Primed For Impact

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Red River Valley & Western Jordan Spreader in action near Gwinner, N.Dak. (RRVW photo by David Badgley)

Red River Valley & Western Jordan Spreader in action near Gwinner, N.Dak. (RRVW photo by David Badgley)

RAILWAY AGE AUGUST 2022 ISSUE, ANNUAL REPORT ON WINTER PREPAREDNESS: Railroads are proactive when it comes to countering winter weather effects. They work together and with suppliers to reduce risk and ensure that traffic keeps moving—safely.

Railroads must ready themselves for Mother Nature’s twists and turns—from this month’s extreme summer heat that can cause track buckling or catenary sagging, to the upcoming winter snows and ice that coat both. Being proactive is key to providing safe service in any weather.

Canadian Pacific has been railroading in challenging winter conditions since 1881, particularly through the steep mountain ranges of Alberta and British Columbia. The Class I railroad’s winter contingency planning begins each summer analyzing upcoming winter weather data and forecasts. Then, it develops specific plans for each region, subdivision, rail yard and facility, and for its Train and Engine employees, Engineering and Mechanical personnel, and Operations Centers in Calgary and Minneapolis. 

Plans are summarized in a report that’s submitted each fall to the Ministry of Transport. The 2022-23 edition was nearing completion this month. The 2021-22 report highlighted safety performance; winter forecast and modeling for the season; systems in place that monitor winter conditions (such as hotbox detectors) and mitigate impacts (such as snowfighters, snowplow/snow spreader consists, railway switch heaters, and weather stations); work with external organizations, including customers, supply chain partners, and government departments and agencies (like Avalanche Canada, Parks Canada and the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure); and capital expenditures and capacity-boosting projects. 

Among CP’s initiatives last year to keep ahead of the weather were expanding air brake flow monitoring and the application of cold wheel detection technology; completing a switch heater installation and renewal program (359 of 914 switch heaters had been replaced since 2016); extending sidings on the Brooks, Maple Creek, Broadview and Laggan subdivisions; installing 18 miles of Centralized Traffic Control from Red Deer to Wolf Creek; and continuing a locomotive modernization program (386 high-horsepower main line units had been upgraded since 2012). 

New York & Atlantic crews offloading switch cleaning equipment—snow shovel, backpack blower and fuel for switch heaters—at the Fresh Pond Yard, just west of the New York City Transit overpass. (Photo by Gregory Grice)

Anacostia Rail Holdings (ARH)—owner of six railroads in seven states, including Illinois, Minnesota and New York—and the 500-plus-mile Red River Valley and Western (RRVW) in North Dakota shared with Railway Age how they keep ahead of winter weather. ARH has a checklist that is updated regularly to assist railroad affiliate managers. While it is customizable by location, the company focuses on eliminating injuries and train accidents through preventative action.

The list includes briefing personnel on footwear (anti-slip and overshoes), clothing and vehicle safety; ensuring snow removal equipment is in good condition and that there is an adequate supply of switch brooms and shovels; making sure hazard signs, such as end-of-track and other markings, are not impaired by snow accumulation; painting switch points yellow to improve position visibility, marking clearance points, and clearing switch tie rods; checking locomotive cab door gaskets and heaters; and providing lightweight brake sticks to minimize railcar climbing in slippery conditions.

“Cold weather slips and falls are a leading cause of injuries in this industry,” points out Tom Leopold, ARH’s soon-to-be-retired Chief Safety and Compliance Officer. “We are zealots when it comes to having good footwear. We pay 70%-80% of the cost of safety boots, traction devices and overshoes with tungsten carbide studs.” The Chicago-based short line holding company’s anti-slip footwear program is mandatory and applies primarily to personnel at its Northern Lines Railway (NLR), Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Railroad (CSS), Louisville & Indiana Railroad, and New York & Atlantic Railway. ARH replaces boots as they wear out. 

“Our policy helps ensure employees always have boots that are in good condition on their feet,” Leopold says. “Good footwear and anti-slip devices can prevent a fractured elbow, wrist, dislocated shoulder or concussion.”

