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


rail maintenance

Railroad Track Maintenance and Rehabilitation

R&S Track, your Midwest railroad contractor, provides a number of rail services to the Midwest rail infrastructure. In fact, since 1987, we have been serving the rail maintenance and railroad construction needs of the Midwest.

The most critical component of any railroad, other than employees, is the infrastructure. In today’s post, we will be discussing the importance of maintenance and rehabilitation.

The Basics Of Rail Maintenance & Rehabilitation

Railroad right of way infrastructure includes:

  • Ballast
  • Ties
  • Track
  • Bridges
  • Tunnels

Railroad adjacent line side structures that include:

  • Signs
  • Mileposts
  • Switches

In the late 1800s, the Granite Railway used early strap-iron rails that featured a wooden base atop thin iron strips for added strength. The concept was purely experimental, and developers learned on the fly. Engineers eventually determined that a dense, hardwood like oak proved the most economical. Today’s cross ties are at least 8 – 10 inches thick and about 8 – 10 feet long.

Today, a revolutionary design of an inverted capital “T” is placed on the ground providing a solid base while the narrow end is the wheels’ guide way. Later on, steel, a stronger, more durable material, replaced iron. Rail is an essential component of a balanced national transportation system and a globally competitive economy. Defining some terms is vital before getting started on the maintenance and rehabilitation of railroad tracks.

Here are some terms you may or may not be familiar with:

Gauge – A standard of measure or measurement.

Track Ballast – The track ballast is material, usually stones, that form the trackbed upon which the railroad ties are laid. It is packed below, between, and around the railroad ties to help water drain and prevent vegetation that might compromise the track’s stability.

Sleepers – A Sleeper is a load-distributing component of a track structure laid transversely to hold the rail. Sleepers are also called “Ties” because they tie the rails together.

Tamping – Packing the track ballast under railway tracks to make the track and roadbed durable and level.

Rail maintenance is a crucial component that ensures a safe and efficient track for freight and passenger trains. Rail is susceptible to wear and tear because of the heavy weight and high speeds the cars may reach.

The Main Types Of Rail Maintenance Or Rehabilitation Include

  • Rail Grinding – This consists of grinding machines that travel along the track with grinding stones, which rotate or oscillate longitudinally to scrape the rail’s surface.
  • Rail grinding is used to correct rail grooves, fatigue, metal flow, and rail reprofiling.
  • Rail Replacement – This is necessary to upgrade the track to a higher gauge rail or replace the same gauge rail due to defects, wear, or derailment damage.
  • Tamping – This is needed to correct the track’s longitudinal profile, cross-level, and alignment. A few sleepers at a time are lifted to the correct level with vibrating tamping tines inserted into the ballast.
  • Track Stabilization – Track stabilizers vibrate the track in the lateral direction with a vertical load to give a controlled settlement. Tamping and compacting ballast underneath sleepers reduces lateral resistance of the track. Track stabilization can restore the lateral resistance to the original level.
  • Ballast Injection (Stone Blowing) – Ballast injection or stone blowing is conducted to correct the longitudinal profile. The process introduces additional stones to the surface of the existing ballast bed while leaving the stable, compact ballast bed undisturbed.
  • Sleeper Replacement – In almost all types of sleeper defects, the sleeper requires replacement. Bad sleepers can result in the rail losing the correct gauge, which can cause derailments.

R&S Track: A Midwest Railroad Contractor That Can Handle Your Rail Maintenance Requirements

Tracks age over time and take a beating with bigger carloads, shorter load time pressures, and larger locomotives.

R&S Track, your Midwest railroad contractor, can handle the maintenance and track rehabilitation necessary to keep your tracks safe and help you plan for future maintenance. We have the workforce, experience, and equipment required to manage and complete your unique project. Our team is serious when it comes to track maintenance and rehabilitation. Please take a look at the complete list of our services and reach out today to R&S Track, your Midwest railroad contractor, for more information about what we do, contact us today!

federal railroad administration

Typical Train and Railroad Safety Rules

Trains have been instrumental in the development of much of our modern world, and can be partially attributed to our modern quality of life. By helping us to transport goods and people en masse, we’ve been able to build towns and cities as nodes across our vast train networks. With this has come some degree of risk though, as with any kind of heavy machinery accidents do tend to happen, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

If you grew up anywhere near a train track, then chances are you will have some experience with the basics of train and railroad safety. Although unless you’re a Midwest railroad contractor, you may not be aware of all the reasons why we have certain rules in place. If you’re looking to purchase, repair, or build any railroads, you will need to ensure that safety protocols are followed. Here’s a look at the typical train and railroad safety rules that you will need to enact to ensure the safety of pedestrians near your railroads.

Understanding the Federal Railroad Administration Expectations

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) work tirelessly to ensure safety across all railroads throughout America. They have strict guidelines and expectations which can be read on their website, and understanding these is important to the average Midwest railroad contractor and owners of railroads alike.

