Managing friction

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor
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Friction management methods, products and equipment continue to improve in 2014.



{besps}February14_lubrication{/besps} {besps_c}0|1lubrication.jpg| Robolube linear rail application assembly.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|2lubrication.jpg| The Elecsys RFM-100 web-enabled monitoring system.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|3lubrication.jpg| Installed near Kansas City, Mo., this SKF/Lincoln Lubrication Systems solar panel kit protects panels from weather damage and vandalism.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|4lubrication.jpg| The Loram TracShield installed along the rails.{/besps_c}

Friction management methods, products and equipment continue to improve in 2014.

Manufacturers and suppliers were hard at work in 2013 making improvements to greases and lubriction systems for the railroads. A number of new solutions and equipment are now available for use in providing optimal management of wear and tear on the rails.


Elecsys introduced its RFM-100 remote monitoring system for use on top-of-rail (TOR) and gauge-face lubricators in 2013. The monitoring system continually monitors tank levels, pump status, material disbursement, wheel/axle count and power availability. Alarm thresholds may be applied to the monitored parameters for immediate notification of equipment failure or operational anomalies, the company notes.

The data is accessed by authorized personnel via any web-enabled device, which allows the operator to respond rapidly to equipment failures and Elecsys says this greatly increases maintenance efficiency.

“We expect that the recent trend towards increased focus on monitoring of both existing and new lubrication equipment will continue during the next year,” explained Jamey Hilleary, director of M2M products. “We currently have active projects with several suppliers of lubrication equipment to equip new and existing installations on major rail systems in the U.S.”

L.B. Foster

L.B. Foster Rail Technologies says it has seen rapid growth over the past two years with the introduction of new types of consumable friction control materials. The industry has widely accepted the value of proper friction management of both the gauge-face and the TOR to improve overall capital and operational costs, the company says.
L.B. Foster notes that focus from the industry has shifted to reducing the costs of implementing and maintaining a friction management program and says efforts to improve the railroads’ return on investment has been focussed on two aspects, reducing both the number of applicators required to treat a section of track and the application rate required.

Brian Vidler, senior manager product solutions stated, “We have approached this opportunity to increase product value by pursuing two parallel product paths. First, we continue to develop advanced chemistry for our KELTRACK® family of products that will provide extended carrydown, up to four miles, while maintaining the performance and rigorous safety requirements expected by the industry. Second, L.B. Foster has expended significant development efforts to understand the application of TOR oils and other lubricant materials and has now developed a TOR oil product that can provide benefits at up to eight miles. These advances in products are going to translate into significant performance gains for our customers.”

Vidler says the focus isn’t only on product development, but also on running rigorous field trials to scientifically validate product performance benefits and the safe operation of customers’ railroads.

“We are proud of our ability to collaborate with our customers, as well as to have our work reviewed and published within the technical community,” he said. “This work provides our customers with solid, verifiable proof of our product performance.”

TOR materials are only effective when they are applied efficiently and with the highest possible uptime and to achieve this goal, L.B. Foster says it continues to advance its line of PROTECTOR® IV applicators.

“Benefits of TOR and gauge-face application can only be realized when the material is applied to the rail,” explained Vidler. “Our PROTECTOR IV systems are robust and when maintained by our customers, or by L.B. Foster’s field service team, we are able to demonstrate more than 90 percent unit uptime. We continue to focus on improvements in control algorithms, remote performance monitoring and design simplification to further enhance the efficiency and reliability of our systems.”

KELTRACK is a water-based friction modifier that controls the friction levels at the wheel/rail interface to intermediate coefficients of friction. The company says that significant efforts went into verifying that KELTRACK not only provided the fuel and rail savings, but also facilitated safe operations regarding traction, braking and impact on rolling contact fatigue.

Use of L.B. Foster’s line of AutoPilot™ Mobile TOR spray systems continues to expand within the industry with the introduction of hi-rail based systems, the company says and notes that these application systems incorporate automated controls to allow track inspectors to focus on their jobs while providing effective friction control at the same time.

