Fascinating fasteners for keeping track tight

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor
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A close look at L.B. Foster’s fastening system.

Small in size, fasteners keep a tight grip on track. Keeping track in place is imporant to all railroads, whether it’s a Class 1, regional, shortline or transit line. The following pages highlight this year’s most advanced fastening systems and an overall market outlook.

Railroad fasteners L.B FosterAmsted RPS

For Amsted RPS, business is up, which it attributes to steady volumes in its core rail anchor products, a broader portfolio of fasteners and complementary components, increased share in the direct fixation fastening marketing for transits and adoption of its long-life products like the MACRO Armor for concrete ties.

During the past three years, Amsted RPS (formerly Unit Rail) has acquired Advanced Track Products and AirBoss Railway Products.

“Through those acquisitions, we significantly expanded our product line and since those acquisitions, we have leveraged our broad design expertise to successfully develop and market another 32 products,” noted John Stout, director of sales at Amsted RPS. “We are the only North American rail supply firm with the experience and expertise in the design and manufacturing of fastening products for wood tie, concrete tie, direct fixation and embedded rail systems. We combine our design expertise with resources like our in-house test lab and rapid prototyping capabilities to quickly react to our customers’ needs and take a product from the drawing board to the field in times not traditionally seen in the railroad industry.”

The bulk of the company’s business is driven by its Class 1 customers, who need to expand capacity to serve forecasted increases in demand and achieve operational efficiency. The company now has long-term agreements in place to supply rail anchors to all seven Class 1 railroads and has sold more than 800 million rail anchors during its history. Now, with in-house clip manufacturing capabilities, Amsted RPS aims to deliver value to a broader range of customers and grow its sales of fasteners and components.

“Our passenger rail group has experienced double-digit growth over the past year, driven by penetration into the maintenance market for direct fixation, system expansions and our new partnership with edilon)(sedra for embedded block and embedded rail systems,” explained Stout.

Amsted RPS is supplying 130,000 of its SW-31 System Wide direct fixation fasteners to Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority in Washington, D.C., for replacement of existing fasteners to maintain a state of good repair and for Phase 1 of the system expansion to Dulles Airport. During the past year, the company has also participated in projects for Amtrak, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in Buffalo, N.Y., Long Island Rail Road, Chicago Transit Authority, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and NJ Transit.

“Our most robust direct fixation fastener, the ATP Loadmaster will be installed on the new Eagle P3 commuter rail project near Denver,” said Stout. “Amsted RPS is the only manufacturer of bonded resilient fasteners to be approved for use in heavy-haul, high-speed and transit applications. The ATP Loadmaster was selected because of the product’s durable dual-stiffness design and its 25-year history of maintenance-free performance.”

For freight railroads, Amsted RPS offers its MACRO Armor product line of abrasion resistant products for concrete ties, which has evolved over the past year with installations on four Class 1 railroads.

“It is our goal to solve the issues of rail seat abrasion and insulator wear that have plagued concrete ties for several years,” explained Stout. “We have adapted the unique properties of MACRO Armor from its origin in military and aerospace applications to railroad use. This represents a major step forward in technology. We recently introduced a MACRO Armor Repair Plate to repair abraded concrete ties that acts as a form and allows epoxy to be pumped through the repair plate to fill the void. The product provides uniform bearing and restores the tie to the original geometry, providing a permanently-bonded wear-resistant surface. Not only does our MACRO Armor Repair Plate repair abraded concrete ties, but because of the lightweight design and improved installation methodology, crews install our system 25 percent faster than previous methods, reducing maintenance costs and allowing more time to run trains.”

Amsted RPS has recently partnered with edilon)(sedra based in the Netherlands, which is known for its embedded block and embedded rail systems. With this partnership, Amsted is able to provide noise and vibration reducing products for both transit and heavy-haul to North America, using technology that has been in proven for decades.

L.B. Foster

According to Hakan Eksi, general manager, Transit Products, L.B. Foster, the market of 2011 and early 2012 remains challenging, but with signs of optimism.

