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How Midwestern Conditions Affect Railroads

Life in the Great American Midwest is defined by the terrain and weather conditions that are unique to the area. Because of this, infrastructure such as roads needs to be built to withstand such conditions, and knowledge of what affects it is important. According to the average Midwest railroad contractor, there are several environmental conditions in the Midwest that may affect your railroads.

While they seem relatively simple, railroads rely on a variety of nuanced mechanics to remain functional over time. When these mechanics are hindered by environmental conditions, they can pose a threat to both the vehicles using the line and those people in and around those vehicles. Whether you’re building a new railroad, or taking over an old one, knowing which conditions can affect your line is imperative.

Here is a look at how local conditions can affect railroads in different parts of the Midwest.

Tornadoes

Truly one of the more terrifying extreme weather events, tornadoes are an annual part of life for many Midwesterners. While they can occur at any time of year, they generally occur in June and July in the Midwest due to Goldilocks-like conditions. Depending on their severity, they can scatter ballast or in more extreme instances uproot the entire rail scattering ties and sleepers, and warping rails.

While there isn’t much one can do in terms of preventing tornado damage to the railroads, certain areas in which tornadoes are more common can be avoided. Usually though, when tornadoes pose a threat to railroads, the trains, cars, and any potential passengers will usually take precedence.

Extreme Heat

While most locals are deeply fond of the hard and fast Summer that rolls through the Midwest each year, not everyone benefits from it. In fact, the extreme heat over this time poses a range of threats to our health, with dehydration and heatstroke being common issues each year. It also poses a threat to our infrastructure, which while made to withstand some degree of extreme weather, is still affected by it over time. When it comes to railroads, the main threat that extreme heat poses is the rail buckling while a train passes over it, which can be disastrous.

As with tornadoes, it can be hard to fight the extreme heat and the effects it has on your railroads. Regular maintenance and acknowledgment of extreme weather conditions can help to prevent such problems. On speaking with a Midwest railroad contractor, they mentioned that seasonal modifications can further dampen the negative threat of extreme heat and other extreme weather conditions.

Ice and Snow

Extreme cold can have a profound effect on our daily life, and while Winter is short in the Midwest, like Summer it is fierce. In fact, braving that fierce cold has become a part of the Midwestern identity. Ice and snow caused by the extreme cold can have quite an impact on both trains and railroads. Ice building up on the brake shoes can dampen the stopping power of a train, as they need to warm up and melt the ice before they will function. Likewise, snow on the tracks can impact both the stopping and going power relied upon by trains.

Ice and snow can also cause derailments, which are pretty much the worst-case scenario for most railroad operators. A build-up of ice and snow between the rails can lead to a derail due to the lack of a flangeway for the wheels to ride in on the inside edge of the rails. During cold snaps or more intense snowfalls, all railroad operations may need to slow down or stop to allow snow-clearing equipment to do its thing.

As with extreme heat, seasonal modifications can help to prevent such issues from arising, although regular maintenance and paying close attention to the weather can be enough in some instances.

Spring Floods

It seems that the Midwest suffers from almost every possible extreme weather condition each year, which truly denotes Midwesterners as survivors. The final extreme weather condition which is common to the Midwest are the floods caused by Spring downpours each year. These have become increasingly worse in recent years, with the 2019 Spring being the wettest on record for the U.S.

While rain itself may not have a profound effect on the various components which make up a railroad, in large quantities water is capable of displacing even the strongest foundation. Areas near rivers and lakes are the most prone to being affected, and therefore require a lot more attention than those parts of the line in more arid areas.

Prepping and Maintaining your Railroad As A Midwest Railroad Contractor

If you have concerns about any of the above conditions affecting your railroad, don’t hesitate to contact us today. You can speak with a Midwest railroad contractor who can advise on all of the above matters, and help you figure out what you need to do to protect your line. Check out our website, or call us today to learn more about how we can help.

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Different Freight Cars for Different Loads

Freight via train has been revolutionary since its inception, and is still more advantageous to some than via ship or air. By retaining its relevance over time, we’ve also seen the freight cars change from their original form, which would’ve typically been a flatbed. Nowadays there are several different kinds of freight cars which can be used to move a variety of different things and materials.

Knowing which freight car will be relevant for your line is important well in advance, although there are usually options. If you aren’t a Midwest railroad contractor, or haven’t worked with different freight cars before, learning everything from scratch can be overwhelming. Instead it may be easier to consider the different kinds of freights, and identify which are relevant to your needs through comparison.

Here is a look at the different kinds of freight cars for different loads, as well as some of the history around them.

Flatcars

The first kind of freight cars to be used back in the early 19th century in England, flatcars were simply flat decks on wheels which allowed the stacking of various goods. These were instrumental in transporting large stones in early England, and have since been imperative for logging companies throughout the US.

Due to their shape, they allowed huge versatility in the transporting of goods, which has made them an asset to all rail freight companies. One might see vehicles, farm equipment, shipping containers, or even industrial parts on modern flatcars. Although their exposure to the elements meant that either the goods needed to be watersafe or timing would need to be concisely planned.