Ensure you have read all the relevant literature and ensured you’re meeting all of their safety regulations before allowing any trains to move on your rails.

Keeping Track of the Federal Railroad Administration Track and Rail Compliance Manual

Every industry has their checks and balances, as well as rating agencies, compliance agencies, and regulatory agencies that make sure the industry is operating efficiently, not cutting corners, and not hurting the people with predatory practices, or hurting the environment with illicit corporate activities that destroy the local, state, and national economies.

That’s why the FRA released the Track Integrity Manual which helps railroad owner operators follow the guidelines.

Trains and Railroads Require Regular Maintenance

Not only should you abide by the safety regulations expected by the FRA, but also ensuring that both your railroads and trains are in working order can further ensure safety. A simple brake failure can turn an accident into a tragedy, so be sure to do your due diligence in ensuring everything is repaired and maintained in a timely and effective manner.

For any help with maintaining your railroads, feel free to contact us to speak with an experienced Midwest railroad contractor who can help you maximize safety on your tracks.

Grade/Level Crossings

For the most part, trains will operate on railroads which are usually away from civilization and residential areas. Although as one can expect with such a web-like network, there are countless intersections where both vehicles and foot passengers will need to cross tracks safely. These are generally considered to be the most risky place for all parties involved, including even passengers and operators on the train. Most people are familiar with the idea of trains hitting cars which have stalled on their tracks, but not many are aware that countless cars drive into the sides of trains each year.

Having adequate and appropriate signage is considered one of the best ways to ensure the safety of pedestrians, motorists, operators, and pedestrians.

Passive and Active Signs

Most railroad crossings will utilize both active and passive signs to try and diminish the risk of accident at crossings. Passive signs, as the name suggests, are those which notify pedestrians and motorists of an upcoming railroad crossing. Whereas active signs are those which use lights and bells to indicate a train is coming.

Operation Lifesaver, an organization providing rail safety education, have a fantastic explanation of all the kinds of signs you can expect around crossings and railroads which you can read here.

Community Education

While signs can be useful in deterring accidents around railroads, they aren’t fail-safe. Beyond implementing adequate signage, many railroad owners will be encouraged to invest in community education. As with any kind of education, it all starts with our youth, so working alongside local schools to present a rail safety program relevant to the trains in your area of operation is a must. Even discrepancies like whether you’ll be hosting predominantly freight or passenger trains is an important consideration.

Young or New Drivers

Beyond implementing rail safety in our schools, there’s one other demographic who are often forgotten but potentially quite prone to accidents on railroads. Young or new drivers won’t have the same reflexes or quick-thinking necessary to swerve out of the way of danger, so ensuring that rail safety is taught to them too is a must.

The aptly named Operation Lifesaver once again have stepped up to provide invaluable resources on the matter, and have even created a video with an accompanying lesson plan to teach safe driving around railroads.

The Federal Railroad Administration Enforces Safety as the #1 Concern As A Midwest Railroad Contractor

We lead busy lives and tend to become desensitized to the very real risks around us at times, no matter how cautious we try and be. Over time you may start to see members of your community ignoring rail safety protocol in situations where they deem no danger present. Its in these moments that tragedy often strikes, so it’s important to regularly remind people of the necessity of safety protocol around railroads and trains.

Be sure to put up notices on both local social media groups and on community noticeboards if you believe safety is being ignored, and utilize the brilliant resources that Operation Lifesaver have created for this exact reason. Call us today for a free railroad consultation or schedule a safety inspection.

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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 types 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.

Types of Freight Cars – 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.

Types of Freight Cars – 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.

Types of Freight Cars – 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.


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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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.


“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.


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.


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


  • 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


  • 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.


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


  • 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!

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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.

Why Track Maintenance Is Necessary & What They Inspect

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.

Why Track Maintenance Is Necessary & 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.


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.

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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.


  • 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.


  • 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. 


  • 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. 


  • 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. 


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.

Track maintenance in progress tp prevent Railroad Accidents
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7 Common Causes of Railroad Accidents

Railroad accidents aren’t as common as accidents on the highway, but they still happen. It’s something we’re well aware of as a Midwest railroad track inspection service.

In this blog post, we’re going to examine some of the most common causes of railway accidents and how you can avoid them.

  1. Negligence

Negligence comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s the fault of the railroad itself, or a contractor, or an equipment manufacturer.

One common contributor to this issue is the use of outdated technology. While adding this tech typically involves a significant investment, it’s hard to put a price on public/employee safety.

  1. Human error

Accidents can happen if a conductor is inexperienced, but also if they’ve been working too long and feel fatigued. From lack of judgement to lack of experience to impaired reactions, human error is a regular factor in train accidents.