“We continue to operate via a series of extensions to our nation’s transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU, instead of a new, robust, long-term transportation bill to fund U.S. transit projects. As a result, agencies are taking a wait-and-see attitude with regard to new projects,” said Eksi. “Transit agencies are also still struggling with their maintenance and capital budgets, due to the impact of the continuing weak U.S. economy. However, on the upside, mass transit ridership continues to increase, with first quarter trips made on various modes of heavy, commuter and light rail up by 5.5 percent, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Ridership trends have seemed to decouple from the traditional relationship with gasoline prices. Ridership has experienced year-over-year gains for each of the past eight quarters. As U.S. demographics change, mass transit is becoming more and more the preferred mode of transportation for the younger generation. So right now, we see some transit agencies begin to move ahead on projects that had been delayed in the past and that has allowed us to aggressively grow our transit products business.”  

In particular, during the past year, L.B. Foster has participated in the Minnesota Central Corridor Project between Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Chicago Transit Authority’s Van Buren Loop project, continuing work on the Miami Dade Transit and Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco and the Edmonton Transit Project. Looking ahead, the company cited activities in New York City, the Portland TriMet Milwaukie Project, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Irving III Project.  

On the product development side, L.B. Foster continues to work in a number of areas.

According to Eksi, “In the past year, we have developed a new restraining rail fastener for BART. This fastener was custom designed to meet BART’s current stiffness and anchoring requirements. We have also designed a new replacement fastener for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. And we maintain active programs to support a number of other product improvement initiatives. We continue to investigate opportunities to collaborate with our CXT Concrete Ties team in new product development.”

L.B. Foster is a supplier of fastening systems globally and has served customers in those markets for almost 40 years.

Lewis Bolt & Nut

2012 has been a good year for Lewis Bolt & Nut Company, as well, with sales comfortably ahead of the same time period in 2011. All of its product categories have seen similar increases. To keep up with the increasing demand, Lewis Bolt is increasing capacity by adding additional space, totaling approximately 50,000 square feet. The additions, to be completed in the fall of this year, will add more space for order staging and inventory, along with additional floor space for more manufacturing equipment.

“The bottom line is, we have to be able to continue to meet the needs of our customers,” explained Dave Barry, vice president of sales. “This new addition will certainly provide for that.”

Barry says the railroad industry continues to invest heavily in their respective infrastructure and the supply industry as a whole, including Lewis Bolt & Nut Company. In addition, numerous projects at both transit authorities, as well as in the freight sector, have strict Buy America clauses requiring that all fasteners used must be produced in the USA using only domestic, raw materials. This appears as though it will continue for the foreseeable future, he notes, as more federal dollars are invested in the infrastructure here in the U.S. Another trend he has obseved for some time is customers requesting products made in the USA as opposed to overseas.
“There are many reasons for this, but number one has been and continues to be the inconsistent quality of imported fasteners.”

Railroad Fasteners PandrolPandrol

“Pandrol USA is proud to announce that 2012 represents Pandrol’s 75th year of meeting the fastening requirements of railroads and transit systems worldwide,” stated Frank Brady, president of Pandrol USA. “Started in 1937, Pandrol has been providing resilient rail fastenings since its inception. Today, Pandrol supplies 411 railways in more than 100 countries and has manufactured more than 1.42 billion rail fastenings.”

The demand for high-performance elastic fastenings was strong in 2011, notes Brady, and the current year is turning out to be even stronger. He says that North American railroads continue to improve their track quality and increase their capacity to take advantage of the benefits provided by the lower fuel costs to move freight by rail.

“One trend in rail fastening systems that is really growing is pre-plating at the tie plant,” explained Brady. “This trend started to expand rapidly when Pandrol developed the fully-captive FASTCLIP system. By pre-plating, the railroads reduce track installation costs by reducing gang size and equipment requirements and reducing the need for keeping parts inventory. Pandrol has also developed captive systems that use Pandrol SAFELOK fastenings. The most recent of these developments is a cast tie plate, suitable for use with the Pandrol FASTCLIP system on wood ties.”

As part of the continuing new product development effort that is ongoing at Pandrol USA, the company is in the final stages of the development program for SAFELOK V. SAFELOK V, like SAFELOK III, is installed at the concrete tie plant with clip, pad and insulators in place. The components are all pre-installed at the tie plant, meaning there is a significant reduction in manpower required during rail installation and adjustment.