Gondolas

Usually the most beat up of all the cars, a Midwest railroad contractor friend claimed that these are the least respected cars in the industry. Relatively similar to the flatcar, gondolas have short walls around the sides which form a sort of bowl in which loose goods can be transported easily.

One will often see coal, stones, and smaller logs loaded into gondolas, although anything small can be carried in them with relative ease. A great advantage of gondolas is that they are generally so basic that usually only the air-hoses, bearings, knuckle couplers, truck assemblies, and other basic over-the-road equipment need to be maintained. Although their peculiar shape makes them only useful for specific kinds of goods.

Boxcars

Perhaps the most iconic car you will see carried behind a train is the boxcar, which most people will know from movies and TV shows. They’re often depicted as a large shipping container-sized car with big square openings that are either fixed open or can be opened and closed at will. We often saw them in movies as the car which people would hitch a ride on, running alongside the train to then jump up and sit in the opening.

These boxcars came about after the realization that loads may need some protection from the elements, and have been useful in carrying a variety of goods. While they are effective in transporting large goods in a sheltered manner, their shape and style does limit what can be carried in them.

Wellcars

While the industry recognizes that wellcars are a pretty big improvement on the flatcar, they are essentially flatcars which are slightly more equipped to hold containers. Also known as double stack cars, for their ability to stack two intermodal shipping containers on top of each other, these are ideal for those companies that handle a lot of shipping containers.

Shipping containers weren’t the only thing that wellcars have been used to move though, with truck trailers also being loadable. Transporting several truck trailers via a freight train may be much more affordable and environmentally friendly than simply driving each and every trailer back, so this also makes a good option for trucking companies.

Tank Cars

Another recognizable car, the tank car consists of a large cylindrical barrel fixed upon a flatcar which can transport liquid or liquefiable goods. Prior to tank cars, freight companies would have to rely on barrels to transport liquid, largely limiting how much could be moved. These barrels would typically have seal issues, and leaks were common on the lines, causing issues for both oil companies and train lines.

Modern construction of tank cars allows a much wider range of goods to be transported in them, with even food-grade tanks becoming commonplace. For transporting large amounts of liquids across the country, very few forms of transport stand up to tank cars and what they allow.

Other Cars

These are just some of the more common types of cars, you may also see:

  • Hopper cars – similar to gondolas with much higher walls to transport more loose materials
  • Caboose – typically attached at the end of all the cars, these are used by crew
  • Refrigerator cars – as the name suggests these allow the transporting of goods which need to be cooled
  • Livestock cars – cars which are outfitted to carry livestock
  • Iron ore cars – prior to hopper cars, iron ore jennies allowed large amounts of iron and other ores to be transported safely

If you’re looking for more advice about which types of cars may be relevant for your work, don’t hesitate to call us to talk to one of our Midwest railroad contractor team.

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Overcoming Environmental Obstacles with Proper Railroad Planning

Railroad planning has been helping people and possessions move great distances for many years now, and several countries worldwide owe their development to them. While we have several alternatives nowadays, namely air, road, and ships, many still rely on railroads. And although the trains have changed dramatically over the years, the tracks themselves are remarkably similar to those we saw in the 19th and 20th centuries.

While the tracks look similar, technology has absolutely revolutionized the process of building a railroad. Nowadays one doesn’t need a troop of slaves or low-paid laborers to do the hard work, instead, we have machinery which is far more efficient and ethical. However, looking at how we overcame environmental obstacles in the past can inspire and guide our efforts today.

Here is a look at how railroad pioneers overcame environmental obstacles in the past, and a look at what we can use today to achieve the same.

Railroad Planning for Different Types of Environmental Obstacles

The environment here in the US is incredibly variable, with forests, deserts, mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, marshlands, all surrounded by the sea. This has posed many challenges for the pioneers of our great nation, as they traveled via horse and buggy, and later via trains across these landscapes. On riding some of the most famous lines we can see tunnels and bridges which seem to defy physics, and still impress the average Midwest railroad contractor of today.

Forests

Prior to our colonization of this land, large swathes of America were covered in dense forest which had housed both indigenous people and endemic flora and fauna for countless years. In the early days of our settlements, those forests near civilization would have provided much-needed timber for construction. Although in between settlements, one can imagine a thick native bush which would have been an intimidating prospect to overcome.

A Vital Resource

Prior to the availability of coal which came in the years following the industrial revolution, the main resource for cooking and heating was wood. The same went for early railroads too, which despite their name “the iron road”, were predominantly built out of wood. In fact, by the late 1800s, railroads accounted for 20 to 25 percent of wood consumption in America.

Clearing forests for railroads has and continues to be relatively straightforward, with the main obstacles nowadays being protected flora and fauna.

Deserts Require The Greatest Railroad Planning

Deserts pose a range of challenges to the building of a railroad, with less than ideal ground for building on, and constantly shifting sand, it’s truly a nightmare to the average Midwest railroad contractor. Although desert railways have been successfully built throughout the world, with the most impressive being Mauritania in the Sahara Desert. While finding solid ground to build the rails on isn’t impossible, it’s been considered preferable to circumvent desert areas as much as possible. The main problem posed is the buildup of sand on the tracks which can interfere with drainage when it does rain in these regions.

