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Maintenance of Way in the 21st Century--Ballast Tampers and Beyond

By Bob Mintz
(Article updated Spring 2021)

(Special thanks to Art Muller, Gordon Wilson and Michael Rotolo in their contributions for this piece)

Gandy dancers carrying pieces of rail have all but disappeared, replaced by huge pieces of railway track operations machinery maintaining track from the ballast up rather than simply rolling along over the top of the rails.

Puffing Northerns and Mallets no longer regularly haul trains across Class 1 rails in North America, but the days of behemoths plying the tracks is not over. Using the assembly line method, these huge machines and trains of machines help railroads get the work done within today's short windows of opportunity.

Modern machinery is enabling railroads to deal with those challenges. In one pass, these motorized units working in tandem, remove old ties, fishplates, pigtails and rails, prepare the track bed for new ties, lay new ties, threads in new rails, and leave behind high-quality trackwork.

Ballast Regulators, Tie Cranes, Yard Cleaners, Shoulder Ballast Cleaners, Switch and Mainline Undercutting equipment, Tie loading machines along with other maintenance-of-way equipment are available by manufacturers such as Plasser-American and Knox Kershaw Inc.

Yard cleaning services provide for material reclamation and improving yard track condition for train crews. Undercutting services improve track drainage, lower track and resolve clearance issues.


Plasser-American does not only sell individual pieces of equipment that includes tamping technology; ballast management; stabilization; ballast cleaning; track renewal; rail treatment, track recording; and catenary, but their entire line of products work in unison, such as the THS-2000 system, which is a tie handling and track surface system that includes all of the following individual units:

Spike Puller Loading car/Spike Collector Tie Remover TKO Tie Handler Anchor Spreader Cribber Tie Inserter Tie Handler Gantry Crane Tie Cars More Tie Cars Herzog Crane Workshop car Nipper/Tamping Machine Rail Lifter Spike Driver Anchor Squeezer Spike Driver Plow PBR Unimat 09-32/4S with Plow Trailer PTS 90 Track Stabilizer with Double Broom

See this link for more information and photos:

Of special interest might be the Switch/Production Tamping Machine Metro 4x4 ZW, for obvious reasons.

One fine morning while waiting for the LIRR commuter train to take me into Manhattan, I hit the proverbial pot of motorized unit gold, a caravan parked on a siding at my station. Talk about variations!!! And “whassup” with Gordon Wilson's hockey stick in this cavalcade of cars???

I met a man on my daily commute who had some of the best credentials for a pal around. No, my buddy did not have a heated pool nor boat. He works for the Long Island Railroad and he got me a ticket to ride the geometry car in and out of the 4 tunnels leading into Penn Station NY while he examined the tracks below for stresses, cracks and imperfections using infrared technology.

Surprisingly, much of these maintenance of way equipment pieces are made in HO.

Lionel has recently produced some new categories to be included in their maintenance of way items made after the Postwar era. These include inspection vehicles, pickup trucks, rail bonders, speeders, and step vans.

Article Continues Here

Second Decade.
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