Serving the Track Maintenance needs of the Midwest since 1987
Mark Robak
Tim Starostka
Pat Phillips
Ryan Karr

Architecture & Building

Moving train on railroad track
Architecture & Building, Blog

How We Maintain Ballast Under your Railroads

The old cliche that a building is only as strong as its foundation rings true both in a metaphorical and literal sense. When it comes to our railroads, one may initially think that the foundation is the tracks, ties, or sleepers, although that’s not quite true. The foundation of every railroad is the ballast that holds everything in place, ensuring that it’s maintained properly will ensure the longevity of the railroad.

Here at RS Track, we employ a range of machinery to help maintain the ballast which keeps your railroads functioning. Using these pieces of machinery requires a certain type of professional such as a Midwest railroad contractor who is experienced with them. Keeping your ballast in check is an ongoing process, and understanding how each machine helps in doing so can save you both time and money in the long run.

Railroad Ballast

As previously alluded to, the ballast is the foundation on which the railroad lies, and its quality has a huge impact on the efficacy and longevity of the rails. Unless you’re a Midwest railroad contractor, you may not be fully aware of the several purposes for the use of ballast under railroads:

— To bear the load from the railroad ties, as well as the train and cars

— Limiting the growth of vegetation that might interfere with the track

— To facilitate drainage of water so that the track isn’t affected during a heavy downpour

The ballast we use on our railroads typically consists of granite, quartzite, dolomite, limestone, and trap rock. These stones typically have hard and sharp edges which enable them to lock together under pressure, and the relatively loose nature allows for flexibility as loaded train cars move over them.

The importance of the ballast shouldn’t be lost on anyone, as it truly is the foundation of all railroads. We employ several tools to manage ballast.

Ballast Hopper Cars

These are a special kind of hopper car which allow the dumping of ballast on railroads during both construction and maintenance. They are bottom-dumping with hydraulically operated bottom gates that distribute it across the track section, and have bottom shoulder chutes to get the ballast past the tie ends.

Ballast Regulator

Once the ballast is dumped on the tracks, it needs to be distributed and shaped to ensure the roadbed is level for the rails. This is achieved using a self-propelled, rail-mounted machine known as a ballast regulator or ballast sweeper. Ballast regulators are employed during both construction and maintenance of railroads, and use three pieces of equipment to achieve their purpose:

The Plow Blades: Used to shape and move ballast, and typically consist of two blades that can be independently adjusted to various heights for either side of the track.

The Ballast Boxes: Used for two purposes, to bring ballast back to the centerline of the tracks, and contour it to slope downward away from the tracks perpendicularly.

The Rotating Brushes: After the plow blades and ballast boxes have moved and shaped the ballast appropriately, there will usually be some leftover covering the ties. The rotating brushes safely remove this ballast from the ties to allow for their visibility for a maintenance inspection.

While their main function is in managing ballast, it’s not uncommon for a Midwest railroad contractor to use these machines for plowing and moving snow, clearing bush from the tracks, laying cable, and digging ditches.

Tamping Machine

More typically employed for maintenance or repair, a tamping machine is a self-propelled, rail-mounted machine used to pack the ballast under the track to make them more durable and level. Once upon a time, this was done manually with tools called beaters, but the advent of this machine has saved both time and money, as well as being faster and more accurate.

In its basic form, a tamper only packs the ballast, but more modern innovations have included lining machines that can straighten out the rails benefitting both the comfort of the passenger and longevity of the rails themselves. The tamping machine is typically employed after the regulator and is usually the final process in setting or repairing the ballast under the railroads.

The Importance of an Experienced Midwest Railroad Contractor: R&S Track Maintenance, Inc.

The machinery used in managing ballast is highly effective, although no amount of machinery is going to help without the direction of an experienced professional. When it comes to inspecting the ballast under and around your ties, it can be important to get a second opinion from a local Midwest railroad contractor to confirm or deny any concerns.

Whether you’re planning on constructing, repairing, or simply maintaining the ballast under your railroads, be sure to contact us at RS Track to ensure you have a qualified Midwest railroad contractor at your side.