In the past, trainmen have had to physically sweep and shovel sand off of the tracks and switches, but nowadays attachments on the front of trains can achieve the same result without the labor.

Mountains

If you’ve ever been on a train that has bored straight through a mountain, then you may have some appreciation for the great feat which it is. Mountains were overcome in two different ways, the first and more common was to bore straight through, the other was going over.

Straight Through

During the construction of the transcontinental, workers drove spikes into the mountains, filled the holes with black powder, and blasted through the rock inch by inch. This process was unbearably slow though, averaging about a foot each day. Nowadays tunnel boring machines (TBM)can make light work of a mountain, averaging 50 to 60 feet a day, which makes up for their incredibly high price tag.

Over the Top

In other instances, some mountains have been overcome by trains and tracks purpose-built for climbing those inclines which are otherwise impassable for trains. Mountain railways are predominantly used to transport people and goods to the summit, rather than as a section of a standard line. This is because of the steep grade railway technology which needs to be utilized to stop the train from sliding back down the track to the bottom.

Bridging and Circumventing Other Obstacles with Proper Railroad Planning

Rivers, valleys, and parts of lakes or marshlands which weren’t too wide were often overcome through the use of bridges. As with the railroads themselves, these bridges were once made of wood and now utilize stone, concrete, and metal to ensure their longevity. In other cases, circumvention proved to be cheaper or more convenient and still remains to be more preferable than hiring a TBM.

If you’re building a railroad, or even considering it, contacting us to speak with a Midwest railroad contractor should be one of your first steps. We can assist you in every part of your railroad construction, rehabilitation, repair, and maintenance, so contact us today.

Historically significant railroads concept image - Freight Railroad tracks
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Exemplary and Historically Significant Railroads

Historically significant railroads have often been referred to the veins of America, both in appearance and in their relevance to the rapid development of all major States. Many of these historically significant railroads are still around today, albeit refurbished and in many cases completely replaced with more modern materials. The fact that some of these major railroads are still used today is a testament to their timelessness and their efficacy.

For modern railroad owners, and those looking to build railroads for modern use, it can be helpful to look at some of the more exemplary and historically significant railroads that exist in America. Ask any Midwest Railroad contractor, and they’ll inform you that some of the best inspiration available for the development of modern railroads is in our history. Whether you physically visit them, or simply do your research about them, certain railroads have defined, and will continue to define, the future of railroads in America.

Here is an overview of exemplary and historically significant railroads which may be of inspiration.

Historically Significant Railroads #1 – The Great Northern Railway from Minnesota to Washington

A symbol of the success of Libertarianism in America, James J. Hill famously built this railroad (supposedly) without financial support from the federal government. Hill, an already established Minnesotan coal and freight merchant, and three associates bought the decaying St Paul & Pacific railroad and turned it into The Great Northern Railway. If the railroads in America were in its veins, the Great Northern Railway was one of the main arteries.

The Mobile & Ohio Railway – Alabama to Kentucky

Although this railroad was used by the confederates during the Civil War, it went on to be used for almost 80 years after it ended. As it was attacked often during the Civil War it had to go through extensive rebuilding, and in 1940 it was merged with the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad to become the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad.

The Santa Fe Railroad – Kansas to New Mexico

A favorite to many a Midwest railroad contractor, the Santa Fe was also known as the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. This was one of the larger railroads in the United States, and never actually connected to Santa Fe itself, due to the rugged terrain. The Santa Fe railroad hustled its way into existence, and even traded part of its line in Mexico at one point for track in the San Joaquin Valley. The railroad officially ceased operations on December 31 1996, when it merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad to become the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, and is now the biggest freight network in North America.

Historically Significant Railroads #4 – The Union Pacific Railroad from Nebraska to California

The second largest railroad in America, after the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, the original Union Pacific railway was built as part of the First Transcontinental Railroad project, later known as the Overland Route. This monumental project connected the two coasts of America, and on connecting the two tracks from each side in Utah, a golden spike was laid in commemoration. The current Union Pacific is the oldest operating Class I railroad in the United States that has not originated as a merger between separate road names or holding companies.

Visiting the Golden Spike National Historic Site isn’t just for your average Midwest railroad contractor and their family, this site marks an integral part of America’s journey to where it is today.

The Pennsylvania Railroad

Spreading from Philadelphia into Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, the northern parts of Michigan and parts of West Virginia. The Pennsylvania Railroad was founded in 1846 and grew into the largest corporation in the world by 1882, something which seems impossible in the modern economic climate. In 1946, a whole century after its founding, this private railroad company reported its first ever loss.