“Mobile systems can be more efficient in product application and are well suited to high commodity routes such as coal, as well as closed loop utility operations and shortline railroads,” noted Vidler. “The key is providing effective and consistent application of friction modifiers to achieve strong returns. Our technical solutions and applications engineering team focuses on understanding each customer’s unique needs for friction control and then custom designing a solution to provide a strong positive return. We refer to this as Total Friction Management™, which goes well beyond supplying a product, to developing the maintenance and performance monitoring tools and systems to actually achieve the benefits of these products.”


Interflon USA Inc. offers a switch and joint/splice bar lubrication product that contains MicPol, a treated form of Teflon that is micronized and polarized and forms dry Teflon films on the components. This film is said to be durable, lowers friction, stops adhesion of dirt and dust and protects against corrosion. Interflon says the product has four functions: cleans, creeps, lubricates and protects.

Interflon says the key benefits include a reduction of product quantities used by up to 90 percent, which has cost benefits, environmental benefits and stops lubricants from deteriorating composite pads under the rail. The company notes that lubrication intervals can be lengthened by 50 percent to 100 percent and there is no need to move the switch when applying the product, leading to less time spent on the track and increased worker safety. Joint/splice bars can be treated without taking them apart; the company says this product will creep into the application and reduce friction and protect the parts, increasing network reliability.


“Product development continues to be a primary focus of Loram’s friction management services,” explained Jon Behrens, general manager, friction management services. “Loram continues to explore customized solutions to serve the needs of its customers while growing its footprint in the friction management marketplace. Development of application and delivery systems, as well as modifier advancements, will continue to occur at a rapid pace to ensure the reliability and effectiveness of its friction management solutions and the complete satisfaction of its customers.”

In the past two years, Loram has installed more than 1,000 TOR delivery systems on Class 1 railroads and says it expects its installed equipment base to increase significantly in the upcoming year. The company notes proper friction management practices allow the railroads to improve the stress state of their infrastructure by controlling track forces and friction and says its patented systems utilize customizable controllers and the dual positive displacement pumps to ensure that the precise amount of friction modifier is applied to each rail. The company further noted that its system has flexibility, so a customer can adapt the same system to ever- changing friction modification, based on specific site demands.

During 2013, Loram introduced a remote monitoring and analytics service program. The service includes hardware and software that is integrated with the wayside controller. This technology has the ability to report system operating diagnostics, such as pump revolutions, modifier level, battery voltage and many other items for each system. Loram analyzes this data for its customers and communicates when and where maintenance is needed. The remote monitoring system also allows remote functionality, such as updating software, turning the system on and off and adjusting settings and modifier disbursement. Loram says this provides customers the needed tools and service to increase the up-time of the friction modifier units and realize the predicted return on investment.

“Railroads continue to explore ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their rail assets,” said Behrens. “Friction management is a key cost-effective solution that provides increased rail life and reduced fuel consumption. We believe the friction management market will continue to grow as it provides benefits to the railroads.”


Railmark Track Works Inc. has launched its own branded line of bio-based rail lubricants with a new manufacturing and distribution arrangement and says it is now able to offer customers a 25 percent to 33 percent discount over the company’s previous products.

The company’s bio-based rail lubricant meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Preferable Purchasing criteria and is a USDA BioPreferred product; is manufactured in the USA from renewable USA-grown crop-based oils and a lithium-based thickener and doesn’t contain zinc, chlorine or harsh odors.

Railmark offers a variety of product applicators in the form of manual pump, hand/shoulder carry, wheeled and electric units and truck bed use spot sprayers.

“Railmark sees rail lubrication continuing to gain importance as all railroads and rail transit operations continue to look for ways to extend equipment life, both wheel and rail wear, reduce equipment maintenance and improve fuel efficiencies,” noted Allen Brown, CEO. “Railmark’s lubrication products offers strong results while safe for the environment.”


