Cutting out the extra brush

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor
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The latest brush-cutting technologies and herbicide treatment applictions help to keep unwanted vegetation at bay.  


 The latest brush-cutting technologies and herbicide treatment applictions help to keep unwanted vegetation at bay.

{besps}January14_veggie{/besps} {besps_c}0|1veggie.jpg| The NMC HREA 324 brush cutting in Seattle, Wash.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|2veggie.jpg| Asplundh flex cutter at work on Canadian Pacific rail.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|3veggie.jpg| The Brandt Rail Tool cutting away at brush.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|4veggie.jpg| DBi Services is using more aluminum in the construction of its high capacity hi-rails to reduce vehicle weight, improve fuel mileage and reduce its carbon footprint.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|5veggie.jpg| MERCIER’S Radio Actuated Treator in action.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|6veggie.jpg| Mitchell’s excavator with Hydra-Guide rail gear.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|7veggie.jpg| RCE’s 120D Ontrack Brush Cutter working to remove unwanted vegetation.{/besps_c}

Mother Nature has a way of creeping up quickly on railroad rights-of-way and, while vegetation is good for the earth, it is not so great for the travel of people and goods on the rails. Suppliers continue to beef up machinery and study new herbicide mixes to keep brush back.


Asplundh now has its hi-rail Eco Flex cutter in full operational service and says it has the longest reach of any on-rail or hi-rail machine (38 feet) and can cut both sides in a single pass. The cutter is balanced without the need to extend the opposite arm and can work sidings or double track without the need for fouling time. There are three cutter heads (flail/rotary/saw blade) that can handle brush and trees up to a five-inch diameter and can simultaneously apply herbicide to the cut brush stubble to avoid the need for follow up brush spraying. It can cut below grade, down to 15 feet for cutting weeds and brush under bridges and the company says it has the highest reach for clearing signal sight distances than any comparable machine.

“Railroads historically cut miles of brush every season (both in house and with outside forces) and the majority of those miles never see any herbicide applications to eliminate the regrowth, hence, why the brush control is short term,” noted Gerry Blase, manager of Asplundh. “The Eco Flex cutter offers cutting and spraying at the same time and reduces the subsequent down the road cost to spray the re-sprouted brush. The hi-rail flexibility offers the railroads the ability to address ‘hot spot’ areas that need immediate brush cutting. The cutter can be dispatched to a specific area and clear out the problem (signal obstruction/brush striking equipment) and then move on to another area.”

New technology and the development of products, chemical or mechanical, come into the industry at a cost higher than the current market, says Blase, who notes that railroads seem more reluctant to venture into more costly vegetation products or equipment during current market conditions.
“However, a few North American railroads are continuing to take advantage of the cost savings offered by the Chlorovision system and we expect that interest to expand,” he said.


Boatright Companies says its key recent developments have been in software and technology.

“With new mapping technology, we have been able to schedule railroad applications on a tighter time basis, thus, increasing efficiency and more accurate results,” noted Ashley Baker, assistant vice president. “Operators can easily photograph problematic areas with onboard file documentation and reminders for future applications. IT has been and will continue to be an important part of our vegetation control business at Boatright.”

She says spray drift is a constant concern and its trucks have wind speed indicators that assist operators in the field.

“Anytime you have wind gust during a spray application you have a potential for a big problem,” Baker explained.
Boatright says the market is always affected by the economic conditions and that a railroad may cut back from three applications to just two if traffic is down.


“When mechanical equipment is needed to control vegetation, customers ask for reliable, versatile equipment that can efficiently tackle both large vegetation (four to 10 inches) and lighter vegetation in one pass, which is important for higher productivity,” said Neil Marcotte, sales and marketing manager. “They are also asking for a vehicle that can manage the mainline brush but then also manage sight lines at crossings off track; a vehicle like the Brandt Rail Tool that can reach 28-plus feet on the right-of-wayand then get off the rail quickly at a crossing.”

Marcotte also says customers are asking for flexible ways to get their work done. Brandt manufactures equipment but also leases, rents and provides it as a complete service. The Brandt Rail Service Company based in the central United States has vegetation management equipment stationed at various locations throughout the country to help customers tackle their vegetation problems.

DBi Services

According to Wayne Hug, vice president, Railroad Division, DBi Services, many of its customers are looking for experienced applicators that are not tied directly to certain chemistries or manufacturers. He says that with changing weed pressures, service providers need to have flexibility to utilize only those chemistries that will cost-effectively get the job done and notes that customers are looking for applicators that can satisfy performance standards and provide performance information as timely as possible.