The Northern Pacific Railroad – Puget Sound to The Great Lakes

Although this railroad was a government-sponsored enterprise from the start, it was riddled with financial problems throughout its short lifespan. The Northern Pacific wasn’t able to keep up with privately financed railroads, and a myriad of financial problems (bankruptcies, corruption, etc) followed the line everywhere it went. This tragic railroad survived in one form or another until 1970, where it was absorbed into the Burlington Northern Railroad system.

Not only can exploring these historically significant railroads give insight into what to (and what not to do) when building a railroad, but also give us an idea of how and why they were so integral in America’s development.

Seeking out a qualified railroad contractor to work on old rails or help make new developments? Contact R&S Track Inc today for a fair estimate.

References: Association of American Railroads | 3 Industries that Rely on the Railroad System

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Understanding the Relevance of Railroad Services

Considered an integral element in the development of America, railroads are still a preferred method of transporting goods and people across the Midwest. While many railroads are still functional, there are plenty which need railroad services such as repairs and rehabilitation. These repairs must be done to a professional standard to ensure the safe transport of both goods and passengers.

Before contacting a Midwest railroad contractor, read on to learn more about the services they offer, and how they can help you.

Consulting Railroad Services

As with any project which requires physical labor and engineering, a consultant is necessary to ensure the efficiency and efficacy of the job at hand. When it comes to railroads, you may consider hiring a Midwest railroad contractor to advise on exactly what you need to do to your tracks to get them functional again.

This is especially helpful to those who don’t have any knowledge or experience with railroads, although even with some experience and knowledge a consultant may be necessary.

Surveying Railroad Services

Due to the nature of how trains move along railroads, the land underneath the tracks is just as important as the tracks themselves. By hiring surveyors to inspect the land underneath your current tracks, you can enhance the longevity of the tracks by identifying potential problems early. Railroad surveyors will also be able to conduct a survey of your site to get an accurate idea of your inventory, which can aid you in planning for future needs.

This is a necessary part of the process of repairing or even building railroads, and should be done as early as possible to determine all potential problems.

Project Design Railroad Services

While designing a railroad track may seem simple enough in theory, the reality behind it involves many nuances which may require specific knowledge to understand. Things like various elevations, rivers, and geological features will require planning to circumvent or build over. This is where a professional and experienced railroad project designer can help, as they will be familiar with all the subtleties required.

Unless you’re looking at major repairs, project design is only really relevant when building a new railroad track. As with consulting, project design is helpful even to those with experience, and especially for those without.

Track Inspections Railroad Services

If you have recently bought or acquired a railroad track, the first thing you will need to do is have the tracks inspected. This can not only identify issues early, but also give you information about the efficiency and longevity of the track itself. Track inspections have changed dramatically since the inception of railroads, and now utilize technology referred to as Nondestructive Testing (NDT), such as:

  • Eddy current inspection – can identify surface or near-surface flaws
  • Electromagnetic Acoustic Transducer (EMAT)
  • Liquid Penetrant Inspection (LPI) – for manual inspection of joint bars and rail ends
  • Magnetic induction or Magnetic flux leakage – used to locate unseen flaws
  • Magnetic Particle Inspection (MPI) – used for detailed manual inspection
  • Radiography – used in specific locations such as bolt holes or areas where thermite welding was used
  • Ultrasound – considered the most popular method
  • Visual inspection – utilizing cameras to detect breaks and cracks in joint bars and bolted rails

Track inspections are imperative to undertake regularly to ensure the safety and longevity of your track. While you should undertake them as the railroad track owner, other railroad companies using your line may also request the right to inspect.

Track Maintenance

As with inspections, regular maintenance is an important provision of railroad services and can ensure both the longevity and efficiency of your tracks. From lubing the adjusting points and switches, to replacing fasteners and bolts, keeping up with maintenance can keep everything functioning. Any Midwest railroad contractor will tell you that regular maintenance saves them both time and money in not having to undertake expensive repairs or rehabilitation.

As with inspections, maintenance should be undertaken regularly. Contact us to find out how often your tracks may need maintenance, and how we can help.

Thermite Welding

Traditional bolted rails usually suffer a number of problems which require thermite welding to rectify. Due to the nature of this kind of welding, this should only be done by experienced professionals.

Get in touch with us today to talk with one of our railroad contractors about any thermite welding you may need on your tracks.

Derail Services

Even with regular inspections and maintenance, derails can happen. While they may be devastating at times, it’s important to know you can get the cars back on the tracks, and the tracks repaired to continue your service.

Midwest Railroad Services: R&S Track

Hopefully you will never need to hire derail services, but on the off chance you do we can help you get back in business. Contact R&S Track today!

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Why We Support the Rails to Trails Conservancy

Having worked on railroads for several years, our team at R&S Track have seen firsthand the removal or conversion of railroad systems. During this time we’ve come to see how quickly these accolades can be buried under gentrification. Whether you’re a Midwest railroad contractor or just a fan of trains or the history of this great nation, the loss of these artifacts can be devastating. 

When we first heard about the Rails to Trails conservancy, there was a buzz around the office as excitement spread that one could ride along these old tracks. It also brought a collective sigh of relief, as many of our older staff who recognize the historical relevance of some of these old rails knew that they would be preserved appropriately. 

