• M/W

Rocky Road

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

RAILWAY AGE, NOVEMBER 2021 ISSUE: The three most important words to a railroad chief engineer are (pardon the alliteration; I’m sure you’ve heard this before) drainage, drainage and drainage.

The world has been experiencing biblical-sized havoc wrought by climate-change-induced flooding—scorch the landscape first, then drop a “monsoon bomb” on it—resulting in roadbed washouts. For our purposes, we’re primarily talking about basic ballast maintenance for “normal” weather conditions, though all of the equipment described here is needed for disaster recovery—rebuilding. The companies profiled here having been parting the Red Sea for railroads for generations, continually finding better ways to do it. Their high-production machines perform one of the most critical of m/w functions: keeping ballast in a state of good repair.


“Natural disasters are becoming a more common occurrence for our Class I, short line, commuter rail and light rail customers,” says Matt Weyand, Sales Engineer at BTE (Ballast Tools Equipment). “Our fleet of BTE Hi-Rail Excavators and Ballast Repair Attachments are there to answer the call when Mother Nature wreaks havoc on their lines. With our Multi-Function Buckets, Undercutters and Culvert Cleaners, we can clear debris from the tracks, undercut the fouled ballast from the track and clean out plugged culverts. All these services can be done before and after a natural disaster has occurred.”

Recently, BTE was able to help a customer that had experienced a landslide near Grand Junction, Colo. Bringing in multiple excavator platforms with the Culvert Cleaner system, undercutters, tampers and various buckets, BTE was able to get the tracks cleared and the drainage field corrected quickly and safely. 

“Utilizing our large excavator platform to clear debris quickly, allowed us to double-time clearing the culverts with the smaller excavator platform,” Weyand notes. “Once that was done, we were able to undercut problem areas while traveling on the track, as the team brought new ballast in. Taking a modular approach to ballast and drainage challenges, through the utilization of our platforms that allow for many attachments on one machine, keeps our customers ahead of the curve. Being able to use one machine to high-rail to problems areas, with its support equipment, creates efficiencies and increases the flexibility in solutions available for a given problem.”


Herzog says it “continues to provide the highest levels of accuracy and efficiency when it comes to ballast unloading across North America’s railroads. Herzog’s specialized ballast distribution equipment—the Automated Conveyor Train (ACT) and GPS ballast trains—have transformed this once labor-intensive activity into a safe, economical solution. 

“With Herzog’s m/w equipment, railroads face fewer constraints when they encounter labor shortages for track maintenance work. Crews can take full advantage of the scheduled work windows, as both the GPS ballast trains and the ACT require only one Herzog operator. No employees are required to traverse the unstable walking surface of ballasted track and they can avoid the harmful effects of silica dust inhalation. 

“This past September, Herzog’s ACT supported relief efforts after Hurricane Ida near New Orleans left critical miles of Class I track washed out and impassable. The ACT proved vital to getting the necessary aggregates to our customer quickly for trackbed reconstruction to begin and return to standard operations faster than anticipated. The ACT is very versatile in that it can transport and unload multiple types of materials in one consist and distribute in curves up to 13 degrees. The ACT can also instantly pause dumping and move to the next location with no additional setup time.

“Always focused on making continuous improvements to its technology, Herzog’s Research & Development teams work to increase load capacity, improve flow rates, and achieve the most precise distribution footprint along the track possible. Using enhanced LiDAR laser scanning coupled with military-grade GPS/inertial systems during its pre-dump surveys, Herzog can spread specific quantities of ballast wherever needed along the line.”


Knox Kershaw Inc.’s KBR 860 Ballast Regulator is a “powerful track dressing machine,” says President George Pugh. “It comes standard with a one-pass-type plow, reversible side wings and a broom attachment. The machine features a sturdy, comfortable cab with unique window placement for optimum visibility. The overall length and height is specifically designed to be shorter in order to facilitate transport to and from the work site.

