A more extensive rehabilitation program may be necessary if the rail is not adequate to accommodate higher capacity grain cars now used on longer, heavier trains. Heavy train weights require changing out older, lighter rail sections and switches with a minimum of 112-pound components. At one time every railroad in the country had its own idea of what weight rail should be. More than 100 different variations of rail sections have been manufactured in the past and can currently be found on industry track. Over time the railroads have standardized to a few sections: 112, 115, 132, 133, and 136-pounds. More recently heavy-haul railroads have begun using 141-pound rail.
Over time every facility with track under 112-pound rail needs to make plans to replace it with a heavier, more standard section of rail. To spread out the capital outlay, we recommend changing out a portion each year and saving old rail for maintenance for the remainder of track until it has all been changed out. It is increasingly difficult to find some of these older sections of rail for maintenance use. As the price of scrap increases, these older sections are being scrapped and no longer kept in inventory.
Track expansion or reconfiguration to add capacity
Many grain facilities find railroads are moving away from using local switch engines to service customers and instead are using actual freight trains. These trains stop and drop off the cars or pick them up for their final destination.
This operating practice has implications for the track structure at grain facilities. In addition to decreasing the service frequency, it means when you do get service your facility must accommodate the unit train capacity dictated by your serving railroad. These practices may change as time goes by with ongoing modifications in car lengths and capacities, locomotive capabilities as well as requirements on the train’s receiving end.
Several track expansion alternatives address more demanding requirements from serving railroads and also make operations more fluid and productive, offering greater flexibility to load and store cars. These improvements ultimately help provide growers with better pricing and service and may offer a competitive advantage:
- Extend or add sidings
- Reconfigure a stub track into a run-around track or siding
- Relocate the existing main-line turnouts
A qualified railroad contractor can help you evaluate these options and associated costs based on your operations and the physical dimensions of your facility site.
Track considerations for new facilities
An evaluation of the potential or existing site property, along with the facility’s capacity expectations, will help narrow track configuration alternatives for your new facility. This process should get started as early as possible, generally six months to two years before any dirt work is started. The track contractor will evaluate the site topography, often with the general contractor, a railroad representative and/or an engineering firm, to determine the project feasibility and design implications, such as grading and drainage requirements and access to the serving railroad.
- Ladder track (multiple tracks and turnouts) — These configurations save on width of land but may require substantial footage (length) adjacent to the existing main line.
- Loop, double-loop and teardrop tracks — Serving railroads generally welcome these configurations because they provide for more fluid rail operations. However, the options require a minimum 7,200 feet of track on at least 80 acres of land.
Based on the property and its access to rail services, the track contractor can determine design requirements and develop a cost-effective design and construction proposal. The contractor will then coordinate with the railroad to determine access requirements and develop a track plan that meets the serving railroad’s design requirements and track construction specifications. Once preparatory site grading is completed, the track construction begins. Depending on the project scope, construction can take from weeks to several months.
When it comes to railroad track, it may look similar to your granddad’s or father’s track, but it’s definitely not the same. Times have changed. Those facilities that protect their track investment will realize not only productivity improvements, but also competitive advantages that will positively impact their entire business.