Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pushing the productivity envelope

Written by  Tom Judge, former Engineering Editor

Track time is a precious commodity. Suppliers of high-productivity m/w machines enable railroads to make the most of it.

Regardless of traffic levels, railroads press to make the most of available track time, balancing the quest to operate a fluid railroad with that of squeezing maximum productivity out of maintenance-of-way work windows. Those windows are starting to retighten with the return of traffic as the economy recovers. The operative word is “productivity,” and suppliers of the machinery that makes modern m/w possible are constantly working at ways to help their customers push the envelope.

Following are just a few of the many examples of where progress in speed and accuracy is being made.

Georgetown Rail

“Second only to safety, productivity is one of the most important benefits Georgetown Rail Equipment Company offers railroads,” says Lynn Turner, vice president-marketing and sales. “One product where this is exemplified is the Aurora Track Inspection System,” Turner says. “While this product has been around for a few years, it recently underwent an overhaul that allows it to now collect data even more accurately at faster speeds—up to 42 mph.” The system uses advanced, automated Machine Vision technology to greatly increase the productivity of inspecting both wood and concrete ties for a number of attributes.

“The Aurora product and subsequent Service were developed out of need of various Class I and transit railroads to not only safely speed up tie inspection, but also to standardize it,” Turner notes. “With the ability to scan and collect data on up to 126,000 ties per hour, Aurora minimizes required track time, and standardizes the grading of ties, eliminating the deviation that can occur when different inspectors walk the same track, or even with the same inspector on a different day due to weather or other factors. With Aurora, this is now all standard criteria that never waivers. Once the system is calibrated to a certain customer’s specifications, it will increase productivity by allowing for solid data after each scan. This reduces the need for track time and allows inspectors to then conduct a ‘virtual track walk’ from the safety and convenience of their own office.”

Herzog

The newest item available from Herzog Railroad Services, Inc.’s Ballast Division is the Smart Train. “This innovative piece of equipment allows for shoulder and center ballast spreading while traveling up to 20 mph,” says George Farris, vice president-marketing. “This means less ballast handling and quicker start times for work gangs. It also reduces the risk of injuries because there is no need for ground personnel.

The Smart Train has been in development for several years. It was brought about by an expressed need from the industry for high-speed center ballast unloading. It also increases the amount of ballast that can be safely spread per mile. These cars can be unloaded by remote control, by push buttons located on the side of the cars, or by a Herzog technician using a laptop and our specialized unloading software, making these some of the most versatile ballast cars available today.”

Herzog’s Joint Bar Inspection Vehicle (Patent Pending) is part of a project that began initially with research done by Transportation Technology Center, Inc. A study was conducted on bar failures that determined that 95% of failed bars had a crack that originated at the top center of the bar. This could be due to bending of the bars under load or stress risers created from “fretting” of the metal caused by the movement of the rail ends against the top inside surface of the bar. Conventional detection methods rely on visual or machine vision systems to detect cracks that have propagated outward and have progressed to a size that is beyond the area covered by the head of the rail. Since the study revealed that cracks originate and fail before it propagates to a point where visual systems can detect them, another approach was warranted.

In response to the conclusion of the study performed by TTCI, Herzog Services developed a Roller Search Unit specifically designed to inspect the face of the bar along the back and underneath the head of the rail. This is the area where cracks can originate and is hidden from view by the railhead in normal situations. “The RSU, in conjunction with a servo-pneumatic positioning system and proprietary measuring and identification software, allows the inspection unit to be placed precisely along the surface required to perform the test,” says Troy Elbert of Herzog Services. “The system will automatically clear the inspection head to ensure that any obstacles will be avoided such as dragging equipment detectors, greasers, and crossings, to name a few. When the software identifies a bar, it will deploy the inspection head to the correct position and initiate the coupling system to provide proper means to efficiently transfer the ultrasonic energy into the bar. The benefits of this identification method is that the vehicle can travel at run-light speeds in areas that do not contain joint bars such as long areas of CWR and will only have to slow to perform an inspection when a bar is encountered. Safeguards have also been built in to protect the inspection head if a bar is identified while the vehicle is traveling at a speed greater than what has been determined as an optimal speed for detection. The software package will alert the operator if this situation has occurred, allowing the operator to perform the inspection for every bar installed in service. If the software identifies a defective bar, the operator will perform a hand inspection to verify the results.”