For RRVW—Railway Age’s 1997 and 2005 Regional Railroad of the Year—preparing for winter is about adapting to changing conditions and talking into account lessons learned, according to President Victor Meyers. The railroad officials debrief after each winter season, gathering feedback from the Transportation, Mechanical and Maintenance-of-Way teams, and meet again the following fall to discuss and implement plans for the upcoming winter. Plans include performing scheduled and preventive maintenance on key snow removal equipment, such as the Jordan Spreader and Snow Fighter; positioning snow removal equipment in the required locations; and making sure switches are cribbed, and shovels and brooms are at the ready for switch cleaning. 

The regional also plans and forecasts operations seven days in advance, providing “forward-looking insight as to what our operational and snow removal needs will look like,” Meyers says.

“Typically, wind and blowing snow combined with cold temperatures create difficult and hazardous conditions in North Dakota,” Meyers points out. “This means that in addition to planning for snow events, RRVW has to plan for wind, as the snow will blow and create very large drifts across the network that trains cannot pass through.”

RRVW’s two primary pieces of equipment for railroad snow removal are a Jordan Spreader and a ballast regulator with Snow Fighter apparatuses. It also uses a punch plow and Bros Snow Blower, as needed. “None of this equipment is new,” Meyers says, “but RRVW has made investments over time to ensure that it is reliable and can support snow removal operations.” The regional also uses third-party contractors with excavators to help clear cuts and snow drifts.

Additionally, idle-reduction technology has been added to eight locomotives over the past two years, which supports effective and efficient operations in cold weather months, Meyers notes.

ACH’s NLR in central Minnesota recently added a Kubota SVL 75 tracked skid steer tractor to its winter equipment arsenal. The 74-hp machine has a snowplow that can be adjusted as wide as 14 feet. Riding between and adjacent to the rails keeps yard track, switch leads and access roads clear of snow, according to Track Supervisor Joseph Kedrowski, who adds that the unit is more maneuverable than a four-wheel-drive truck.

CSS uses a skid steer plow to clear snow on walkways, parking areas and in front of overhead doors. A m/w vehicle plows roadways, access roads, and satellite parking areas for crews and vendors, and a contractor handles large parking areas and walkways. The short line also uses an ice melt product that’s environmentally friendly and won’t damage concrete pavement, locomotive steps and walkways.

Prioritizing snow removal in advance of service is another step CSS takes to keep traffic moving. M/w personnel are assigned to ride with train crews or to regions of the railroad, according to Vice President of Operations Mike Shore. They use compressors and snow-blowing backpacks to clean out switches, minimizing delays due to snow accumulation.

To ensure overall network fluidity, RRVW’s Meyers says the regional coordinates daily with connecting railroads. “This might mean that we hold a unit train at origin for a day or two so that we do not create congestion at our interchange locations,” he reports. 

Railroads also team with suppliers on winter prep. Railway Age provides a roundup of their latest equipment offerings, informed by railroad requirements. 

Frauscher Sensor Technology USA Inc.

Prior to winter’s arrival, railroads benefit from evaluating how train detection systems in at-risk areas have performed during previous winters, Frauscher says. The company offers wheel sensors that are IP68 rated (meaning they are waterproof and dustproof), run in a wide range of temperatures, and are not reliant on shunting to function. 

Frauscher also provides train detection solutions for vital and failsafe operation, as well as for non-vital applications. “In addition to increasing safety of signaling and grade crossings systems with consistent uptime, use of Frauscher wheel sensors for triggering trackside equipment such as AEI readers, hotbox detectors and vision monitoring systems keeps these crucial pieces of equipment functioning throughout the difficult winter months,” according to the company.

As part of Frauscher’s continuous product improvement program, features have been added to allow for remote diagnostics and adjustment of the wheel sensor. The company says the advantage is two-fold: “the convenience of remote capabilities year round, and the ability to handle issues or receive information from the comfort of an indoor location.”

