Maintaining ballast

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor
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Technological advancements are being incorporated into North American ballast maintenance products and services.


{besps}March14_ballast{/besps} {besps_c}0|1ballast.jpg|Herzog Railroad Services, Inc.’s ballast unloading cars.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|2ballast.jpg|Plasser Unimat 09-475/4S N-Dynamic Switch and Production Tamping Machine.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|3ballast.jpg|Loram’s Railvac.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|4ballast.jpg|Montana Hydraulics’ center-mounted bi-directional ballast plow on a curve.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|5ballast.jpg|BTE’s backhoe with attachments.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|6ballast.jpg|NMC’s backhoe loader with undercutter in action.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|7ballast.jpg|Progress Rail Services’ Kershaw Model KSC2000 in operation.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|8ballast.jpg|Nordo Inc.’s XL-5, a road-ready mobile tamper and regulator set.{/besps_c}


Technological advancements are being incorporated into North American ballast maintenance products and services.

Support and drainange are crucial elements of a railroad’s maintenance program whether it’s a Class 1, shortline or passenger line. Manufacturers of ballast maintenance products and suppliers of services have upped the ante technologically speaking and improved ballast maintenance offerings for 2014.

Balfour Beatty

Balfour Beatty Rail, Inc., has enhanced its Railroad Asset Scanning Car (RASC) hi-rail inspection vehicles with the introduction of upgraded GPS systems, stereo and 360-degree cameras, GPR array systems and LIDAR scanning technology.

Balfour Beatty Rail’s ZRL200 20D high-speed LIDAR scanning system produces surface profiles of the ballast, which can be compared with customers’ trackbed templates for both tangent and curved track to identify areas of noncompliance. The system also allows detailed structural clearance measurements to be obtained during routine surveys.

Balfour Beatty Rail also develops customized data acquisition systems that integrate its GPR with existing third-party track geometry, GRMS and VTI systems.


BTE has made advancements with its BTE-450-UC Backhoe Undercutter/Tamper High-Rail Loader system. The company says that with the integrated, easy-on-off hi-rail system and a full line of rail maintenance attachments, the BTE-450-UC is its most versatile piece of equipment for complete track maintenance and that its heavy-duty, nine-foot undercutter bar with 360-degree rotation effectively and efficiently undercuts problematic mud spots.

“Our backhoe system also utilizes a two-motor, four-tool tamper attachment,” explained Matt Weyand, sales engineer. “This versatile attachment makes short work of tamping difficult areas, such as diamonds, switches and turnouts. With the new programmable logic controller (PLC), BTE has automated the tamping functions on the attachment to replicate the operations of a production tamper. The PLC control system also provides increased safety for the crew with the use of safety interlocks, which helps prevent operator error.”

BTE offers lease and purchase plans for all equipment and has delivered equipment throughout North America to Class 1 railroads and other lines, as well as contactors. The company’s service team also follows the BTE machines wherever they go to help provide service and upgrades in the field.

“Machine up-time is important every day and day-after-day, too,” noted Joe Smith, sales engineer. “Due to shorter work windows and long travel distances, we have seen higher demand for easy on/off track service equipment. This combination of high performance, multiple uses and the ability to quickly get out of the way, maximizes the work that can be done safely and effectively in small work windows with limited manpower.”


The Dymax Rail Rider II hi-rail system features remote control technology with built-in creep drive modes, allowing operators to perform multiple tasks. The Rail Rider II has built-in stabilizers that secure the machine car for on-track work, such as ditch cleaning, culvert and dam building for flood damage, post hole drilling and other demanding jobs.

It’s a modular system that does not require machine modifications or power assistance from the excavator. It’s designed to travel long distances and handle big loads.

Each Dymax Rail Rider II hi-rail machine is provided with a remote control, allowing contractors and rail networks to set up any machine brand, in any class and perform track maintenance. The remote system features the ability to control the machine from the control box, or the provided foot pedals. Foot pedals are required when performing track maintenance from the Rail Rider II so that operators can use the excavator machine controls for the maintenance work. The remote control includes a padded case for protection and a remote camera system, which allows operatorsto have a clear view of the track section behind them while working.