Railroad inspections
Architecture & Building, Blog

The Importance Of Railroad Track Inspections

R&S Track, your Midwest railroad contractor, provides railroad inspections as part of our high-quality services. These track inspections have helped many clients monitor a track’s overall condition. Track inspections pay for themselves because they prevent future costs down the line. A railroad track’s wear and tear are inescapable, but you can curtail its progression with an R&S track inspection service. 

Rails are constantly exposed to severe stress due to heavy freight, high-speed round-the-clock trains, and the rail cars’ intermittent braking and accelerating. With regular everyday wear and tear and severe stress, a variety of rail defects will occur. Head, web, foot, switches, bolts, and welds are the most common places to find defects. Today, we would like to discuss the importance of railroad track inspections and how a midwest railroad contractor can lend a helping hand.

Railroad Inspections Reveal Rail Defects Including:

  • Abrasion
  • Deformation
  • Machining errors and Fatigue

There are other types of rail surface defects as well.

Rail Surface Defects Include

  • Squats—Squats predominantly happen on the flat part of a rail’s surface and occur when there is a mismatch between the wheel and the rails. The different types of squat defects include vertical, diagonal, and horizontal. The defect grows steadily while branching out horizontally underneath the top of the bearing, dislodging it from the body of the rail.
  • Weld – Track welding produces weak points that are prone to abnormalities and show up in the construction process and during maintenance of the rails. When a new line is assembled, some rails are joined by welding. In addition, rail maintenance also uses the welding process when a rail needs to be replaced. 
  • Joints – Joint area defects are gradual fractures in the web of the joint, usually near or at the end of the rail. The typical joint web defects include bolt cracks and separation at the joint. 

There are many causes of rail defects and rail failure. Some of these causes include bending and shear stress, wheel/rail contact stress, thermal stress, residual stress, and dynamic effects.

Railroad Inspection Defects As A Result Of Rail Contact Stress Or Contact Fatigue Include

  • Tongue lipping occurs when two wheels roll along the same spot causing a groove to form.
  • Head checking occurs when a wheel rolls into a gauge corner and creates a crack.
  • Squats usually occur when a wheel rolls across an existing crack, thus creating a new crack.
  • Another type of defect is caused by water filling up a crack and expanding. This produces a frozen crack.
  • Rail corrosion can also be caused by water and liquid. 

Railroad track inspections assess the operating conditions of the rail and identify areas needing maintenance. But even more importantly, inspections can prevent costly accidents.

In fact, one analysis shows that as a result of railroad track inspections, costs of railway issues and accidents have consistently gone down. The first federal track safety standards came into effect in 1971 following the enactment of the federal railroad safety act of 1970.

These regulations require railroads to ensure that employees who work near the tracks perform visual inspections. A qualified inspector should know about railroad tracks, railroads, and railroad safety. They should also have experience inspecting and reporting on a track’s safety conditions and the safety procedures followed by workers.

The job is physically demanding and dangerous. An inspector should be able to manage long periods of walking on rocky, uneven surfaces. They will be bending frequently and crouching to measure track geometry. Inspecting track defects requires climbing up embankments and track structures along with mounting and dismounting from railway cars.

Most inspection work takes place along railroads, in railroad yards, around track structures, and near railroad cars. Inspectors must wear safety glasses, a helmet, and safe, comfortable shoes when inspecting railroad property. They should be very cautious about getting caught in the moving pieces of turnouts or falling off structures.

There is a good chance they’ll be exposed to heat, cold, rain, snow, poison ivy, or other unpleasant elements. Inspectors also shouldn’t be afraid of heights since they need to climb on bridges over ground and water.

Track inspectors are responsible for inspecting railroad tracks, bridges, tunnels, etc. However, they also inspect freight cars. It’s a dangerous job because they are constantly around moving trains. Even so, a railroad track inspector needs to be a team player who is very organized and stays calm during stressful times.

They are required to complete track evaluations and report violations when necessary. The inspector will determine the need for safety meetings and be able to provide training for railroad employees. The training should include proper inspection, maintenance, and safety procedures for track operation.