Frauscher tells Railway Age that it “invests heavily” in R&D, based on feedback collected regularly from customers. Several projects are currently in the pipeline.  


“Ensuring new equipment installations are done properly, performing any needed maintenance on existing equipment, having common replacement parts on hand and training appropriate personnel is key to a smooth transition into winter,” Market Manager for Railroad Michael Mustradi says. “Taking the time to evaluate equipment ahead of time allows for maximum savings during the winter months. In today’s world, this preparation is even more crucial as fuel costs continue to rise.” 

Hotstart offers a range of products designed for locomotive idle reduction. “Our APU5 product line runs off the onboard locomotive fuel supply to provide the locomotive with coolant and oil heat, battery charging and cab heat without the need for shore power,” Mustradi says. “Additionally, we supply shore power systems and battery chargers in numerous configurations for a variety of applications.”

Customers have used grant funding to equip their locomotive fleets with EPA “SmartWay”-verified Hotstart equipment, according to Mustradi. “Government funding, such as the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), financially assist railroads to procure idle reduction technologies that decrease fuel costs, emissions and engine wear,” he says.

“With high fuel costs and pressure to be ‘green,’ product reliability is of upmost importance for our customers,” Mustradi adds. Ease of product installation, operation and maintenance is also significant “in keeping labor costs down, while freeing up mechanical crews to address other locomotive needs.” 

New York Air Brake (NYAB)

Freight train brakes depend on reliable and high-quality compressed air to ensure safety and performance under all operating conditions—including the winter months’ below-freezing temperatures. That’s why NYAB offers the VV1000-T Oil Free Compressor, which prevents freeze-ups, and the LD-1000 Air Dryer, which includes a filtration system that removes compressor-produced impurities and humidity. 

The manufacturer also offers the DB-60 II Control Valve with Brake Cylinder Maintaining (BCM). If there is a leakage in the brake cylinder, the BCM feature will allow for continued air supply.  Since railroads are now required to upgrade, or return for upgrade, control valves after 14 years of service, NYAB has materials available for a quick turnaround, according to Vince Moore, Product Line Manager for Freight Products. The goal is safety, he says, so any aged rubber is replaced to avoid potential air leaks in the seal. 

On the R&D side, NYAB is working to advance rubber and composite technologies to further improve seal reliability at lower temperatures and over longer time periods. Additionally, it has partnered with Nexxiot on the “digitalization” of brakes for remote monitoring and predictive maintenance. “This is about allowing our products to be remotely accessed and providing health and status information, so customers can make decisions about maintenance in a timely manner,” Director of Marketing Deepak Kumar tells Railway Age. “This will go a long way to helping railroads prepare for winter operation.” He says NYAB is currently developing a “smart” Air Dryer, for example, that will allow for remote diagnostics in 2023. 

NYAB is also developing an enhanced version of its CCBII locomotive electronic air brake system, called CCBIIE. No longer would a railroad or NYAB service tech have to hook up a laptop to a locomotive to diagnose an issue; troubleshooting would be performed remotely. 

NYAB is evaluating customer requests to develop parking brake technology. “Once brakes are set on trains, the constant brake force from the parking brake will ensure trains remain secured,” explains Moore. “What the parking brake would do is provide a secondary level of securement, an additional layer of safety, to ensure that if a train were to have excessive leakage that was unknown, it could still be safely secured.”

Power Drives, Inc. (PDI)

Railroads and rebuilders alike have concerns with fuel usage, emissions, maintenance and noise pollution due to idling in the winter months. Because of this, PDI developed the PowerHouse™ idle reduction system, which allows for locomotive shutdown even in the coldest temperatures. The system heats engine oil and circulates heated coolant through the locomotive engine block and cooling system to maintain a fluid temperature above 100°F, via a diesel-fired heating unit, according to PDI.

Based upon customer input, the company recently developed the PowerHouse™ Hybrid, which “completely eliminates the engine as part of the APU and powers itself directly from the locomotive battery bank.” No engine on an APU was a message PDI “heard loud and clear” from its customer base. A Class I installed 10 hybrid test units during the past winter season and the results prompted additional units to be installed over the next three seasons.