The Dymax Rail Rider II has a hand tool circuit with 30 feet hose reel, capable of operating all types of hydraulic tools, from the end of the power car or the machine car.


“Railroads seeking automation solutions expect suppliers to incorporate sophisticated technologies that provide the latest advances in material-handling efficiencies to replace passed-down knowledge and experience-based, subjective methods,” said Lynn Turner, vice president of marketing and sales for Georgetown Rail Equipment Co. (GREX).

BallastSaver®, a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology-based inspection system was developed by GREX to assess the existing roadbed ballast profile and overlay that data against the customer’s ideal or standard profile. The existing profile conditions, with variations for curves and other anomalies, ultimately can be transformed into a fully-automated system planning tool or spot analysis for a few miles of problematic track. With the addition of lateral instability detection (LID), BallastSaver can detect areas subject to erosion of the roadbed and exposed end of ties, where dangerous conditions might develop and derailment risk could increase, the company notes.

“BallastSaver, a hi-rail based platform, can perform as a stand-alone service or be combined with the GREX’s GateSync automation technology,” explained Turner. “BallastSaver also can be customized to be meet customer requirements. Data collections can be done day or night, or in inclement weather. The combined services of BallastSaver and GateSync enable customers to determine GPS-specific ballast tonnage requirements laterally along the track and deliver them at speeds up to 10 mph, exactly where needed.”

Both BallastSaver and GateSync have been independently and field tested for accuracy and repeatability, GREX says, providing railroads with the ability to objectively assess, predict, plan and deliver their ballast requirements in a fully-automated manner over vast territories and regions.


In 2013, the Herzog Railroad Services Inc. (HRSI) P.L.U.S. and SMART Trains received a technological upgrade.

“We have always experienced some degree of difficulty when attempting to spread ballast through areas of intermittent or non-existent GPS signal availability,” stated Tim Francis, vice president of marketing. “We listened to our customers and spent years researching, developing and implementing the P.L.U.S./SMART Inertial System.”

Using similar technology that is established on Herzog’s ProScan LIDAR Truck, the company replaced the standard GPS antenna with the P.L.U.S./SMART Inertial System. Now, when dumping ballast, the company says it has yet to find a tunnel it can’t dump through or a mountainous terrain it can’t dump over.

“Dumping ballast with our P.L.U.S./SMART Inertial System also allows us to shorten the dump zones on the approach and departure of fixed assets to 15-feet and five-feet, respectively,” Francis noted. “This technology has truly revolutionized our ballast train fleet. Shorter dump zones mean less time surfacing, reduced work windows and more time running revenue freight.”

HRSI’s ballast trains can dump ballast in either direction regardless of the direction of survey. Minimal set up time is required and can be completed in a siding or yard track located miles from the dump location. Once the train reaches the dump site, no additional set up is needed and the ballast begins to flow. Valuable track and time is not wasted stopping the train for additional measurements or adding extra equipment before ballast dump can begin.

“We have even spread ballast through a two-mile tunnel, as well as several new construction projects on steel, wood and concrete tie skeletonized track surfaces. All of these features save our customers time and money,” explained Francis.

Knox Kershaw

Knox Kershaw Inc. (KKI) has made enhancements to KKI machines in 2013 and 2014, which include the updated KPB 200 Plate Broom, improved broom element clamps on all sweeper machines and the redesigned KYC 550 Yard Cleaner. Additionally, Knox Kershaw Inc. offers on-site operator and mechanic training for all ballast regulator makes and models.

The KPB 200 has been updated to incorporate electronic controls to simplify use; the broom element clamps have been improved by incorporating a backing plate for element support when brooming in reverse, prolonging the life of the element and the clamp incorporates a drilled and tapped mounting hole for easier maintenance.

The new KYC 550 has been completely redesigned from the old model KYC 500 to improve transportability, maintenance, accessibility and operation.

“Knox Kershaw continues to improve upon existing models of its machines to make them safer, more efficient and easier to operate,” explained Courtney Kershaw, media coordinator. We could not do this without the guidance and support of our customers. Through them, we learn how to make our products better with each model.”


