. Special lockouts prevent the excavator from physically moving into the adjacent track’s territory, which means work can continue, even in high-traffic areas. We’ve also added rototilts to each excavator, which allows the operator to maneuver the bucket 360 degrees and tilt up to +/- 40 degrees. This gives our operator increased flexibility with the bucket, allowing them to more precisely form the drainage area. This feature, along with varying bucket sizes depending on the particular job, allows us to enact extreme precision when ditching.”

GREX takes pride in operator expertise. The average GREX SPS operator holds eight years of experience working on the railroad. In that time, these operators have performed work across all regions of the United States and are regularly asked to make recommendations based on their proficiency for ditching.

“With a bucket reach of 34 feet and 400 tons of capacity, our operators can handle just about any ditching scenario possible,” stated Turner.


Herzog Railroad Services, Inc. (HRSI), placed the first Multi-Purpose Machine (MPM) into service in 1999. The machine was designed to provide railroads with a piece of work equipment that could execute numerous tasks utilizing various attachments within a minimal amount of time.

“The MPM is a one-of-a-kind piece of work equipment,” noted Tim Francis, vice president of marketing. “It is operated by remote control with just one qualified HRSI operator. The MPM’s excavator rides a bogey that sits atop a gantry system that traverses the HRSI manufactured well cars. This allows us to have virtually unrestricted access to the material in all of the cars at all times. The MPM’s 27-foot reach makes it perfect for any task within its radius.”

A standard MPM is outfitted with a bucket, grapples and magnet, but upon request, a tree shear, brushcutter or auger can be added. The MPM is capable of traveling under its own power at up to 50 mph or it can be moved in train service at the rear of the consist. The zero-turn radius track hoe allows it to work on multiple track mainlines or in yards.

The MPM has the ability to load up to 240 cubic yards per hour and the entire machine can transport almost 480 cubic yards of material. HRSI is currently using its Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) truck technology to develop a program, which will allow the company to survey ditch lines, which the railroad has identified as an area of concern.

“The human subjectivity is removed from the equation and the MPM operator will be able to cut an even more accurate grade than without the assistance of the LIDAR scan,” Francis noted. “The MPM track hoe will be set up with a computer that will aid the operator by providing them with a 3D view of the track and ditch lines. The computer screen will identify areas where the grade is correct, where backfilling of material is needed or anywhere material needs to be removed.”

The company notes that the biggest advantage of the MPM is the final product it leaves behind. The newly cut ditch lines allow for unrestricted water flow and railroad subgrades can properly shed water, which will help reduce new fouled ballast locations and subgrade failures.


“Customers continue to reinforce that drainage is of utmost importance for providing a sound track structure,” explained Scott Diercks, product development manager for Loram Maintenance of Way, Inc. “The success of any ballasted track design is directly related to the ability of the track bed to drain and the proper maintenance of the overall drainage system. An effective drainage system handles the rapid runoff of storm water from the ballast, across the subballast surface and into a properly designed parallel drainage system.”

Loram’s drainage products include shoulder ballast cleaning, ditching, specialty excavation, undercutting and track lifting. Inspection technologies, such as ground penetrating radar and LIDAR, continue to evolve and become standard tools for assessing and planning work needs.

Loram says it has experienced an increasing demand for ditching and drainage services from transit and freight railroads domestically and internationally. Benefits of a well-drained roadbed include less geometry degradation and increased component life. Loram says that by coupling a ditching program with a ballast-cleaning program, railroads are able to create a free-flowing track structure that provides a dependable infrastructure and better service.

As for the Loram Track Lifter Undercutter, it can lift track up 12 inches in one pass up to four miles per hour. The track lifting process creates a new subballast layer, establishing more permeable ballast and an overall stronger structure, Diercks notes.

Additionally, Loram offers its fleet of Railvacs and Badger Ditchers to its customers. Loram says customers utilize the equipment to address unique maintenance needs, such as ditching, cribbing/undercutting mainline mud spots, installation of drain tiles and culverts and undercutting switches and diamonds.

The Badger Ditcher is designed to provide economical, high-production solutions to drainage problems, such as overgrown and ballast-filled ditches and slope erosion. The machine is capable of moving more than 800 tons of material every hour at depths up to six feet and dumps waste up to 35 feet from the center of the track.

Loram’s Railvac is designed for specialty ballast excavation in areas of tight clearances, such as ballast deck bridges, switch winterization, tunnels, culverts and hard-to-reach drains.

“The Railvac is a robust machine designed to work on tough Class 1 railroad conditions, but flexible enough to accommodate transit and commuter railroads,” explained Diercks.

The Railvac applies 5,000 pounds of force and is coupled with a rotating nozzle to break up tough material. The machine also features remote joystick controls and nozzle flexibility to reach hard-to-reach areas.


NMC Railway Systems currently offers the Grip N Ditch bucket with 360-degree rotation in its attachment product line. The bucket, with the purpose build gearbox drive systems, is said to work effectively on stabilizing areas for flood control and other clean-up projects. The Grip N Ditch is best utilized on CAT backhoes and excavators.

NMC Railway Systems can accommodate ditching and drainage projects with a full line of Cat Work Tool ditching buckets with drainage systems. Cat skid steers also have trenching attachments.

One of the latest features for its ditching and drainage projects is the addition of the tilt function on Grip N Ditch buckets larger than 54 inches. Featured exclusively on the 324 High-Rail Excavator, the bucket includes a side tilt option up to 20 degrees.

