Fighting friction

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor
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Wheel/rail lubrication programs improve to offer railroads a smooth ride.

{besps}February13_friction{/besps} {besps_c}0|1friction13.jpg|Midwest Industrial Supply’s Glidex synthetic switch lubricant.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|2friction13.jpg| LB Foster’s KELTRACK lubricant being distributed.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|3friction13.jpg| Robolube’s wayside lubrication system.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|4friction13.jpg| Loram’s friction modifier system.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|5friction13.jpg| Whitmore Rail’s RailArmor curve lubricant being distributed from a wiping bar.{/besps_c}

Wheel/rail lubrication programs improve to offer railroads a smooth ride.

Wear and tear on rail can be reduced with the right friction modifying system in place. In order to ensure a healthy, long rail life, suppliers are offering up the best greases and systems to the railroads for a smooth ride.


Environmental Lubricants Manufacturing, Inc.’s, (ELM) rail curve greases have uses in passenger, transit, heavy-haul freight and many shortline and intermodal applications. The company started its SoyTrak line of greases in the early 2000s and then introduced a new line, TempFlex, in 2006, which addressed the cold temperature shortcomings of the SoyTrak. This year, ELM is introducing a premium version of TempFlex, which incorporates a higher base-oil viscosity, while maintaining its cold-temperature performance, high-load capacity, heat resistance and biodegradability.

TempFlex Premium 35-160 is a multi-season grease having some limitations in the winter months at very cold temperatures and TempFlex Premium 0-100 is also a multi-season grease having some limitations in the very hot regions during the summer months. TempFlex Premium 0-100 can be used year-round in hi-rail-mounted grease application systems.

“We are excited about releasing the new TempFlex Premium products this year because the drastic improvement in base-oil viscosity and the extreme pressure additives, which include Molybdenum Disulphide, have shown major improvements from previous versions, specifically for heavy-freight applications,” explained Lou Honary, chairman and president.

ELM is also working on a new biobased top-of-rail (TOR) friction modifier, which should be available in 2013. This product is oil based but includes biobased and natural drying fluids for better friction management and performance at cold temperatures.

“It appears that the railroads will be spending much more on friction reduction through lubrication because it makes economic sense,” he noted. “Friction reduction improves fuel economy and as the cost of fuel goes up, the cost of lubrication can easily be justified. Increase longevity of rolling stock and reduction in noise and other benefits will be welcome adders.”

ELM is participating in a department of transportation-funded field test project that is currently on-going at the University of Northern Iowa’s National Ag-Based Lubricants Center. That project is conducting a comparative evaluation of conventional and soybean oil-based rail curve greases in the laboratory and in the field. The results of that study are expected to provide insight into the performance attributes of biobased rail curve greases.

ELM biobased rail curve greases are sold through distributors, including the Illinois-based Plews & Edelmann under the brand name UltraLube. Plews & Edelmann has a distribution network nationwide.

L.B. Foster

L.B. Foster Rail Technologies says the choice of material used to control friction at the TOR/wheel tread interface is critical.

According to Brian Vidler, vice president friction management trackside applications, “Our KELTRACK® family of products remain the industry’s only true friction modifiers, providing the guaranteed intermediate friction levels and positive friction characteristics that can reduce wear, forces, energy, noise and corrugations without compromising traction or braking. In addition, the dry, thin film technology used in the KELTRACK family of products acts to mitigate the initiation and growth of rolling contact fatigue, whereas liquid materials can actually accelerate the growth of rolling contact fatigue, leading to significant rail surface issues.”

Through chemistry advancement of KELTRACK, has come the adoption of KELTRACK ER (Enhanced Retentivity) in heavy-haul freight. The company notes there has been an intense effort to monitor and verify the impacts of adopting the improved chemistry in revenue service conditions.

“We have been delighted to see data emerge during the past two years that is proving out the reductions in material usage that are possible with this technology, leading to significant savings for the customer-base and an even stronger financial return on KELTRACK projects,” Vidler noted. “In addition, we are hard at work proving out the improvements that KELTRACK ER can offer in material carry distance, which could lead to wider spacing between wayside units without compromising the proven benefits of TOR friction control.”

As the “digital railway” takes shape, L.B. Foster has been improving its Remote Performance Monitoring (RPM) system for data collection and transmission from its application systems. The company is incorporating access to a wider range of sensor and data types, including curving force, rail stress and temperature measurements, that will allow the RPM framework to maximize wheel/rail system performance.

Steve Fletcher, vice president friction management mobile applications, said, “As with the PROTECTOR wayside platform, our product design and development teams are working aggressively to advance this product platform and make it even easier to implement and install on a range of vehicle types. The use of RPM systems allows for a highly-flexible fleet of systems that can be integrated into ‘smart’ management and maintenance strategies through intelligent use of data.”


After acquiring Tranergy in 2011, Loram Maintenance of Way, Inc., had a productive year delivering and installing nearly 300 TOR units. Loram developed a new application bar and pumping system for its TOR friction management systems, which the company delivered more than 100 of in 2012, with many more to be expected in upcoming years.

“These enhancements to the system allow the application rate to be adjusted to an extremely fine resolution,” explained Jon Behrens, general manager, friction management services at Loram. “One of the key advantages of the new application bar and pumping system is being able to distribute friction modifier in even colder temperatures, which allows for a more consistent use and benefit of the friction management system. These systems have been working in the Powder River area with no issues on delivery of the friction modifier to the rail.”

