Overcoming Winter Struggles on the Railroad

Overcoming Winter Struggles on the Railroad

Feb 13th 2020

“I personally dread when winter hits and I know that I have to be out on the tracks. From my experience, especiallythe blizzard of January 1979 working in Cicero, Illinois, the snow was deeper than any automobile. With all of the front-end loaders, plows, road graders, jet snow blowers, we must have hit between 400 to 500 railcars that were buried under the snow. The railroad bought a lot of cars that year,” recalls Rich Brawner, Industry-Railway’s Field and Product Support Specialist with over forty years of experience in the railroad industry.

The challenges an unpredictable winter season poses upon the railroad can bring operations to a complete halt. Freezing rail shrinks, becomes more brittle and is more prone to breakage. Critical components, such as derails, switches and locks freeze over or become impacted with snow and ice requiring immediate attention. Safety becomes of a greater concern to those traveling passenger rail with slippery walkways, and for production gangs working in the winter battlefield.

Shrinking or broken rail

“In the cold, rail shrinks. It becomes more brittle. It shrinks so much that it’ll pull apart from another rail or switch. The track can open up a void anywhere from a quarter inch to fifteen inches. Just depends on how cold it gets,” says Brawner. “FireSnake is a great option. Take it out of the bucket, lay it alongside the rail and light it,” Brawner remarks of this simple rail heating product. FireSnake, is a clean, non-hazardous alternative to the old diesel and rope repair method, which is not only messy but more threatening to the environment. A large enough pull apart in the rail will require a rail puller, such as Enerpac’s hydraulic rail puller. Its compact, alloy steel design requires no disassembly for transport or storage, and the swing arm eliminates the need for additional parts.

Frozen or snow-impacted components

Once a heavy snow falls, components crucial to railroad operations and safety, such as switches and derails, become impacted with snow or freeze over. “When there is too much snow accumulated, switches won’t throw unless you physically broom, or shovel them out,” says Brawner. Aside from a Switch Broom, another portable solution to a heavily frozen switch or derail is a Switch Heater Can. Thaw snow and ice using just kerosene and a wick.

Unsafe walkways

To prevent the need for having to shovel or thaw critical components, use a liquid anti-icing solution before snowfall. RR Winterizer’s combination anti icing/deicing solution will not only prevent switches, derails, and flanges from freezing or becoming impacted with snow, it also has a low freezing point at -76 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s environmentally green and nonhazardous, and a safe, nontoxic solution to slippery transit walkways as well.

Snow and debris on the track

In preparation for the winter season, it’s important to clear any old trees or brush that are near the track. “Ice can attach to everything,” says Brawner. “Trees can get so heavy with ice that it will fall on the track and signal systems can’t tell that there’s an 80-foot tall tree, nine feet around laying across the tracks.” Using a powerful Supertrak excavator paired with a mulching attachment will cut through large trees and foliage along side the track in seconds. For removal of snow from the track, use a ballast regulator with a high performance club-style broom element, which is wider, more durable, and lasts fifteen to twenty percent longer than standard broom elements making it ideal for snow regulation.

Industry-Railway stocks items

Industry-Railway’s fifty years of experience allows us to forecast sufficient inventory levels for winter product trends. We stock appropriate materials and products based on this knowledge therefore we can ship them to you in a time-sensitive manner whenever a winter related challenge occurs to the railroad.