“Research and development is the vehicle of innovation and business growth,” stated Scott Diercks, product development manager at Loram Maintenance of Way, Inc. “Loram invests heavily in research and development to enhance our services and provide additional value to our customers. Loram continues to develop in all areas of our ballast products. Special emphasis has been placed on our Track Lifter Undercutter (TLU), a more productive, exceptionally versatile and cost-effective alternative to traditional undercutting services.”

Diercks points to the addition of the powered plow to the TLU and says it can perform ballast renewal activities and lower track with speeds that can exceed 5,000 ft./hr. He says the self-supporting cut-in allows customers to take advantage of short track windows and expand daily productivity without the hassle of moving additional support equipment. TLU options include undercutting, power plow, track lifting and cement tie pad replacement.

“Railroads are realizing long-term sustainable benefits through increased budgets for ballast maintenance activities,” he said. “Our customers are working to maintain their ballast section in a preventative maintenance mode. Strategically, this allows our customers to cover more of their system rather than only focusing on problematic areas.”

Loram is currently expanding its fleet of Railvacs for specialty ballast evacuation in areas of tight clearances, such as ballast deck bridges, switch winterization, tunnels and on transit properties. The Railvac is designed to apply 5,000 pounds of force coupled with a rotating nozzle to break up tough material. The machine also features remote joystick controls and Loram says its unrivaled nozzle flexibility to reach hard to reach track structures.

Miner Enterprises

Miner Enterprises, Inc., recently made improvements to the performance/life cycle of the linear actuators and electrical systems used in its Miner Electric AggreGate®, a stand-alone electric aggregate system. The electric stand-alone AggreGate enables independent operation of the car from anywhere within a ballast train, eliminating the need for grouping manual and automatic cars.

“We are making these changes to help car builders and car shops streamline the applications and reduce labor costs,” stated Chris Gaydos, manager mechanical engineering. “Customers have been asking for a safe, durable, maintenance-free way that ballast that can be applied to new or existing cars and that is what the Miner AggreGate provides.”

During the past year, Miner has provided twin cylinder, remote control operated ballast systems for cars exported to South America and is currently providing AggreGates to two Class 1 railroads for new cars and car conversions. AggreGate is available in pry bar manual, push- button or remote-control operations using pneumatic or electric power to operate the gates.


In the past year, Montana Hydraulics received its ISO 9000 Quality Certification and continues to focus on education and awareness about its center-mounted bi-directional ballast blow.

“Our center-mounted bi-directional plow (patent pending) has self articulating blades,” said Della Ehlke, co-owner. “This product is extremely effective and safe and very popular. There are over 160 installed and operating and our Montana shop excels at manufacturing large custom hydraulic cylinders typical to maintenance-of-way equipment. We try to keep our ballast field services evolving to keep up with railroad demand. This past year, we added ballast tarp cover installation to our services offered.”


To help solve the spot work on bad ballast, NMC Railway Systems offers the Cat® Backhoe Loader package nick-named “One Man Gang,” which is available for purchase or rent. The “One Man Gang” package consists of a 420-foot or 430-foot backhoe equipped with hi-rail gear and various attachments to combat bad ballast. The NMC “One Man Gang” Backhoe Loader is able to accommodate several attachments, including: a seven-foot undercutter bar, two-motor tamper, tie inserter and the standard thumb and cribbing bucket. NMC says this package allows the operator to perform spot work and operate as a one man gang without the need for several pieces of equipment.

“NMC Railway Systems has increased its service and parts availability for the Cat equipment we provide to the railroads,” stated Mark Anderson, sales manager. “Making serviceability and parts more readily available have helped the railroad stay more productive in the field. Additionally, our team continually looks to provide operators, field and on-site training for all of the NMC Railway Systems products. Ensuring the operators understand the machine and how to properly maintain them allows them to utilize the products to their full potential.”

Anderson says the railroads are continually looking for products that diversify their ability to work on remote track lines and find that the company’s 324 Hi-Rail Excavator (HRE) can provide that, due to its ability to utilize a variety of attachments without having to switch machines.


Nordco Inc.’s XL-5, a road-ready mobile tamper and regulator set, offers the railroad industry a tamping solution that is designed for high production and mobility.