Here are some reasons as to why we support the Rails to Trails conservancy.

I Want to Ride My Bicycle, I Want to Ride My Bike

Whether it’s a BMX, mountain bike, road bike, or just a cruiser, almost everybody has had a bicycle at some point in their life. They’re usually the first vehicle we become acquainted with, and it teaches us the importance of physical balance. Being able to ride a bicycle as a child also granted you a sense of autonomy among your neighborhood and community, and helped facilitate camaraderie among other children with bikes. These last two points are what we believe the Rails to Trails conservancy is able to provide both children and adults across America: autonomy and camaraderie.

Autonomy

“United we stand, divided we fall” is the age old saying which alludes to the very independent nature of being a human. Whether we explicitly crave it, or find other ways to attain it, we want to prove to ourselves (and often others) that we are capable of doing things on our own. While some cultures still have pilgrimages, the modern Western people prefer carving their own path across the many ancient routes that made our world. Whether it’s the El Camino de Santiago of Spain, or the Te Araroa trail of Aotearoa (New Zealand), we love walking or cycling long distances on our lonesome.

Although we recognize that while these great trails in other countries offer a unique experience, we believe having access to something similar in our own country can only be empowering for American citizens.

Camaraderie

During these experiences of great solitude, we will often find ourselves bumping into or moving alongside like-minded people with similar desires. It’s in these vulnerable moments that we can truly connect with others, despite all differences that may seem to separate us. These connections can remind people of their place in the universe, and help forge new bonds which link us together as a family.

The Rails to Trails conservancy would provide opportunities for all kinds of people to meet on the path to a similar goal, and to connect through their mission and purpose.

Preserving Historical America

According to our Midwest railroad contractor who’s “seen it all” :the endless railroads spread across America can be likened to the capillary veins which are spread throughout our bodies. This is true in both a visual and metaphorical sense, as without those great veins America wouldn’t have grown into what it is today. While much effort has been put into recording videos, documentaries, and film-adaptations of much of America’s history, there’s nothing like physically visiting the place and seeing relevant artifacts in person.

Preserving through Converting

The most interesting element of the Rails to Trails conservancy is the fact that they’re not just keeping old rails, but actively converting them into walkable and cyclable paths. This is achieved while still ensuring that historical structures such as bridges and buildings are restored. This conversion may be the strongest point for the Rails to Trails conservancy, as it protects while still generating practical use out of these historical sites. This also works as “proof of concept” for similar ideas across America where investment can turn that unusable history into a practical present phenomena. 

How R&S Track Can Help

Not only are we happy to support the Rails to Trails conservancy, we’re also acutely aware of how the services provided by our contractors can help. If you’re looking for Midwest railroad contractor for track inspections, surveying, project design, or track rehabilitation, contact us today. We provide a range of services which can help to facilitate parts of the Rails to Trails conversion process on your railroad.

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The Benefits of Building Railroads vs Railroad Track Repair

Railroad track repair is what we do. The value of functional railroad systems is intrinsically tied into the history of America’s economic success. While in days of old a great deal of manpower was used to build many of the tracks we use today, times have thankfully changed and technology has replaced the dependence on manpower. Much has changed in the country, but railroad contractors are still very much needed for repairing railroads and more!

Just consider the many uses and benefits of the railway system and its easy to see why adjustments or new rails are laid down still.

There are many factors to consider nowadays, which largely depend on what the railroad’s intended use is. There are also a number of modern rules and regulations around the building, maintenance, and risk management of railroads. Understanding the efficacy and economic viability of a railroad as opposed to other transport systems can also benefit the budding investor.

The Purpose of Railroad Track Repair

There are only really a couple of modern uses for railroads, they are freight and personnel transport, but those are incredibly crucial uses for the country.

Railroad Freight Benefits

Railways are still utilized for the the freight of various goods, it’s important to look at other options too. Read here to learn more about the similarities and differences between rail and road freight.

Personnel Benefits of Railroads

A railroad to transport people to and from wherever, then the same consideration can apply as freight. What are the benefits of transporting people via rail rather than by road? There are plenty of potential reasons such as:

  • Access to a worksite which otherwise is inaccessible
  • Transporting large amounts of people to and from the same place daily
  • Creating a sense of history or mystery in relation to some event or place

Whatever reason you’re looking into railroads, identifying exactly why you wish to do so can potentially show you positives and negatives you may not have considered.

Railroad Track Repair and Environmental Conditions

Extreme weather conditions can be mitigated by the use of more modern methods and materials, but they will still deteriorate your tracks over time. Otherwise if you’re looking at buying an old track, then looking into its history can tell you how the materials and methods used have fared against the weather and environmental conditions of the area.

Building a Bridge

It’s not uncommon to require a bridge somewhere along your railroad track to pass over a valley or a body of water that can’t otherwise be circumnavigated. Building or repairing a bridge for use can be an expensive project, and can also take several months. Be sure to confer with the appropriate engineers prior to pursuing such a project to get an idea of the cost and time it may take.