A Professional Midwest Railroad Inspection: R&S Track

A satisfied customer is our main focus, and we won’t leave until the job is done. We are equipped to handle any job. To learn more about our services which included railroad track inspections, contact us today!

railroad companies
Architecture & Building

Industries That Can Benefit from Railroad Companies

The benefits of railroads shouldn’t be lost on many Americans, as our great nation’s veins are those very same railroads that allowed the pioneers to spread so far and wide. Although we’ve seen other forms of transportation become popular, such as air and road freight, in some cases, rail still has the upper hand. This is usually the case in more specific industries, so understanding why railroad companies in these industries can be helpful.

As a midwest railroad contractor, R&S Track Inc is always looking for ways to help people build, improve, repair, and maintain those capillary and artery railroads of our country. Sometimes that means going back to our roots, to those industries which we’ve always worked alongside. Here’s a look at the industries that can benefit from railroad systems.


While the days of coal-powered stoves are long behind us, we still rely on coal for a relatively large portion of our electricity production. That same electricity that powers your home is the same which powers the factories that produce the goods we buy, so the necessity of coal is apparent.

Not only does the coal industry rely on trains, but they have historically relied upon each other, with specific train carts purpose-built to move coal called a coal car. Coal and trains have a long history together, and it doesn’t take a Midwest railroad contractor to see how that will go far into the future.

Construction Materials

Where would we be without the countless buildings which we occupy throughout each day? It’s hard to imagine, thanks to the numerous trains which have carted building supplies cross-country since the early days of modern America.

Construction materials tend to be incredibly heavy in larger amounts, and relatively worthless in smaller amounts, so finding an efficient way to transport large amounts of them has become a must. As with coal, there are various cars which can help to transport these goods efficiently with minimal waste.

Farm and Food Products

While we don’t typically associate a Midwest railroad contractor to the food we eat, their role is entwined with much of what stocks our shelves in the supermarkets. We Americans eat a lot of food and keeping up with that demand is a monumental effort that takes countless trains sprinting up and down the lifelines of our country.

Many farm and food products require refrigeration or certain conditions to be shipped, which can be achieved in trucks but nowhere near as affordable as with rail freight. Shipping food by train also bypasses the risks of traffic jams or other interruptions, which could be disastrous for some kinds of food products.


Whether you like it or not, fashion is a huge part of our cultural identity in modern America. Having clothes has never been considered a luxury here, but without trains, we may not have the same affordability in modern fashion.

Trains offer an easier way to transport large amounts of clothing to even the smallest towns. Granting all access to that which keeps us warm, protected, and relatively dignified.


The irony of road freight relying upon rail freight isn’t lost on the average Midwest railroad contractor, nor should it be lost on you. Most of the vehicles we see on the roads today started their lives as shells being shipped around in train cars.

Thanks to the sheer size of trains, we’re able to transport vehicles in pieces, as well as fully assembled vehicles. This is especially important in those industries with highly specialized vehicles.

Cleaning Products

Coming out of the pandemic, the importance of cleaning products is particularly highlighted. The chemicals which make cleaning products so effective are generally quite volatile in larger amounts. This can make shipping them by other means, such as road or boat, quite dangerous to other people and the environment.

As with other materials, there are specialized train cars that can offer the ability to transport these necessary chemicals safely.

Public Transport

While cars have given us huge amounts of freedom, so much of driving nowadays is back and forth to the same places. With a thousand individuals traveling from the same residential area to the same commercial or industrial area each day, we’re driving climate change at hyper-speed.

Trains have always offered a more comfortable, environmentally-friendly, and scenic way to achieve your daily commute. With the rise of larger corporations, we may see the necessity for train lines from towns to the factories which provide us with the countless goods we buy online.

Our Midwest Railroad Companies Can Help Your Business

If you work within any of these industries, then we implore you to look into how you can incorporate railroads into your business. Whether that means buying land and building your own, or restoring an older line to its former glory, we can help. Be sure to check out our website or call us today to speak with a Midwest railroad contractor.

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