Diamonds, frogs, turnouts and other special trackwork

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor
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Researchers and manufacturers use materials and know-how to help railroads complete special trackwork projects.


{besps_c}0|1special.jpg| Conformal switch point profile measurements. Photo courtesy of TTCI.{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|2special.jpg| Common standard number 9 with RBM frog, manufactured at Atlantic Track’s Richmond, Ill., facility.{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|3special.jpg| Nortrak-Damy’s Jump Frog with Vanguard guardrails.{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|4special.jpg| voestalpine Nortrak’s vertical switch.{/besps_c}

Researchers and manufacturers use materials and know-how to help railroads complete special trackwork projects.

Like the name suggests, special trackwork requires extra care and attention. Suppliers and scientists have collaborated to offer the railroads these distinctive components at a low cost with a long service life.

Atlantic Track & Turnout

At Atlantic Track and Turnout Co., the focus has been on expanding its infrastructure to enhance technology and to expand capacity to produce special trackwork to Class 1 railroad standards. In the past 12 months, the company has made significant capital investments as part of its commitment to maintain its present customer base, as well as meet the demand with better delivery times.

Atlantic Track added 25,000 square feet of additional space to house new machinery, increase layout and assembly area and expand the engineering department at its trackwork manufacturing plant in Memphis, Tenn.; added a new CNC mill in Memphis, Tenn., and a gantry type, CNC mill at its special trackwork plant in Richmond, Ill.; installed a new CNC plate mill at its plant in St. Clair, Pa., and purchased a mobile flash-butt welder.

“Railroad budgets and spending for special trackwork material have been at a high level during the past several years and, so far, seem to be stable,” explained Jeff Grissom, director of engineering. “We expect that as the general economy continues to improve, demand for railroad products will stay at a high level or increase as railroads of all sizes expand their ability to move more freight.”

At Atlantic Track’s St. Clair, Pa., facility, the company has installed an enhanced electric third rail manufacturing, processing and assembly work center. With the nations renewed interest in passenger rail service, Grissom says this will better position the company to service that part of the special trackwork industry, as well as maintaining a domestic-based supply chain for those components.

Atlantic Track is a joint venture partner in MRT Track & Services Co., Inc., with ThyssenKrupp GfT, a manufacturer of special trackwork and provider of railway materials to transit systems throughout the world. This joint venture has developed a heavy-haul steel railroad crosstie that is based on an existing German design and is currently under testing and evaluation at the TTCI test track in Pueblo, Colo.

“From an engineer’s perspective of the special trackwork community, turnout geometry in the area of entry at point of switch and mainline speeds through turnouts seem to be at the forefront of discussion,” Grissom noted. “In addition, as an industry, we are learning and defining the parameters for full flange-bearing crossings and their correct usage, as it would pertain to crossing angle and signalization.”

Cleveland Track Material

A recent Cleveland Track Material (CTM) venture is the production of flange-bearing crossings for TriMet in Portland, Ore. This crossing has been designed to reduce maintenance costs and improve ride quality, notes CTM.

“We are actively and aggressively quoting passenger rail bids,” explained Jim Remington, vice president of engineering. “We are also focusing on new designs related to passenger rail, which is a coordinated effort between engineering and sales.”

Remington says commuter rail companies are looking for greater after-sales service, including installation and maintenance instructions. CTM is currently providing this type of after-sales service for the TriMet project. This includes deploying engineers for onsite installation.


Nortrak-Damy has introduced a number of products in Mexico during the past three years. The company says it supplied the first European specification turnouts for passenger service in Mexico City, its Vangaurd® guardrail with UIC profile is now standard for Ferromex and Ferrosur and its voestalpine Nortrak-produced pad concrete tie insulators have been standard for Kansas City Southern de Mexico since 2009.

The company’s WBM frog is a welded, boltless frog that has no bolts or drill holes; it was introduced with Ferromex in 2010 as a field test. Nortrak-Damy notes these frogs require less maintenance, there is no rail breaking due to drill holes and it is welded to the track (no joints or transitions).

Nortrak-Damy’s JUMP FROG® is meant for mainline application in which traffic is mixed 90 percent on the mainline and 10 percent on the deviation. There are no gaps or joints in the mainline, providing increased safety and higher speeds on the mainline, Alejandro Damy, CEO, notes.

“We are supplying transition rails to Class 1 railroads in Mexico, which are manufactured by voestalpine Nortrak with the highest quality and technical specifications available in North America. We have seen increasing activity in Mexico from the Class 1s and industrial market due to the strength in the Mexican economy and the growth of the ivestments in the railroad industry.”

Progress Rail Services

Progress Rail Services (PRS) is a full-line manufacturer of special trackwork, including turnouts, crossing diamonds and replacement maintenance items for all sizes and designs for railroad and transit industries.

Turnouts and crossing diamonds are subjected to high-impact use that affects the overall life-cycle cost of the components. Progress Rail Services says it is continuing to design products that eliminate or minimize these impacts to reduce maintenance and increase the overall product life.