Digging a Tunnel

As with building a bridge, it can often be impossible to circumnavigate certain topological features and one must simply go through them. Digging a tunnel, like building a bridge, can be incredibly expensive in both time and money. If it can’t be avoided, then as with bridges it’s important to speak with an engineer about the true cost of such a project.

You may not have to face either of these situations, especially if you’re considering building somewhere generally flat like the Midwest. Railroad contractor James J Hill was quoted saying “What we want is the best possible line, shortest distance, lowest grades, and least curvature we can build.”, which still rings true today.

Railroad Track Repair vs Building a New Railroad

A question which we have the luxury of asking these days is “do I repair the existing structure or do I build something entirely new?”. Both of these have their own pros and cons and comparing them can give you an idea of what may be more suitable for you.

Refurbishing

There are many train tracks which already exist across America, with plenty of corridors which may only require some minor repairs. 

Pros

  • Can be cheaper than building new by not needing more materials
  • More environmentally friendly than building new as new resources aren’t required
  • Preserves a part of America’s rich rail history

Cons

  • May require more frequent and heavy-duty maintenance
  • Restricts the rail to only suitable trains and carriages
  • May require a lot of research into the history of the railroad to find details about construction and materials

Building Fresh

By building a new railroad, you will have an entirely different experience and a completely different result.

Pros

  • Built to your exact specifications
  • Can utilize modern materials and technology to increase longevity
  • Allows for maximum safety and minimal risk 

Cons

  • Substantially more expensive than refurbishing
  • Can take a lot more time than simply refurbishing
  • May have to spend time and money in removing old tracks

Railroad Track Repair vs Building: Contact R&S Track

Regardless of whether you’re looking at repairing an old line, or building a new one, be sure to get in contact with all the appropriate authorities to make a legitimate plan. Contact us today to speak with an experienced Midwest railroad contractor to learn more about how we can help.

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The Federal Laws About Railroad Tracks

Its important to understand the laws about railroad tracks. Partnering with a Midwest railroad contractor that understands the many federal railroad laws governing our all-important railroad system is crucial for a successful and legally compliant job. While many states have regulations around their railroads, there are three federal laws which generally preempt them. Understanding these federal laws can ensure any railroad work you do is not only legal, but also safe.

Here is an overview of some of the federal railroad laws which affect railroad construction and maintenance.

Federal Laws About Railroad Tracks

The Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995

The Interstate Commerce Commission was the first regulatory commission established in the US, back in 1887. Although the agency was terminated at the end of 1995, with its functions either being transferred to the relevant departments, or deregulated.

The Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA) preempts state and local regulation of matters regulated by the Surface Transportation Board. This includes the construction, operation, and abandonment of rail lines.

ICCTA Permitting/Preclearance Requirements

Here is a summary of state and local permitting or preclearance requirements preempted by the ICCTA, because they could be used to affect the ability of a railroad to perform part of its operations or to proceed with activities authorized by the Surface Transportation Board.

  • Preconstruction permitting of a transload facility. 
  • Environmental and land use permitting.
  • Demolition permitting process.
  • The requirement that railroad companies obtain state approval before the discontinuation of station agents, abandoning rail lines, or the removal of side tracks or spurs.

Surface Transportation Board Regulations

Here is a summary of areas of state or local regulations directly regulated by the Surface Transportation Board.

  • State statutes regulating railroad operations.
  • State statutes regulating the contracts between rail carriers.
  • Attempts to condemn railroad tracks or nearby land.
  • State negligence or nuisance claims.

State and Local Activities NOT Regulated by the ICCTA

Here is a summary of the areas of state or local regulations which aren’t preempted by the ICCTA.

  • Voluntary agreements entered into by the railroad.
  • Traditional police powers over the development of railroad property, at least to the extent that the regulations protect the public health and safety, are settled and defined. These need to be obeyed with reasonable certainty, entail no open-ended or extended delays, and can be approved or rejected without the exercise of discretion on subjective questions.
  • Zoning regulations applied to railroad-owned land used for non-railroad purposes by a third party.
  • Miscellaneous laws and acts determined to not have anything to do with transportation.
  • State statute requiring railroads to pay for pedestrian crossings across railroad tracks.

Laws About Railroad Tracks: The Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970

The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) of 1970 attempts to “promote safety in every area of railroad operations and reduce railroad-related accidents and incidents”. This is achieved through the contemplation of a comprehensive and uniform set of safety regulations in all areas of railroad operation. The FRSA assigns regulatory responsibility to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), who have responsibility over all areas of railroad safety and the authority required to investigate and prosecute violations of any rail safety law.

The FRA uses four acts to guide safe railroad operations.

The Signal Inspection Act

This dictates the maintenance, testing, removal, or modification of signal systems. Some of the main requirements regarding signals include:

  • Every railroad system must have qualified signal and train inspectors
  • All warning signals must be working properly

Each state is responsible, under federal regulation, to implement, install, and maintain their own crossing signals. This includes determining which type of signal best suits each crossing.