“The single largest challenge in our industry today is the continued development of herbicide resistant weed species,” Hug explained. “This has been a challenge in our industry for at least the past 10 years. However, I have seen the challenge become even more difficult in recent years.”

Hug notes that the leading cause of herbicide resistance development is the repeated use of the same herbicides, or herbicides with the same modes-of-action, year after year. Hug cites a lack of new herbicide development resulting in limited control options as a contributing factor to this problem.

“Roughly 10 years ago, a lot of brand name product patents began to expire that created huge expansion opportunities for the generic market,” he said, “As costs for generic products came down, control of certain species became more difficult because the chemistry at hand had already been heavily used for several years. The end result is many of the products that effectively controlled challenging species just a few years ago, now have almost no effect on our most difficult challenges today, such as kochia, sprangle top and even crab grass. While the old chemistry still effectively controls 80 percent to 90 percent of the weed and grass species we encounter, it is effectively eliminating competition for other, more difficult to control species and those species populations are increasing at rapid rates.”

Hug says that in the past few years, a couple of major chemical manufacturers have developed few effective products that actually have new modes-of-action and their specific mode-of-action is not likely to encourage resistance development.

“While it’s encouraging to have some new tools at our disposal, the down side is they come at a much higher cost,” he said. “The introduction of generic products drove market costs down for several years. Now that we have to return to newly patented chemistry to achieve the same results we achieved just a few years ago with generic chemistry, the market is going to have to bear the cost of the new chemistry to achieve the desired results. Our challenge with chemical- resistant weed species is comparable to the challenges humans are encountering today with ‘super bugs.’ The good news for our industry is we do have some new tools that can effectively control today’s so-called ‘super weeds’.”

Hug notes that weeds have continued to mutate and old chemistries are simply not as effective as they were five-10 years ago and says that as newly patented chemistries are introduced, the cost-per-acre for treatment is driven upward.


“With increased demand to keep the rail cars moving in a rail yard, it has become more and more inconvenient and inefficient for the railroad to utilize traditional herbicide application methods for vegetation management,” said Craig Mercier, president and chief executive officer of MERCIER’S, Inc. “The savings for a railroad by eliminating track personnel, engine crew and arranging track time is thousands of dollars per day. Having seen firsthand the challenges and the costs the railroad incurs to work our spray truck onto the tracks, MERCIER’S, Inc., is proud to make available our Radio Actuated Treator (RAT).”

RAT is a patented robotic based, remotely controlled, dry herbicide spreader. It has the capability to be maneuvered between the rails and small enough to ride under a rail car. In the body of RAT, cameras are mounted to visually control travel down and between the rails. It also features a variable rate material flow mechanism from ounces to pounds per acre, as well as an adjustable spread pattern from three feet to 16 feet wide.

“What this means to the railroad industry is that they will no longer have to move railcars for the hi-rail spray truck to gain access to the track,” he noted. “No railroad employees are necessary to affect the use of RAT. Additionally, with the proprietary encapsulated blend of dry herbicides, the application can be done during months when yard traffic is not as intense and still provide season long control for the railroad. Having introduced RAT to several railroads already, they are excited to hear and see the future of yard application work and vegetation control.”

Mitchell Equipment

Mitchell Equipment Corporation has developed a two-wheel hydra-guide rail drive system for hydraulic excavators that can have vegetation equipment installed.

“Customers are asking for more reach over the side with the hydraulic excavators, which can be accomplished by having an excavator equipped with our hydra-guide rail gear that achieves the same stability on rail as on the ground and our two-wheel drive system with its hydraulic suspension and traction control can get to the work site quickly,” explained Estel Lovitt, president. “The quick on-off track capability without the need of a crossing allows work to be done in short work windows.”

With the use of a hydraulic excavator for weed control, the trees and brush can be removed with a brush cutter and the excavator can prepare the ground for re-growing vegetation that helps prevent re-growth of weeds, grass and trees, notes Lovitt. He says the excavator could just as easily be fitted with the appropriate spray equipment to replant native vegetation that resists the harmful regrowth of weeds and trees. Lovitt points out that in the long term, a re-growth program could reduce the constant cutting of weeds and trees that are harmful to the track structures.

NMC Railway Systems

NMC Railway Systems says its customers are always looking to increase access to remote track lines to access overgrowth and isolated maintenance projects and points to its hi-rail excavator product lines, which the company says can help the railroads access those areas in a timely manner without having to use a lowboy.

“The hi-rail product line also offers the ability to use multiple attachments including brush cutters, under cutters, tie inserters and tie tampers without having to switch machines, allowing operators to complete multiple projects in a timely and safe manner,” explained Todd Guenther, railroad specialist.