“The cab tilt feature and clean roof design promote safety and ease of maintenance by providing easy access to major machine components without having to go under or climb on top of the cab. Featured options of the 860 include a hydraulically driven AC with pressurizer, joystick controls on an ergonomic operator’s seat with easy access to all controls, tinted windows, additional rider seating, and a six-speed powershift transmission.

“The KBR 925 Ballast Regulator, which was redesigned for 2019, is a robust machine designed for ballast work on all types of track. Superb visibility, especially the wing areas, makes it the ideal machine for final profiling. The 925’s plow and wing work together to transfer ballast from shoulder to shoulder in one pass while leaving one shoulder profiled. The insulated broom box has excellent service life, and the standard reversing valve allows ballast to be swept away from switches and road crossings.

“New features for the KBR 925 include a Danfoss Plus One control system, front-mounted Visionaire hydraulically driven AC with high capacity pressurization, and increased fuel and hydraulic fluid capacities.

Watch this Railway Age video from Railway Interchange 2019.

“The Plus One controller includes a 12-inch color touch screen monitor to display machine functions and diagnostics. When fully developed, the controller will aid operators in processes such as joystick functions, transmission shifting, wing deploy/store and brooming speed control, as well as self-diagnosis of performance issues. Clogged filters, inoperable coils or wiring, fluid pressure warnings, engine diagnostics and on-screen troubleshooting guides will enable operators and mechanics to diagnose problems and quickly resolve them.

“The new design increased fuel tank capacity by placing dual tanks on either side of the cab and moving the hydraulic tank to the front of the machine for added weight and balance. Side access steps are configured for easy and safe access to the cab and all maintenance points are easily accessible from the ground.

“All of these new features improve productivity by increasing capacity and decreasing machine down time. KKI is focused on product line expansion and continues to improve upon existing models of its machines to make them safer, more efficient and easier to operate. 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.”


“The most recent research presented at the 2021 AREMA conference highlighted the importance of ballast maintenance,” says Loram. “The presentation demonstrated the effectiveness of shoulder ballast cleaning by quantifying the improvement in drainage realized as well as the improvement in center fouling over time. Analysis was also presented showing the lower total cost of ownership when utilizing a scheduled shoulder ballast cleaning program.

“Loram’s customers, both domestically and internationally, are turning to gathered data and analysis to make informed decisions about where to spend their ballast maintenance budgets. In the current era where there is an increased scrutiny of mudspots and limited maintenance windows, a premium is being placed on ensuring that the right work is being done in the locations that need it most. Customers are moving beyond the adage of ‘I know where my mud is’ and looking for technology partners that can give them the depth of understanding necessary to ensure that their maintenance dollars will be spent to solve root causes of issues, not just symptoms. 

“Good planning is the key to effective ballast maintenance. Loram Technology’s inspection equipment can utilize GPR, LiDAR, linescan, x-ray tie inspection and video to assess the entire track structure. When this data is aligned with railroad-supplied geometry history (to provide overall trending), a holistic analysis of the track can be completed and used to inform planning. Loram has created ballast life cycle models to help determine what remediation services will provide the greatest economical return on the investment.  Then a work plan is developed to precisely execute a multi-year maintenance plan to fit a customer’s budget and remediate/maintain as much track as possible in the most cost-effective manner.

“GPR, LiDAR and geometry data are often used together to target where different types of ballast maintenance should be executed. Areas with high shoulder fouling and moderate crib fouling are candidates for shoulder ballast cleaning alone, while high center fouling paired with persistent geometry issues may be a target for subgrade stabilization before undercutting. High fouling and moisture retention around bridge abutments, road crossings or switches can be targeted for vacuum excavation.

“GPR data can be used to identify areas that require undercutting or shoulder ballast cleaning. The total fouling data can then be paired with LiDAR data to plan the ballast cleaning task by identifying the current ballast volume and calculating how much the volume will be reduced by removing the fouling material. This data can be used to determine how much ballast will need to be delivered to restore the track to the target ballast profile.”