The conclusion of the RSU test will generate a report on defective bar locations that are tagged with a milepost and GPS coordinate with sub-meter accuracy.

Additionally, a report can be generated that gives locations of all bars within the segment of track tested. These locations will also be tagged with the same milepost and GPS precision. “We view this inspection system as an integral part of our non-destructive inspection services that we offer the railroads,” Elbert says. “With it, we can assist in proactive measures to detect defective angle bars before they fail to help reduce the potential for risk of derailment due to broken joint (angle) bars. Additionally, we can provide an accurate joint bar count and location report for CWR territories that may need to maintain and update this information. This inspection system is a response to the requests of our customers and is another example of our commitment to safety and customer service.”

Harsco Rail

“With ever shrinking track time and allowable work windows, increased productivity and quality of track maintenance are more paramount now than ever,” says Chris Larsen, director,-equipment sales for Harsco Rail. Working within conventional North American production tamping practices, Harsco Rail has developed and implemented ‘The Drone,’ an unmanned chase tamper programmed to tamp ties skipped by the lead tamping machine, in a manner similar to the current manned chase tamper used in conventional and high-speed tamping operations. “The design of the Drone is such as to match, and in many cases exceed, current tamping gang productivity, but with reduced manpower requirements and reduced overall costs,” Larsen says. “The benefits of The Drone include increased tamping productivity, reduction in personnel required, increased safety, and associated economic savings.

“The Drone would not work without our very accurate tie-finding technology,” Larsen points out. “By comparing tie locations found on both machines, the Drone is able to continuously refine its location so that it knows exactly where it is in relation to the machine ahead to within a fraction of an inch, for mile after mile of operation. This is one of the key enabling mechanisms at work on the Drone.”

The Drone is in constant radio communication with the machine it is working behind. Up to 10,000 ties are memorized on both machines, allowing either or both to be interrupted during work whenever necessary with a lock out, or tag out. On restarting, all previously known tie locations will be restored and operation immediately resumed with locations fully synchronized, without requiring any specific action on the part of the operator on the lead tamper.

“Unevenly spaced ties, skewed ties, and grade make no difference to this machine,” Larsen says. “In slippery conditions and rain, the Drone can maintain location accuracy and consistent operation. For surfacing operations on a Class I, the Drone can tamp twice as many ties as the machine it is following, in effectively the same amount of time. Currently, the prototype machine is working behind a new Mark VI tamper, which is achieving peak speeds of 15 ties per minute (double-tamping every third tie). The Drone double-tamps both ties skipped by the machine ahead. While it cannot quite reach double-tamping speeds of 30 ties per minute, it is relentless in operation and does not fall behind. This allows one operator to double-tamp more than 4,000 feet of track per hour.”

Loram

The new RG400 Series Production Rail Grinder is the latest rail grinder from Loram Maintenance of Way, Inc. “The RG400 rail grinders incorporate higher stone counts, improved quality assurance tools, an improved traction system, higher water capacities, and environmentally friendly features to ensure Loram is able to provide our customers with rail grinding services that exceed their expectations in terms of speed, performance and reliability,” says Tom DeJoseph, vice president marketing and sales. “High-capacity, walk-around water cars provide improved fire suppression and a safer work environment for Loram and railroad personnel. An improved traction system provides for greater acceleration and deceleration, resulting in increased utilization of available track time. A robust dust collection system, utilization of water glycol for hydraulic fluid, tier compliant engines, and improved fire suppression systems all ensure rail grinding activities will be performed in an environmentally conscious manner. All grind modules have increased grinding range to 70 degrees gauge to address all rail conditions.

