Sunday, February 28, 2010

Don’t jolt me!

Written by  Tom Judge, former Engineering Editor

Multiple forces in a freight train can damage cargo, at high cost. Modern load securement devices can mitigate them.

Would you trust a sensitive, expensive piece of freight like an automobile to a railroad? Motor vehicle manufacturers do, thanks to major improvements in ride quality and reductions in in-train forces. From the earliest days of railroading, keeping cargo secure over often-uneven track has been a challenge. Though most of today’s trackwork is superior to yesteryear’s, and freight car ride quality has improved dramatically due to advances in such components as trucks, couplers, draft gear, and cushioning devices, the loss and damage challenge remains.

Since approximately 1980, L&D, in terms of both actual claims and as a percentage of Class I revenue, has been dropping, according to AAR statistics. It dropped dramatically between 1980 and 1985, when claims fell from $285 million/1.08% of revenue to $124 million/0.44% of revenue. Between 2006 and 2008, claims held fairly steady, averaging $101 million/0.20% of revenue. While there is always room for improvement in track and ride quality, load securement devices are playing an increasingly important role in L&D reduction. Railway Age consulted with several major suppliers for this update on load securement technology.

Holland L.P.

“Our New Vehicle Restraint System (VRS) is a breakthrough in automotive securement,” says Holland L.P. Group Vice President-Mechanical Leonard O’Kray. “The patent-pending singular unit with its low-profile design and automatic retractable strap requires only four units per automobile and is easy to install and remove in seconds. This product can be applied in any bilevel autorack car to eliminate damage that can result from conventional jumped chocks.” This system has passed AAR impact testing at TTCI and is currently under field tests being conducted by the AAR Special Equipment Freight Car Committee Tag Team. Holland’s patented Load Snugger System, comprised of floor and wall anchors with four-inch polyester webbed strapping, was originally developed to secure metal coils up to 30,000 pounds. It has recently been expanded to include the application of cargo harnesses, as well as conventional four-inch straps for palletized orange and tomato juice and bagged commodities such as salt, sugar, flour, cement, and numerous other products requiring securement in boxcars.

“Near the end of 2009, we received a substantial order for our patented Load Snugger anchors for boxcars destined for a Class I,” O’Kray says. “Earlier in the year, a specially designed anchor system was incorporated in new cars for a major leasing company.”

Holland’s major customers are all railroads—Class I’s, regionals, and short lines—as well as leasing companies, private car owners, and shippers. “Damage prevention continues to play a key role in the rail industry,” O’Kray says. “Railroads have proven that the most cost-efficient method of transporting goods is via rail. However, the real challenge is being able to provide defect-free delivery of lading in a cost-effective, timely manner.”

Portec Rail

“Everyone knows of the economic difficulties of 2009 and the significant impact upon those involved in the building of railcars and locomotives,” says “Cook” Sieja, president and general manager of Portec Rail Shipping Systems Division. “At least for 2010, the road ahead doesn’t look as bumpy. Two reasons why we are more optimistic: One, with the apparent recovery in the auto industry taking hold, there has been a corresponding increase in quoting and sales activity for our automotive market products such as reconditioned Auto-Rack Wheel Chock securements and High-Capacity Bridge Plates as well as steady sales of military tie-down equipment. The second is our aggressive pursuit of new custom-engineered load securement systems. We are applying our extensive load-securement engineering and design expertise to special customer projects. The close customer relationships Portec Rail–SSD enjoys are presenting opportunities to cooperate on the development of specialized systems.”

An example of this cooperation: SSD is currently working on a design that will enable railroads to transport wind turbine tower sections on existing flat cars. SSD also cooperated with another company on a system to transport wind turbine blades, where it contributed the sling design in a “Blade Cradle” that provides stability yet enables the blade tip to swing within a specified range when the flat car negotiates curves.

SSD is also working on advancing off-the-shelf products with a recent patent awarded on an intermodal container lock. “We are continuously evaluating our portfolio of securement products, including vehicle wheel securement systems, chain tie downs, web and cable products, lading banding securements, intermodal container locks and pedestals, and brake chains for improvement in design, manufacture, and application,” Sieja says. “We will be keeping a keen eye for signs of an upswing in the manufacture of Class VIII vehicles such as tractors, buses, fire trucks, recreational, and industrial vehicles for opportunities to expand our patented WinChock™ Uni-Level Securement System that enables the protracted transport of these vehicles from assembly plant to sales distribution points by rail.”

IRECO

IRECO LLC also is offering several new products. “We recently introduced our Combination Winch Mandrel/Gear Replacement Kit,” says Patricia Janes, manager/sales coordinator. “This product will enable the customer to change a cable winch or a webbing winch into a combination cable/webbing winch without having to remove it from the car, thus saving money, time, and manpower, and increasing car utilization,” Janes says. “For new car programs, we also recommend our standard Combination Cable/Webbing Winches for Centerbeam Car Applications and Part #20699 for Flat Car Applications.” Another new product is IRECO’s Y-47 Retaining Pin and Keeper Assembly (pictured above), approved for use with TTX Maintenance Instruction 03-533 (End Hose Arrangement Maintenance and Modification). It provides the option to secure the head end of the pin as required by AAR Specification M-119 or both ends of the pin if desired. IRECO is currently working with a Class I to convert its Centerbeam Car Cable Winches to combo winches. Major customers are railroad carbuilders in the U.S. and Canada, as well as the Class I’s.