Robolube Industries, Inc. (RBL), introduced the Robolube Linear Wayside Lubricator concept and prototype at Railway Interchange in 2011. Since that time, the company has been conducting extensive testing of the product before releasing the unit to the market.

“Our experiences with our other products have taught us well in this time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process,” explained Robert Pieper, president. “However, this is a very necessary process for an industry that has high expectations and demands in difficult environments. We at RBL share these same expectations with our customers. We will continue to perform these essential and necessary steps so that our unit will meet and exceed the expectations of both the railroads and RBL in performance, dependability and serviceability. Our testing has gone well and I am optimistic that we may release the unit by third quarter or fourth quarter of this year.”

The linear lubricator was designed to provide application of lubricant to the gauge face in the middle of the curve; have no contact with the train; virtually eliminate product waste and reduce cost while increasing lubrication effectiveness; provide environmental stewardship by eliminating hazardous materials requirements and use a new technology that allows for heated grease, heated oil and heated rail application system (The Robolube Linear has operated at 27 degrees below zero).

“I believe that indications are that the railroads are becoming more sophisticated in addressing this area and will increase their programs to include all facets of rail lubrication with hi-rail, wayside, TOR, friction modifiers, etc.,” noted Pieper. “We have designed, built and supplied a few units to one of the Class 1 railroads that encompasses our standard, Robolube hi-rail lubricator for lubricating gauge face. Not only does this lubricate rail with our traditional method and lubricant, but we now can also apply the popular friction modifiers to the TOR.

SKF/Lincoln Lubrication Systems

“Because 95 percent of all lubricators utilize solar panels for power, SKF Lincoln is introducing a new solar panel kit designed for durability and security,” explained Drew Welch, national account manager, railroad, at SKF Lincoln Lubrication Systems. “Developed to protect the panels from weather damage and vandalism, the kit includes everything required for quick mounting on either the reservoir or at a remote location.”

The panel is secured to a steel frame and protected by clear thermoplastic. Three five-foot-long, three-inch-square steel tubes are fitted together to keep the panel more than 10 feet above the ground and the tubes are secured through either welding or using breakaway bolts. The completed pole can be set and filled with concrete for increased security, SKF/Lincoln notes. The kit features an oversized 190-watt panel to provide sufficient power, even in limited-light areas. The power wire is protected inside the pole and designed to be buried underground for added security and safety.

“In conversations with key customers, they have indicated their intention to increase the number of wayside lubrication systems purchased in 2014,” Welch said. “This is especially relevant for TOR projects. We currently are working on a number of major projects. We continue to see increased interest in our rail lubrication products globally and, because SKF/Lincoln has offices worldwide that support regional preferences, we are positioned to provide effective solutions using our vast offering of lubrication equipment products.”

Whitmore Rail

For more than 20 years, Whitmore Rail has been developing petroleum and biodegradable rail curve and switch plate lubricants. The company’s recent push to become more vertically integrated in the rail sector now includes the launch of a new TOR friction modifier called TOR Armor™. It provides friction at the wheel-rail interface and is said to reduce lateral creep.

“Wear, noise and lateral forces are all reduced saving customers time and money,” explained Bruce Wise, director of railroad sales. “It’s formulated for use on heavy-haul freight and transit rail applications. Another comprehensive friction management product we’ve introduced is our new line of high-tech electric trackside lubricators called AccuTrack™. The technological advancements designed into these lubricators include delivery of consistent output in all temperatures. They are available in multiple tank sizes, all include a flooded suction inlet and are made in the USA.”

Whitmore expects lubrication programs to be about the same as 2013 and projects its business to grow significantly this year.

“2014, in general, looks like it will be a growth year for our overall rail business,” he said. “Our core rail curve lubricants business continues to flourish as we add new products and services that complement our traditional offering.”

Categories: Ballast, Ties, Rail, ON Track Maintenance