“Loram’s longstanding goal is to provide its customers the most productive, safe, and high-quality rail grinding program possible,” DeJoseph notes. “We responded to our customers’ demands for increased productivity, safety, and environmentally conscious services by developing the RG400 Series Production Rail Grinder, which exemplifies the speed, performance, and reliability our customers look for in a rail-grinding partner.”

The Loram 24 Stone “Gap” Grinder is a specialty rail grinder from the same RG400 Series family of machines. “With 24 stones driven by 30-hp electric motors, this grinder is much more productive and requires fewer passes than any other switch and crossing grinder, and is capable of grinding a complete switch in less than 10 minutes,” DeJoseph says. “Additionally, because these specialty grinders incorporate main line grinder technology, they are ideal for addressing mild and sharp degree curves between main line grinding cycles. Utilizing these grinders in conjunction with main line grinders increases the efficiency of the entire grind program.”

“Loram responded to a unique problem its customers faced,” DeJoseph says. “The Gap Grinder gained its name by presenting a solution to fill the ‘gap’ when the large production grinders are unable to logistically get back to the sharper curves on the ideal cycles. When cracks grow in the railhead, they reach a point of rapid acceleration. If grinding is not done at this point, there will be a great deal more metal to remove when the large grinder does arrive. This results in an undesirable head loss while slowing down the grinder, making it more difficult to reach the next curves on time. Along with presenting a solution to grinding sharp curves, the Gap Grinder also filled the need for an exceptional switch and crossing rail grinder.”

Plasser American

Plasser American Corp. points out that working closely with railroads has resulted in many innovative and efficient solutions, including the Ballast Profile Measuring System offered on Plasser Track Recording Cars, Plasser’s Ballast Distribution System used to manage existing ballast, and the PBR-2005 Ballast Profiling Machine used to profile ballast behind tamping machines in a one-pass high-speed operation. Plasser’s shoulder plow used on the PBR-2005 Ballast Profiling Machine and BDS 100/200 Ballast Distribution System saves ballast that has been lost over the shoulder because has the ability to reach far out on the shoulder and reclaim ballast that would otherwise be left using conventional ballast regulators. The plow can also be used to pull in shoulder ballast in front of ballast cleaning operations so that as much ballast as possible is reclaimed.

Sperry Rail Service

Sperry describes its new, compact 450 Series rail flaw detector car as “ideal for yard testing and transit systems,” due in part to its lightweight, modular aircraft-aluminum construction and narrow clearance envelope. The 450 Series is outfitted with, as standard equipment, the 1900 Test System, “the only 48-channel test system in the industry. As new probe technology becomes available, the 1900 seamlessly integrates additional data streams into the testing process for a more complete picture of suspected defects.”

The 450’s six ultrasonic RSUs (Roller Search Units) track rail geometry precisely at all speeds, eliminating the possibility of bridging over surface irregularities such as pumping joints or crushed heads. Each RSU includes a mechanical gauging carriage with a locking system and individual suspension. The six RSUs consist of four UX-6 units (two per rail) and two X-Fire units (one per rail). The UX-6s provide comprehensive head, web, and central base coverage, plus uniform and constant contact with the rail, “even when applied to less-than-perfect rail conditions,” says Commercial Director Markus Nottelman. This unit features six discrete transducers—one 37, three 70s, one Sidelooker, and one 0. The 70s are used to find TDs (transverse defects) and head defects. The 37s find bolt hole cracks and web defects. The Sidelooker searches for shear breaks and vertical defects. The 0 is used to find bolt hole and base defects ands corroborate other transducer data. The X-Fires feature obliquely angled probes used to identify difficult to find defects such as reverse detail fractures and transverse defects in the gauge corner. They have the ability to detect defects in spite of certain surface conditions such as head checking, shells, and worn rail profile. Nottelman says the X-Fire “detects up to 30% more transverse defects than standard ultrasonics alone.”