“In 2006, we introduced the lift frog and we now have more than 1,000 units in track and counting,” said Russ Hein, manager of engineering services for the Engineering andTrack Services Division. “To complement the lift frog, we recently introduced the vertical switch and, when combined with the lift frog, makes the turnout virtually invisible to mainline traffic. The turnout was installed at TTCI for industry testing and is now installed in a Class 1 track.”

The OWLS design eliminates the flangeway gap on the mainline heavy run and is said to greatly reduce crossing maintenance. PRS says it has OWLS castings that will accommodate a wide range of angles to reduce lead-times. The company is continuing work on improving its full-flange-bearing design. To date, there have been three full-flange-bearing crossings installed on Class 1 railroads.

“Through our continued efforts to reduce wheel impacts within turnout and crossing components, we are striving to achieve the railroad industry’s goal of reduced maintenance and overall lower product life-cycle cost,” explained Hein. “Providing a quality product is a given and we continually work toward developing designs that will reduce the overall cost of ownership. Further, reducing lead times and meeting delivery commitments is important to us too, so as not to impact our customers’ project schedules.”


Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI), has assisted Association of American Railroads (AAR) member railroads in implementing new turnout features in 2012-2013.

These include the conformal profile switch points and the continuous mainline rail turnout. Several others are currently in prototype testing at the Facility for Accelerated Service Testing (FAST) at TTC in Pueblo, Colo.

The conformal profile switch point was developed with the help of BNSF, Union Pacific (UP), CSX, Progress Rail Services and voestalpine Nortrak Inc. The cross-section profile of the switch point was altered to more closely match the canted rail profile seen in the rest of the track. This change in profile has reduced the occurrence of rolling contact fatigue and reduced initial wear rates by 50 percent in revenue service prototype testing. Based on these results, the design is being adopted as the standard profile for BNSF, UP and CSX.

The continuous mainline rail turnout was developed by BNSF, Progress Rail Services and TTCI to address the currently used split switch failure modes. As the name implies, the mainline running rails of this turnout are continuous and fixed. Both switch points are on the diverging route. TTCI notes that this turnout has improved performance for the mainline route in terms of forces and ride quality. The intended use of this design is at set-out tracks and mainline industrial sidings; where the diverging traffic is low speed and low tonnage.

“Demand is increasing among freight railroads and transit systems for premium performance products,” said David Davis, senior scientist at TTCI. “Our approach is to put the premium performance capabilities where they are most needed. The continuous mainline rail turnout is a good example in that the performance of the mainline route, which will carry 99 percent of the traffic, is greatly improved. This is essential to operations that carry either heavy-axle-loads or high-speed service.”
Davis explains that the trend continues to be in improved dynamic performance and results in improved safety and efficiency for the railways. Smoothing and/or eliminatingdiscontinuities will result in better performing designs, he notes.

“This involves changes large and small, such as the removal of flangeway gaps and switch points from the mainline route of the turnout to relatively small changes in running surface profiles in frogs and switches,” he noted.
Prototypes in test at FAST include an improved steering switch for mainline crossovers. The switch will help vehicles steer away from the switch point tip on either route, Davis says, and should result in lower maximum vehicle forces and longer switch point life. Another prototype at FAST are turnout foundations (e.g., pads for the tie-ballast interface) that will smooth out vertical stiffness in turnouts. This is expected to reduce required surface and alignment maintenance, as well as lower vehicle forces.


Unitrac Railroad Materials, Inc., has been drawing on more than 85 years of experience in the railroad industry. The company distributes new rail and relay rail, OTM and does track removals, as well as buy and trade rail and other track materials. The company says it has experienced an increase in the special trackwork business, especially in the oil and gas markets, a nod to the recent energy boom in North America.

voestalpine Nortrak

voestalpine Nortrak Inc.’s Hytronics Division continues to expand its product offering of “Buy America” compliant switch drives for transit and freight applications. The new HY-100 Automater™ features a dual-control user interface, trailability, hydraulic actuation and a solar power source. A new line of fixed and rolling asset monitoring technology is also being introduced.

“Our technical staff is collaborating closely with freight railroads to improve both the functionality and durability of our synthetic pads and insulators,” said Brian Abbott, executive vice president engineering. “We continue to see a healthy demand for special trackwork in both the freight and transit sectors. All indications are that that demand will remain strong through the current year.”

voestalpine Nortrak’s product portfolio comprises everything from conventional and custom-designed steel work, austenitic manganese castings, component plating and rodding to concrete crossties and synthetic pads and insulators. Coupled with its full suite of hytronics switch drive and asset monitoring equipment, voestalpine Nortrak prides itself in being a “one stop shop” for all trackwork and related needs.

As for where the money is being spent, Abbott said,”We are seeing the railways adjust their capital plans in response to changes in traffic commodity mix. Most notably, developments in the petroleum products sector are driving increased investment in yards, terminals and transfer facilities.”

Categories: Ballast, Ties, Rail, ON Track Maintenance