The Accident Reports Act

An important aspect of federal railroad laws are that all railroad workers are entitled to safety, and the FRA aims to ensure this through the comprehensive investigation of accidents, as well as holding the responsible company accountable.

Laws About Railroad Tracks: Railroad Safety Appliance Act

The Railroad Safety Appliance Act (RSAA) took effect in 1900, and railroads across the country are much safer because of its existence. There are eight major sections in this act which are still in existence today.

The safety feature that all locomotives and cars must include:

  • Power-driving wheel brakes useable within the train-brake system
  • 50% of all train vehicles must be equipped with train or power brakes
  • Enough power brakes or train brakes for the engineer to control the train’s speed without relying on hand brakes
  • Drawbars which meet height requirements as prescribed by the Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Handholds and grab irons at the ends of cars and sides of cars
  • Secured running boards and ladders with available handholds or grab irons at the top
  • Efficient hand brakes and secure sill steps
  • Train couplers which can be coupled by impact and uncoupled without a worker needing to step in between the ends of cars

Locomotive Inspection Act

Passed by Congress in 1908 as the first federal law addressing steam locomotives, the Locomotive Inspection Act is another integral part of the success of railroads in the United States. The sections of this act still in use today state that locomotives can only be permitted for use when all parts are up to code. 

The first of these standards dictates that a carrier should only operate if the locomotive and its parts “are in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal industry.

The second states that a licensed locomotive inspector must inspect all the parts and mechanisms regularly. The frequency in which they are to be checked depends on how the train is classified.

The final standard states that the locomotive must be able to withstand all tests prescribed by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Interested in Learning More Laws About Railroad Tracks – Contact R&S Track Inc – The Midwest Railroad Contractor

Whether you’re looking for a Midwest railroad contractor for maintenance, the installation of new tracks, or even the disassembly, we can help. We pride ourselves on the quality of service which our midwest railroad contractors can provide, and have experience with all necessary local, state, and federal regulations regarding railroads.

Contact us today!

regular track maintenance concept image
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The Necessity of Regular Track Maintenance

Part of the success of any form of infrastructure is regular and consistent maintenance to ensure each integral part is acting as it should. When this isn’t being achieved, a myriad of issues and potential dangers can arise. This can affect not only the engineers and operators related to the infrastructure but also the citizens who use and exist around it. That’s why regular track maintenance is so important.

When it comes to maintaining railroads, the dangers can be devastating to the wealth of those utilizing the tracks for shipping. And in the case of public transit, the risks involve the lives of each and every passenger onboard. Hence the absolute necessity of regular track maintenance.

Here are the aspects of train tracks which need maintenance, and the potential results of not maintaining them.

Inspection

The first step in maintenance, and arguably the most important. Inspecting railroad tracks can give us an idea of the health of the track, and where issues may arise. Ideally the inspection should find issues well in advance, although that isn’t always the case.

How they Inspect the Track

There are a few typical methods that track inspectors will use to determine the condition of the track and its components. These are usually referred to as Non-destructive testing (NDT) methods.

Inspection Techniques

These are:

  • Ultrasound – the most popular method of testing which uses Ultrasonic Testing Units (UTU)
  • Visual inspection – usually achieved with a camera to detect breaks or cracks in bolted rail
  • Liquid Penetrant Inspection LPI) – used to manually inspect rail ends and joint bars
  • Eddy current inspection – used for finding surface flaws
  • Radiography – used on predetermined location to find thinks like bolt holes where thermite welding was used
  • Magnetic Particle Inspection (MPI) – used for detailed inspection
  • Magnetic induction – the earliest form of rail inspection used

Inspection Methods

Depending on the length of the track different methods may be more suitable.

A common method is using a hand pushed trolley or in a hand-held setup, both of which are suitable for smaller sections or in precise locations. Otherwise, inspection cars and HiRail trucks which have evolved from Dr. Sperry’s model in 1927 has made high mileage inspection much easier. These cars can be outfitted with multiple NDT methods and operate at speeds up to 30 mph.

The frequency of these different forms of inspection depend on how often the track is used, or what it’s being used for.

What they Look For

Qualified railroad inspectors will have a detailed list of exactly what they’re looking for, but acquainting yourself with the gist of it can be greatly beneficial.

Rail Defects

These are the kinds of things that an inspector is looking for:

  • Bending and shear stresses
  • Wheel and rail contact stresses
  • Thermal stresses and residual stresses
  • Rolling Contact Fatigue (RCF) contact stresses like tongue lipping, gauge corner cracking, and squats
  • Corrosion
  • Inclusions
  • Seams
  • Shelling
  • Transverse fissures
  • Wheel burn

Component Defects

These are the parts of a rail where defects can occur:

  • Head
  • Web
  • Foot
  • Switchblades
  • Welds
  • Bolt holes

Most of the flaws found in rails are found in the head, although they’re also seen in the web and foot. When this occurs, the entire rail needs to be thoroughly inspected.

Maintenance

Track maintenance is necessary for keeping your trains running on time, inadequate maintenance may lead to a slow order which can disrupt freight and passenger transport.