  1. Speeding

Just high speed is often a factor in serious or fatal car crashes, speeding can also play a role in train accidents. Evidence from a number of recent train crashes suggest the higher the speed of the train, the worst the crash and the greater chance of derailment.

  1. Reckless drivers, careless pedestrians

Some train accidents have more to do with what happens off the tracks than the train itself. Reckless or distracted pedestrians can cause a collision by walking on or too close to the track. And drivers can cause train crashes by having their vehicles too close to the train or trying to cross the tracks before the train comes.

  1. Mechanical failure

Even with everyone operating the train doing everything right, railroad accidents can still happen when mechanical failure occurs. Trains are complex machines, with several independent systems needed to power the train. If one piece of equipment fails, it can lead to a serious — if not deadly — train accident.

  1. Obstructions

Foreign objects left on or near train tracks can have deadly consequences, including derailment. Conductors must be aware of their surroundings to deal with dangerous situations quickly, but in some cases, they may not be able to see obstructions on the tracks, leading to serious or even deadly crashes.

  1. Crossing issues

A majority of railroad accidents happen at railroad crossings with improper warning devices like gates or lights. They are typically caused by lack of visibility, impaired or distracted drivers, or drivers trying to outrun the train.

Preventing derailments

While conductors can’t control what other drivers do around trains, you can control the state of your tracks to prevent derailment. This means taking steps such as:

  • Scheduling a quarterly inspection by a Nebraska railroad contractor who is qualified to perform inspections.
  • Instructing your team how to look for defects and hazards along the tracks.
  • Maintaining the proper width between rails — 56.5 inches. Loose or missing bolts and joint bars can indicate the gauge, or width, is too wide.
  • Looking for broken railroad ties, loose or missing spikes and tie plates that have cut into the ties.
  • Inspecting for broken switch points, which can put a gap between the point and rail and cause the wheels of a car to travel along the wrong track.
  • Search for signs of fading structural integrity that could lead to a buckled or rolled rail.

R&S Track Maintenance: Expert Nebraska railroad contractor

Since 1987, companies in search of safe and efficient rail services have turned to R&S Track Maintenance, a Nebraska railroad contractor specializing in rail maintenance and railroad construction, as well as surveying, consulting, track maintenance and repair, and inspections.

Our experts know what warning signs to look for and can recommend the strategies for helping your operators avoid accidents. Contact us today to learn more.

Historically significant railroads concept image - Freight Railroad tracks
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The Benefits of Moving Freight by Rail

While people may not travel by train the way they used to, we still move a lot of goods by rail.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, nearly 30 percent of freight cargo transported in the United States reached its destination using trains, helped along by midwest rail contractors like us.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss some of the benefits of shipping goods using the rail system.

  1. It’s cost effective

Switching from road to rail shipping can save you anywhere from 10 to 40 percent, as you cut down on the cost of fuel — particularly for high volume shipments — and the cost of drivers.

  1. It’s reliable and efficient

Trains run on set schedules and don’t have to share tracks with other vehicles in the way trucks do with other drivers. Your shipments won’t be delayed by things like weather or construction or traffic jams. And in many cases, the average transport time for a train is similar to road transit. It’s not a good fit for time-sensitive deliveries, but a more-than-viable option for longer hauls.

  1. You can move large loads

Do you need to move high volumes of freight? Use a train. A double-stacked train can transport the same amount of goods as 280 trucks.

This is especially important at a time when over-the-road capacity is tight and finding drivers can be difficult. Rail transport doesn’t have the limitations you’ll find with trucking, meaning it’s a good solution for shippers seeking capacity.

Why shipping by rail is a green solution

Shipping by rail not only benefits your company, it benefits the planet. Here’s how:

  1. It’s like carpooling without cars.

When you transport your goods by train, you’re sharing cargo space with other businesses. Just as carpooling takes cars off the road and uses less fuel, rail transit provides a similar function.

  1. It uses less fuel

Rail transit is four times more fuel efficient than using trucks. Experts estimate that taking just 10 percent of truck freight off of the highways and moving it to the rail system would save 800 million gallons of fuel a year.

  1. Emissions are lower

And with less fuel being used, you’re lowering emissions into the atmosphere. Gas emissions drop by 75 percent from going from truck to rail, meaning fewer greenhouse gases in the air.

With fewer trucks on the road, highways start to look better, leading to fewer costly repairs, less reason to use machinery that is itself a greenhouse gas contributor. Less truck traffic means less traffic congestion, which wastes billions of gallons of fuel each year.

Midwest railroad contractor

Rail has a bright future in the U.S., and R&S Track, an expert midwest railroad contractor, is excited to be a part of it, just as we’re proud to have played a role in its history.

We are approved for bidding on all projects by servicing railroads and are OSHA and DOT compliant and ISNET certified.

R&S Track is adept at railroad track construction, railroad repair and railroad maintenance, with nearly 35 years of experience. Contact us today to learn more.

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