The Hybrid runs off the locomotive batteries for up to seven days without starting the engine, PDI tells Railway Age. When plugged into an external 120 VAC power source, it charges the locomotive batteries.  

The Hybrid requires, on average, less than 5 amps to power a diesel-fired burner to keep coolant and oil warm while the locomotive is shut down. It also monitors locomotive coolant system and battery health, sending warnings via text messaging to railroad personnel.    

Because water can wreak havoc on locomotive systems, PDI says, it designed a compressed air water separator. This drop-in solution works with standard locomotive air dryers to remove water for proper locomotive function. The Diesel Dehydrator™ also removes water and filters particulates from diesel fuel.

Progress Rail, A Caterpillar Company

Progress Rail offers the Kershaw® Model 60 multi-purpose machine platform, Rail Blaster and EMD® AESS™ (Automatic Engine Start/Stop) to help railroads maintain operations during the winter. The Model 60 can be used not only as a heavy-duty snow fighter, but also as a ballast regulator or brush cutter in the warmer months. The Rail Blaster rail conditioner system uses compressed air to blow snow from the rails to improve tractive effort. 

For locomotives, the EMD® AESS™ is “a fully integrated software solution that monitors critical operating parameters during locomotive idle operation—safely and effectively shutting down the engine when all factors are satisfied,” Progress Rail tells Railway Age. “When any one of the predetermined limits falls outside of the target range, AESS™ will restart the engine. The system maintains engine water temperature and air pressure and other characteristics to hold the locomotive in a ready state during cold temperatures so it can set to work when needed.”

The company, in collaboration with a Canadian customer, more recently developed the first of a new generation of high-output snow fighters. Powered by a 415-hp Cat® C9.3B diesel engine coupled to upgraded drive train components, it is said to transmit 30% more tractive effort than previous models.

Railway Equipment Company (RECO)

RECO offers electric- and gas-powered switch heaters from 2 hp to 5 hp that can produce up to 900,000 BTUs, keeping switches clear of accumulated snow and ice. Its Sno-Net® product allows railroads to remotely monitor, adjust settings and troubleshoot switch heaters without having to be on location in harsh winter conditions. Also available are the 922 cal-rod switch heater with controller as well as hot- and cold-air blowers. 

The company says it is constantly evolving its products to meet railroad needs. For example, its gas hot-air blowers (GHAB) now offer a burner access panel and an improved over-temperature sensor; and its fixed fiberglass cover that contains heat from switch heaters and reduces snow in the switch point can now be mounted to the lateral track ducts for easier installation and removal come springtime. 

Also new is RECO’s GHAB Concentrator, which links all blowers in one area so railroad personnel can communicate with them from a control house. It not only shows switch heater status, but also indicates faults. “This can be tied into your communication database through SNMP protocol,” RECO tells Railway Age. “This would be ideal in yards, where the dispatcher can see the status of all the units and turn them all on at the same time. This product line is compatible with 922s, EHABs (electric hot-air blowers) and GHABs.”

Now in R&D is an induction heating solution. “We are very excited about this new product line that will be on test this coming winter,” RECO says.

As winter fast-approaches, RECO recommends that railroads inspect their switch heaters, checking all ductwork to ensure it is free of debris and offers a clear airflow. Having spare parts such as control modules, ignition transformers and flame spark plugs on hand is also important. With the recent supply chain challenges, the company suggests placing parts orders as soon as possible, so they are delivered well before the first storm. RECO notes that its Engineering and Operations teams are also “dedicated to ensure parts are available and ready to ship for any time-sensitive requests.”  

Spectrum Inc., a Division of Aspeq Heating Group

Spectrum offers track heaters, crib heaters and hot air blowers as well as custom heating solutions. “Proper track heating (snow/ice removal and prevention) is a must to avoid delays,” says Director of Sales, Railroad Division Glen Baker. The company has increased the levels of track heaters and crib heaters in stock, and now offers both 300 watt/foot and 500 watt/foot track heaters. “Also, we have increased factory testing procedures to ensure the heaters are going to work when they arrive at the site and last in the most rugged conditions,” Baker says.  