In the early days of the railroad industry, maintenance was an extremely labor-intensive task which took a large team of trackmen. They would use lining bars to correct irregularities in horizontal alignment of the track, and tamping and jacks to correct vertical irregularities.

Nowadays maintenance is achieved through the utilization of highly-specialized machines. A common example is the use of a rail grinder to maintain the surface of the head of the rails.

There are a huge variety of different maintenance techniques used to alleviate the many different issues that can occur.

Some common forms of maintenance include:

  • Changing sleepers
  • Lubricating and adjusting switches
  • Tightening loose track components
  • Surfacing and lining track to keep straight sections straight and curves within maintenance limits
  • Sleeper and rail replacement which is achieved automatically through track renewal trains

This list can go on and on, the specific maintenance relevant to your track will be dependent on the frequency of use and environmental conditions. Considering all of this can be an overwhelming task, so hiring qualified experts in track inspection and maintenance can save you a lot of time.

Professional Railroad Services

Here at R&S Track Inc. we pride ourselves on a high quality of service that you can depend on for your railroad needs.

Whether you’re looking for a Midwest railroad contractor or inspector, we’re willing and able to help.

Although we’re based in Nebraska, most of our services are available to North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

Railroad tracks through picturesque mid west - Rail Freight concept image
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Why the Battle Still Rages Between Rail and Road Freight

For as long as we’ve produced goods to trade with one another, we’ve needed to send them to each other over varying distances. Nowadays we have four main freight options, road (trucks), rail (trains), air (planes), and sea/ocean (ship).

For the sake of discussion we’ll forgo freight by air and sea, instead focusing on the land-based shipping options, specifically domestically.

While it’s true that road transport is the most commonly used freight, there are good reasons as to why rail continues to be used. The differences between rail and road freight may seem nominal, but when put side-by-side there are some striking strengths and weaknesses to each side.

Road Freight

As previously mentioned, road freight is the most common form of shipping in the world. Although just because it’s common doesn’t make it the best way of doing things.

All kinds of goods are shipped this way, especially to and from Distribution Centers which service particular areas. As we all know, if it weren’t for the many truckers on the road, we wouldn’t have many of the modern conveniences we enjoy.

Pros

  • Road freight can be more efficient and economical especially over shorter distances.

Depending on the roads between point A and point B, road freight may make more sense when the distance is less as a more direct route can be chosen.

  • It can be used for cross-country long haul shipments.

Many border crossings are prepared for and used to trucks carrying shipments in and out of their respective countries. Depending on the country, roads may be the only viable option for moving goods to the outer regions.

  • Easier to track cargo movement through GPS and satellite tracking.

Many companies today rely heavily on GPS to ensure their goods will arrive on the predetermined date. Tracking via road freight may be easier due to the nature of the infrastructure built around roads.

Cons

  • There are various limitations to the size of the vehicle, the size of the load, and the road weight varies in different places. 

Depending on the size of the good you’re sending, a truck may not be big enough to move the amount you’re trying to ship. There are also a number of different road weight restrictions in different parts of the States, which may limit you from shipping through those areas.

  • Limited by the conditions of the road: weather, maintenance, accidents, etc.

Shipping times can be heavily affected by weather conditions such as snow, hail, rain, storms; as well as road maintenance work; and sadly inevitable accidents that do occur.

  • Currently not a typically environmentally friendly option.

Although there are efforts being made by some of the major vehicle manufacturers to produce electric trucks, we’re not there yet. As it stands shipping by road creates unnecessarily high amounts of emissions when compared with other options. 

Rail Freight

Most popular in countries and continents with long transit times such as China, Russia, India, and parts of the USA and Europe. Rail freight has long been relied on for shipping for such industries as forestry, agriculture, military, and mining. 

Pros

  • Rail freight is a more environmentally-friendly shipping option.

Studies have shown that trains burn less fuel per ton mile than road vehicles, and without traffic or other obstacles the journeys are often done efficiently.

  • Freight trains are capable of carrying much larger loads than typical freight trucks.

By being substantially larger they have the capacity to be loaded much more than trucks, and usually don’t have such limiting weight restrictions in the train or on the rail.

  • Long distance freight works out cheaper and faster on rail.

Considering the many things that can go wrong on the road, rail has the benefit of being straightforward (literally and figurative). This can lead to savings in both time and money for those sending and those receiving the goods. 

Cons

  • Rail freight is limited to exactly where the rails are.

For shorter distances there may be no station in which the freight can be unloaded. In many cases the final leg of a rail freight is done by road to get the goods where they need to be.

  • Potential delays when crossing borders into other countries.

Depending on the border and the country, rail freight can be heavily affected by the bureaucracy. Especially in those circumstances which require a different rail operator to continue. 

  • Fragile or abnormal cargoes cannot be shipped by rail freight.

Some goods are simply unsuitable to be loaded into the back of a train to be shipped across the country. 

Wrap

As you can see both sides have their ups and downs, and many people find a combination of the two to be most effective. If you’re looking for a Midwest railroad contractor, or just looking for more information, get in contact with us.

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