Miner works very closely with customers “to help understand all their ballasting needs and provide safe, reliable and durable maintenance-of-way AggreGate ballasting systems,” the company says. “There has been a growing interest in night ballasting and using our solar-charged lighting system to light around the work areas. 

“In meeting our customers’ needs, Miner developed a stand-alone lighting system to aid in night ballasting. This system uses solar panels to store energy during the day light hours, for powering LED work lights at night. This system allows for a safer work environment during night operations.

The stand-alone lighting system is available with standard electric, air-powered and manual AggreGates, and as a retrofit option for existing cars in the fleet.

“The solar-powered, electric battery operated, stand-alone AggreGate is designed to enable independent operation of the car from anywhere within the ballast train, thus eliminating the need for grouping manual and automatic cars and can ultimately be operated without connection to another car for power. Solar power and battery provide stand-alone operation. An optional remote control with push button override is also available, designed to allow for individual car and gate selection. The state-of-the-art electronics promises improved reliability, longevity and performance.

“As the largest and most experienced manufacturer of discharge systems in the world, Miner is known for reliable operation; rugged, long-lasting design; reduced maintenance; and dependability. 

“With many unique design features, the AggreGate can effectively ballast inside, outside or both sides of the rail simultaneously. These features include large guillotine door openings designed to stop ballast flow with minimum effort, easy to operate toggle-type linkage systems and tapered doors for easy ballast shutoff at switches, crossovers and bridges. In addition, the remote control AggreGate allows the user to deposit ballast while remaining a safe distance from the activity.

“AggreGate ballast discharge outlets are available in either manual, air-operated, electric or remote control models to meet virtually any ballast unloading need. Engineered as a fabricated and completely assembled unit, AggreGates are extremely easy to apply to new or existing hopper cars.”


“Ballast is a critical component of the track structure; it needs to be clean and in the proper location and quantity to perform its job,” says Vice President Sales and Marketing Ron Olds. “Plasser American supplies various high-production machines to maintain ballast.

“Clean ballast is extremely important to maintain track geometry. Scheduled ballast undercutting and shoulder cleaning to create proper drainage and removing fouled material from the track is the first step to long-lasting track. Plasser offers several machines for cleaning ballast. The workhorse of this fleet of machines is the RM80, which can undercut and clean plain track, as well as switches. Additionally, there are high-capacity double screening units such as the RM2003 and the RM802 High Speed Undercutter-Cleaner. Plasser American offers contract services for ballast undercutting and shoulder cleaning.

“Plasser’s PBR2005 Ballast Profiling machine has the ability to plow, profile and broom in one pass. The unique design of the shoulder plows allow the machine to reach out and pull in ballast, which was previously beyond the reach of conventional ballast regulators. The machine is also available with an optional double broom. The PBR2005DB is ideally suited to work behind two-tie tampers where it can easily keep up with the tamper in a ‘one pass’ operation.

“Unfortunately, the ballast along the railway isn’t always where it is needed. The Plasser Ballast Distribution System has the ability to solve this problem. The Plasser BDS system has the ability to profile ballast, pick up excess ballast, and unload ballast where it is needed including switches and road crossings in a one pass operation. Additionally, the BDS100/200 Ballast Distribution System continues to be the ideal machine to accompany our high speed 09-3X tampers, working on its own or with multiple tampers.

“Plasser’s MFS Hopper Conveyor series of cars are a well proven design providing hundreds of cars over many years. Additional cars can be coupled together to increase capacity. The floor of each car is a conveyor belt for storing and moving material. A waste/transfer conveyor is installed on the end of each car. These cars are ideal to be used with undercutter and shoulder cleaners for loading waste material or carrying new ballast and to add storage capacity to the BDS100/200 system.”  

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