“Normally, reactive tamping processes have meant the expensive stationing and maintaining of equipment across the country in anticipation of potential reactive tamping needs,” explained Bill Straub, president roadway equipment. “When a unit has to be deployed, it either has to track travel to the work area or department of transportation permits must be obtained to move the unit by truck.”

Straub says the Nordco XL-5 makes those permit requirements obsolete and notes the set’s length, width, height and weight are all within legal road limits. The machines can be directly attached to a standard truck without using a drive-on trailer and moved to the work area at any time.

“The XL-5 can get on and off the rail at any standard crossing, saving on expensive track travel time and without the need for cranes,” he said.”The mobility of the XL-5 system will allow for better utilization of assets by railroads and contractors.”

Nordco also offers its hydraulic switch tamper, rebuilds of Jackson 6700 or Mark series tampers and an extensive inventory of tamper parts (including complete workhead, jackbeam and vibrator assemblies).

Plasser American

“Ballast regulating machines, an important link for distributing and profiling the ballast are often overshadowed by other track maintenance machines, but for no sound reason, because the work they do is an important contribution to the overall mechanized system,” commented Plasser American Corp. “Ballast distributing and profiling machines have become a standard feature of modern track laying and track maintenance and are used in conjunction with many different construction projects, such as ballast regulating as part of maintenance operations; ballast distribution on newly laid track; sweeping of turnouts and accurate placement of ballast.”

The company now offers the Plasser Unimat 09-475/4S N-Dynamic Switch and Production Tamping Machine. The machine combines ballasting, tamping, regulating, stabilizing and measurement all in one. Plasser says it was designed for simplified worksite logistics with high potential savings and that it performs complete work for maintenance of plain track and turnouts in the technologically correct sequence in a single working pass.

Ballasting and tamping are performed in the front part of the machine. Plasser notes there is typically a lack of ballast in switches and turnouts and says in the past, this meant that ballast had to be delivered and distributed before the tamping operation. With the Unimat, additional ballast is provided by a MFS-type material conveyor and hopper unit coupled to the machine.

Profiling, sweeping, stabilizing and measuring follow and are combined in the rear part of the machine. Here it is also possible to add ballast as needed to fill in the tie cribs. The integrated stabilizing unit provides the initial controlled settlement following the tamping operation. Measuring, recording and analysis of the track geometry parameters provide verification of the performed work.

Progress Rail

Progress Rail Services designed and built a new One-Pass Ballast Regulator. The Kershaw Model 66-2-3 features a center-mounted plow, reversible wings and a broom with conveyor and hopper assembly for ballast shaping, shoulder profiling and a variety of other track maintenance operations.

The frame is all welded construction using tubular sections with formed and structural cross members and is powered by a Caterpillar C9 Liquid Cooled Diesel Engine producing 350 hp, allowing the regulator to reach speeds of 50 mph.

This model has a fully integrated hydraulic system in which the pump drive powers the hydrostatic propel pump, as well as the pumps which power the broom, conveyor and wing and plow operations. The cab is a two-man, fully enclosed unit with insulated safety glass, dome light, front windshield wipers and sliding side windows and is climate controlled.

Progress Rail Services designed and built a new Shoulder Ballast Cleaner, Kershaw Model KSC2000, that is a self-contained, self-propelled machine for excavating and cleaning the shoulder ballast, returning the cleaned ballast to the track, profiling the shoulder and sweeping the tie ends in one pass.

“Especially noteworthy about this new cleaner is its sheer size and its capabilities while moving considerably faster than other models while still creating high quality profiling,” noted Dean Mackey, general manager, Kershaw. “Aspects include 12-foot, nine-inch diameter excavating wheels with 30-inch wide buckets equipped with bolt-on carbide tipped wear plates. The hydraulic system has separate hydrostatic circuits to each wheel for independent operation.”

The cleaner has two main loading conveyors with 48-inch-wide belts and the spoil conveyor under screen has a 60-inch-wide belt. The screening system is an eight-foot by 20-foot single shaft, two-deck system with multiple screen cloth configurations available and can process 2,900 tons per hour. The loader car cab has a two console setup for both travel and work modes with ergonomic seating for two. The cab is equipped with a camera monitor and two diagnostic displays. The screen car cab has a split console with two dual joystick seats for control of the left and right shoulder wings.

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