Spectrum has teamed with Class I railroads on several projects this spring and summer that include new track switch heaters (cal-rods), cribs, control panels and electric hot-air blowers. Many are for new switches, Baker says. Customers are looking for quality (longevity), and “we build-to-stock for quick shipping,” he adds. 

What’s new in R&D? “We have several prototype solutions for special applications we are testing,” Baker tells Railway Age. They are: a knife heater for railroad bridge connections; a wheel detector heater with controls; a short, compact 30-inch crib heater with quick disconnects for ease of installation; and some variations of track heaters (shorter versions) for switch-point snow issues.


Thermon works closely with customers to understand what they need to protect track switches and other wayside assets throughout the year, ensuring that the company has the right products available at the right time. “This collaboration has become even more important during the supply chain disruptions experienced in the past couple of years, and has allowed Thermon to change from a build-to-order manufacturer to a build-to-stock model,” the company tells Railway Age.

It recently debuted the HF905, 5-hp track switch heater. “During development of this unit, we utilized simulation software and trial and error to maximize its switch-clearing capability,” Thermon says. “Our customers have been very receptive to this new design and are tasking it with keeping switches clear in the worst winter environments in North America.” The company also has reduced the variability of its Fastrax product line to shorten manufacturing times and the learning curve for field personnel.  

New in R&D is Thermon’s next-generation Hellfire. The company has two primary aims: to maximize heat output and even air flow distribution to all areas of the switch, which will further minimize the time required to fully clear snow and ice accumulation; and to modernize and consolidate controls, improving the user interface and allowing for integration with wayside edge processors.


The GURU Valve from ThermOmega-Tech is a water-sensing thermostatic drain valve that automatically responds to engine coolant temperature. “When the water temperature falls to the GURU’s set-point, the Plug snaps open and drains the system before freeze damage can occur,” the supplier explains. “Depending on the locomotive model, this can save customers up to a half-million dollars.” 

The company recommends replacing the GURU DL and GURU Magnum valves every 18-24 months, and getting winter orders in as early as September. 

ThermOmegaTech’s GURU Flag and Clip Tool allows refilling of the locomotive cooling system with cold water without tripping the GURU Plugs. The clip is attached to the valve stem to keep it from “popping,” and the flag goes onto the locomotive’s outer wall, letting mechanics know that the GURU Plug is “disarmed,” according to the company.

ThermOmegaTech also offers the GURU Passenger Car valve, which it says protects potable water-bearing systems from freezing when railcar heat is turned off during a layover, locomotive change or power outage.

On the R&D side, the company recently partnered with a customer for a new JIC (joint industry council) configuration of its valve.


The key to winter preparedness is to start early and make sure all winterization programs are complete before the snow flies, Wabtec tells Railway Age. “This approach will ensure the most efficient use of the labor available,” the company adds.

For the winter season, Wabtec offers Advanced Rail Cleaner (ARC) to improve adhesion and related tractive effort, and the Traction Antilock Braking System (TABS), which it describes as “a software solution that actively prevents wheel lock-ups and associated defect formation (wheel slides) by powering stalling axles to keep wheels turning during braking applications.”

Additionally, its AESS systems allow locomotives to remain off longer during colder temperatures (20°F versus 43°F) without the risk of water-system freezing.

Wabtec tells Railway Age that it recently initiated the validation of bio-derivative fuels in winter operations to understand the impact before fleet-wide implementation.

ZTR Control Systems

ZTR offers railroads the Locomotive Battery Saver System; SmartStart®, an AESS system; and KickStart™, “a supercapacitor technology that augments the lead acid starting battery,” providing “standby” energy, according to the company. It is also introducing the ability to monitor SmartStart® and KickStart™ through telematics. 

What’s new in R&D? ZTR tells Railway Age that it continues to research alternative battery chemistries that are stable, don’t require maintenance and could be combined with its supercapacitor technology in a single unit. 

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