As railroads continue to learn about rail life and track component benefits that TOR and gauge-face lubricators deliver, Loram has seen an increase in the demand for TOR lubrication systems and friction modifier.

“This demand will continue to increase during the next few years,” explained Behrens. “The railroads continue to review their lubrication programs and are making decisions on what approach will work best for them. In addition, railroads continue to evaluate the amount of lubrication and the appropriate number of units they need to drive the best benefit.”

Midwest Industrial Supply

Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc., has been testing different variations of its Glidex® synthetic switch lubricant. The added proprietary conditioner for initial testing has shown an improvement in reducing friction on metal surfaces. The company is analyzing the overall cost versus benefit factor for its customers to determine if this would be an offering that would positively impact them in terms of performance and longevity.

“In terms of lubrication for switches,” said Eric Vantiegham, rail and transit sales, “I believe there are four main factors that our customers are looking for: performance, environmental impact, ease of application and value. Glidex covers all the bases in these regards. However, with most businesses today, the railroads are doing more work with fewer resources, so it is important to continue to strive for better application methods and improved lubricant performance.”

Midwest Industrial recently sold a prototype powered applicator for applying Glidex to switches in a large hump yard for a Class 1 railroad. The goal is to reduce the amount of time and effort it takes to perform the task of lubricating the switch. This system is expected to treat more than 400 switches from one tank with a comfortable pistol grip-type applicator and is powered by 12 volt DC, so it can be placed in any pickup truck bed and be powered using the truck’s battery.


Railmark Track Works Inc. offers a line of biobased, biodegradable rail curve switch lubricants and hydraulic oils. The company distributes Ultralube® brand railroad lubricants, which are manufactured from renewable USA-grown crop-based oils. These products are said to have four times more lubricity than petroleum-based greases and oils for rail lubricators and switch components with mindfulness to safety for employees and the environment. The new products meet EPA’s Environmental Preferable Purchasing criteria and are eco-safe and non-toxic.


Robolube Industries, Inc., (RBL) has completed in-track testing of its new Linear Wayside Lubrication System™ and is now in the final re-design stage.

“The Robolube Linear System uses only one ounce of grease per train, utilizing the field-proven Robolube technology in providing a hi-rail-type application of lubricant to the gauge face in a wayside lubrication configuration,” explained Bob Pieper, president. “Because of the minimal amount of grease used, there is optimal grease displacement and complete consumption of the lubricant, reduction or elimination of hazardous mats and virtually no waste of product, while still achieving a tremendous cost savings in wasted or unused lubricant.”

Since there is no contact with the train, there is less maintenance. The unit can be mounted at the apex of the curve where lubricant is carried down the rail from bi-directional traffic and there is virtually no cast off from centrifugal forces of the wheels, which causes fouling of ballast and creates environmental issues. It is designed for quick removal and re-installation for track maintenance and servicing.

“RBL hopes that we begin to see orders for the New Linear Wayside Lubrication System in mid to late 2013, after the final design is completed and further field testing confirms the tremendous advantages of this new technology for this application system,” Pieper noted.

SKF/Lincoln Lubrication

SKF/Lincoln Lubrication Systems is currently working on several wayside lubrication equipment upgrades.

“From a lubrication equipment manufacturer’s perspective, there are more and more friction modifiers being introduced into the market,” explained Drew Welch, national account manager railroad. “Compatibility testing with our pumps and applicators is ongoing, as these new products become viable solutions for our customers.”

SKF/Lincoln says its customers have indicated their intent to purchase the same or more wayside lubrication systems in 2013. One trend, the company notes, is the consolidation of programs from local control and budgets to a centralized program.

“The industry continues to show interest in testing new gauge-face grease and TOR friction modifiers,” said Welch. “SKF/Lincoln is keeping pace with the industry to provide pumping delivery systems and applicators for new rail curve greases and friction modifiers. Globally, we are seeing increased interest in our rail lubrication products. SKF/Lincoln has offices worldwide that support regional preferences in using our vast offering of lubrication equipment products.”


Whitmore Rail has introduced several new products in the past few months, including a rail curve lubricant named RailArmor™ and a dry film switch plate lubricant called SwitchArmor™. Whitmore Rail has also become vertically integrated in the rail sector and now offers friction management equipment.

“We make the most technologically-advanced electric trackside lubricators in the business,” noted Bruce Wise, director of railroad sales. “Our new lubricator has many features that the market has needed for many years. In addition, Whitmore Rail continues to develop new TOR friction modifiers that address the performance concerns in the North American freight market.”

Wise says the rail industry today is much more diversified in its mix of traffic and the focus on technology and efficiency has intensified. As the economy grows and goods in the U.S. become more global, he notes, the demand for cost-efficient transport will increase.

“This fits the rail business model perfectly,” Wise explained. “We believe the overall freight-rail spend will meet or slightly exceed 2012 levels, with a close eye on the world economy.”

2013 in general, looks like it will be a growth year for overall rail business, the Wise notes. Its core rail curve lubricants business continues to add new equipment and services that complement its traditional offerings.

Categories: Ballast, Ties, Rail, ON Track Maintenance