“Utilizing a Grip N Ditch bucket on our line of hi-rail excavators allows operators to work and trench in remote areas of track line,” said Chuck Haskell, sales manager. “At NMC Railway Systems, we continually look for ways to improve track travel and track safety.”

Plasser American

Clean ballast is extremely important to maintain track geometry, notes Plasser American Corp. and scheduled ballast undercutting/cleaning to create proper drainage and removing fouled material from the track is the first step to long-lasting track. Plasser supplies machines, such as the RM-80, which can undercut and clean plain track, as well as switches from either side, eliminating the need to turn the machine around; high-capacity double screening unit machines, such as the RM-2003 Dual Shaker Undercutter-Cleaner and the RM-802 High-Speed Undercutter-Cleaner, which works with pre-dumped ballast and the FRM-802 Shoulder Cleaner.

“In instances where the track quality cannot be maintained due to weak subgrade or continuous fouling from the subgrade, a subgrade renewal machine may be used to correct the problem,” explained Plasser. “Subgrade renewal machines remove the ballast layer, as well as the subballast layer and replace it with a formation protection layer and a layer of ballast. The formation protection layer prevents material from coming up and fouling the ballast, prevents water from seeping down into the subgrade and distributes the load on the track over a larger area, reducing the stress on the subgrade by increasing the bearing surface.”

Plasser’s PM 200-2 R Formation Rehabilitation Machine, according to the company, can remove the ballast and subballast, recycle the removed material and then install a compacted formation protection layer and a ballast layer all in one pass. All work is performed without physically removing the track, allowing for shorter track outages.

Plasser recently developed the URM-700 High-Capacity Switch Undercutting/Cleaning Machine. The URM-700 is equipped with two shoulder cleaning chains and an undercutting chain that is capable of undercutting both tracks of a switch or crossover in one pass. The machine can also be utilized for spot undercutting/cleaning work. Initially, the URM-700 removes the shoulder on the side of the switch or crossover where the undercutter chain will be inserted. Then, the undercutting chain is inserted into the track, which can be done on either side of the machine and the machine undercuts the switch or crossover by rotating the undercutter chain under the track until the entire switch or crossover has been cleaned.

“The greatest advantage of the URM-700 over conventional switch undercutters is that all excavated material is conveyed to a shaker car, cleaned by the vibratory shaker unit and the reusable ballast is inserted back into the track behind the undercutter chain and fouled ballast is discharged to the side of the track,” noted Plasser. “The geometry of the switch or crossover is maintained to a high level by roller clamps that hold the track during undercutting operations. Tamping and dynamic track stabilization can be performed immediately following undercutting. The URM-700 will be debuted at the 26th International Exhibition for Track Technology (iaf) from May 28 – 30, 2013, in Münster, Germany.”


“With the erratic weather so far this spring, ditching and maintaining proper drainage is a huge issue this year for railroads,” explained Dennis Hanke, sales manager of Rail Construction Equipment Co. “We’re seeing a higher demand for equipment to address these issues.”

According to Hanke, ditching from on-track using hi-rail excavators and dump carts has been in high demand this year and for that, RCE offers its customers the 225D Hi-Rail Excavator, along with its hydraulic side dump cart.

The 225D Hi-Rail Excavator is equipped with a hydraulic tilting ditching bucket, which is said to improve the ability to maintain proper drainage. This product provides the ability to clean up drainage issues form on- or off-track. When combined with the RCE Hydraulic Dump Cart, the customer has the ability to also remove unwanted material from the ditched areas.

Snap Tite

Snap-Tite is proud to say that culvert rehabilitation is becoming more widely accepted in the industry and AREMA has recognized it as a recommended practice for fixing drainage issues.

“Railroads are looking for ways to reduce bridge inventory,” explained Mitch Goss, railroad project manager. “One way is to convert bridges into culverts using large diameter high-density polyethylene pipe (HDPE).”

One trend Goss has noticed this year is the increased use of a bullet nose on one end of a pipe used for sliplining. The bullet nose allows for the liner pipe to push through ballast that has fallen through separated joints.

Snap-Tite is a no-dig lining method of drainage culverts. The Snap-Tite culvert lining pipe system is available for use in drainage culvert repair/reline projects. Its patented male/female machining ends of the HDPE allows it to be “snapped” together, piece-by-piece and pushed into the full length of the existing pipe. It is available in lengths from two to 50 feet long and is available for culverts up to 84 inches in diameter. However, larger diameters are available upon request.

Snap-Tite focuses on both culvert rehabilitation and bridge replacement. Specific challenges for culvert rehabs are recognizing the problem and forming a plan before it’s too late, Goss says.

“In many cases, the culvert collapses and rehabilitation is no longer an option,” he explained. “Snap-Tite wants to work with the railroads to generate a maintenance plan for fixing culverts. The specific challenges for bridge replacement are addressing the loading and hydraulic concerns of creating a new structure. When you tear down an old bridge and replace it with a culvert made of HDPE, structural and hydraulic analysis must be done.”

Snap-Tite currently works with Class 1 railroads Union Pacific, CSX, BNSF and Canadian Pacific; passenger railroads Amtrak and Pan Am; regional railroads Florida East Coast Railway and Montana Rail Link and shortlines Iowa Interstate and Wisconsin & Southern

Categories: Ballast, Ties, Rail, OFF Track Maintenance, Track Machinery