SAFELOK V features a clip with a new shape that has a single toe. The system will also include an enhanced shoulder with an increased bearing area. The ties designed for the new SAFELOK V system are currently in production and the system should be in track by the end of this year.

The Pandrol VICTOR plate system for wood ties has seen a rapid increase in market share, explains Brady.

“The Pandrol VICTOR system combines the durability of an AREMA tie plate with the benefits of resilient fastenings,” he noted. “The flat tie plate provides a bearing area 37 percent greater than existing tie plates for resilient fastenings. The use of Pandrol’s fastenings provides all of the advantages of resilient fastenings: holding power, prevention of rail rollover and reduced maintenance. Testing, with 39-ton-axle-loads, has shown a five-fold decrease in gauge widening when using resilient fastenings on wood ties. The Pandrol VICTOR system is demonstrating its value on bridges and curves with significant annual tonnage.”

Pandrol is working on modifications to the SAFLOK I system. The modified SAFLOK I clip that will result from this continuing work is expected to be easier to install and remove and will have enhanced holding power characteristics.

Railroad Fasteners Rail ForgeRail Forge LLC

“2012 has been an outstanding year for Rail Forge and the GageLok product,” said Rail Forge CEO Keith Ishaug. “GageLok entered the North American market in 2010.  We have seen a ten-fold increase in adoption rate for sales into this market year-on-year. Rail Forge has secured a 42,000-square-foot space in Morton Grove, Ill., for a factory, which will open this fall to produce GageLok screws for North American and Australian demand.”

Ishaug credits the growth in adoption rate to the fact that GageLok is a new product in the North American market that provides significant reductions in ongoing maintenance-of-way costs over the use of traditional spikes in wooden ties.

“This is due to the innovative design of the product, which provides strong, reliable fastening against the rail or in the lock position, with a self-tapping feature that eliminates the need to pre-drill,” he explained.

Rail Forge has been involved in track projects with Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, CapMetro, Herzog, Ferromex and Ferrosur. Additional projects are booked for 2012 with Class 2 and 3 railroads and industrial contractors.

“Rail Forge sales growth is driven by railroad track engineers seeking a simple and affordable method to improve fastening performance to reduce MOW expenses and improve track uptime,” Ishaug stated. “These needs can be seen across all sectors, (Class 1, 2, 3, contractors, industrial customers) with the largest volumes coming from the largest (i.e. Class 1) players.”

2012 has seen the full introduction of the GageLok product line with rail fastening products from 5/8-inch to 7/8-inch diameters, suitable for rail fastening applications ranging from use in standard double-shouldered plates (replacing spikes) to use in roll plates and resilient fastening systems (replacing other large screws, which require pre-drilling).

Railroad fasteners VosslohVossloh

Business in 2012 has also been good for Vossloh Fastening Systems. The company is currently working with many of the Class 1s in testing and the approval process and is very pleased with the feedback and results it is experiencing.

Vossloh expects to see a steady increase in business over the next several years. Vossloh is investing heavily into the North American market to ensure its products meet all requirements for heavy-haul and transit applications.

“The variety of products offered allows us to ensure the customers are getting the solutions they require, not just a standard template product supposed to fit any application,” noted Ron Martin, vice president and general manager. “The requirements vary from road to road, let alone from heavy-haul to transit.”

The Class 1 market is Vossloh’s main driver right now. As the company gets closer to meeting the Buy America requirements, it has started to work with the transits to introduce some solutions already successful in similar applications in other parts of the world.

Vossloh Fastening Systems is constantly looking at the evolution of its products to ensure it meets its high standards for reliability, durability and low maintenance requirements.

“We listen intently to the feedback of our customers and experts in the field of engineering and testing,” explained Martin. “We are constantly pushing the limits in the lab of our own products to ensure we have minimized maintenance requirements, exceeded expectation of reliability, provided the lowest life-cycle costs and are easy to work with for those in the field.”

Vossloh Fastening Systems is presently taking steps to meet all the Buy America requirements.

“This is an important investment for us to show we are committed to the fastening market in the U.S. and we look forward to creating additional jobs,” said Martin.

Categories: Ballast, Ties, Rail, ON Track Maintenance, Supplier News