With a typical increase in re-growth during the spring, Guenther notes that NMC Railway Systems sees an increased interest in vegetation management equipment and suggests railroads revisit heavy vegetation areas with a high probability of re-growth at least three months after the initial visit.

“Products, such as our brush cutter attachments with blades available in 36-inch and 54-inch diameters and available in either fixed position or 360-degree rotation, are excellent tools to manage overgrowth,” he said. “Also in demand are skid steers with attachments including the mulcher, which can break down larger brush and small trees up to four feet in height and the mower attachments to control large weeds and grass overgrowth.”

NMC Railway Systems says it is continually looking for ways to help railroads reach remote track locales to help maintain the best maintenance-of-way practices. With new innovations in its hi-rail series of excavators, the company says it can help railroads obtain better results and higher productivity in remote track locals in brush cutting and vegetation management.

“Economics definitely are a factor when it comes to track maintenance,” Guenther said. “When the economy is down, tracks may not be in a state of usage that they would be in booming times or even average economic times. Therefore, railroads have both the time and the track availability to update the maintenance on tracks. Although businesses may see a downturn in demands, the demand for our maintenance-of-way products usually holds steady throughout an economic slump.”


With the global shortage of technical dicamba, Nufarm Americas Inc. has developed Pyresta herbicide. Pyresta is a formulated product containing 2,4-D ester and Pyraflufin.The product is said to be ideal for early season burndown of hard to control broadleaf plants and vines.
“Spoiler h

erbicide is an economical three-way formulation that will control broadleaf weeds and vines,” noted George Telez, sales manager Midwest and Plains. “Spoiler can be tank mixed with residual products to provide safe and effective control year round on rights-of-way.”
Telez note

s that the Drift Control Task Force continues to update best practices and recommends all applicators familiarize their employees with best practices to insure safe applications of herbicides.

“Nufarm continues to develop Aquasweep Herbicide,” he added. “Aquasweep is fully registered for right-of-way, range and pasture, as well as aquatic applications. In demonstration plots, Aquasweep has provided control of invasive species, such as Russian Olive and Salt Cedar.”

Telez shared that herbicide resistance continues to be an increasing problem in the railroad business segment and added that railroad applicators should monitor applications and program products with different modes of action to insure quality results from their work. At the least, he says, herbicides should be rotated every three years to prevent call backs and maintain good working conditions for railroad personnel.

“The use of a high quality water conditioner should be considered when designing railroad vegetation control programs,” Telez noted. “The water used in the application should be treated as an integral part of the program. The use of a water conditioner insures that the herbicides being used do not get bound to hard water and will perform better once they reach the target site.”


Rail Construction Equipment Company is currently developing an additional brush cutting machine that is based off of the RCE 135G hi-rail excavator, which will be a machine that can cut brush on- of off-track.

“The 135G hi-rail unit will provide the end user the ability to cut everything from mainline to clearing crossing quadrants, along with the ability to change out the attachment and perform other rail maintenance tasks a standard hi-rail machine can do,” explained Dennis Hanke, sales manager. “The 135G, along with our current 130G on-track brush cutter, will give end users several choices to address and maintain the brush along their railroad.”

Hanke says that RCE customers have been asking for versatility and that the 135G brush cutter will provide just that. RCE has seen a greater demand for the leasing of this type of equipment, as budgets seem to have tightened up for equipment accusation.

“When considering cutting brush, it’s much more efficient to do so in the fall through the early spring,” he said. “This provides a better ability to see what needs to be cut increasing productivity and reducing the chance of hitting debris, which can lead to down time conditions.”

NRCA Weed Control Seminar

Harvy Holt, manager of Green Systems Analtics, LLC, says anyone using herbicides to managing railroad vegetation should consider attending the annual NRCA Weed Control Seminar, which, this year, will be held January 27 to January 30 at the Indianapolis Marriott East. The program is composed of two sessions: Session I prepares conferees to take the certification exams; Session II is continuing education for licensed applicators.

Session I covers plant biology, application equipment and calibration, herbicide characteristics and formulations, applicator safety, environmental concerns, herbicide label interpretation and laws and regulations. AREMA Committee 1, Sub-Committee 9 – Vegetation Control, will meet January 29 before Session II.

The objectives of the seminar are to: Provide railroad applicators the opportunity for reviewing and updating in order to meet the high standards of performance of both the association and the states and help new applicators prepare for initial certification. The association works to gain acceptance of this program in as many states as possible. The program contains pesticide-related material generally suitable for continuing certification approval in rights-of-way.

Categories: Ballast, Ties, Rail, OFF Track Maintenance