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Concrete Crossties: New Railroad Design

Sleepers stock in railway depot. New concrete railway ties stored for reconstruction of old railway station. Old houses in background

Traveling via train has become safer and more convenient as engineers and railroad employees continue to improve track infrastructure components. This is what the researchers from RailTEC or the Rail Transportation and Engineering Center, a research group under the University of IL at Urbana-Campaign are doing. They find ways to improve track designs. To date, thanks to their efforts, rail tracks have become safer and train experiences have been better for most train riders.

In general, concrete remains to be the most popular option for a crosstie material. It is commonly used in areas where there is HAL, steep grade railroads, railroads with a sharp curve, and gross tonnage on a regular basis. This is true especially in North America.

For railroads where infrastructure reliability and efficacy are of utmost importance, you can also see concrete crossties. This material is also great with less maintenance needed.

In North America, millions of concrete crossties are used in different rail infrastructures. The country is also able to produce millions of crossties concrete annually (around 35 million). With most railroads needing maintenance and repair after fifty years, it is significant to know that manufacturing companies can provide the needed concrete crossties in the future.


The Issue

Despite its known importance in the construction field, it seems that the use of concrete crossties and its design is hugely misunderstood by most. Crossties are designed based on different factors used in loads with static axle. Without considering this factor, the use of concrete crossties can lead to early service problems or overly designed concrete crossties – leading to overspending and waste of funding.

There are two types of crosstie failures that often happen in railroads – bending and flexure. These failures happen when the crosstie is under load.

For flexure, we have cracking of the center flexural – and when it happens, you have to stop using your railroad. In North American rails, this is a common issue. Another issue is rai seat cracking. One way to avoid the flexure problem is to understand the crosstie flexure design. To lengthen the life of your crossties, you should understand the condition or environment where you are installing those crossties. What does it mean for you?

Currently, there are methods that can be used to quantify concrete crossties such as where it bends. Is there enough support condition for you to install your set-up between crossties?
Different HAL freight railways, the MTA – NY Transit Authority, Metrolink (St. Louis, MO), Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, and Metra (Chicago IL) are now using an instrument that can quantify concrete crossties. Thanks to private funding and with the assistance of FRA and FTA, having such instrumentation has become possible in most railroads.


How Does It Work?

To gather data, this instrument was installed in eight fields across the US. It aims to understand the effect of loaded and unloaded axle to crosstie concrete, center bound and well-supported ballast, and the effect of temperature on crossties among other factors that can affect a bend crosstie demand.

The result of this study revealed that for crossties with flexural designs, temperature can affect the crosstie significantly especially it’s mid part. It was also noted that the support of the crossties affects its life especially in bending crossties like for freight railroads using HAL.

The recommendation was to develop an application that can provide support for concrete crossties with flexural and bending designs. It is called a method of probability or probabilistic and it focuses on distributing the weight put on crossties upon installation. Engineers should not assume of fixed numbers and outcome (deterministic approach) when it comes to installing crossties and what will pass through it. This probabilistic idea was already proposed in the early 2000s. It was from John Samuels, saying that it will reduce the railroad stress if done properly.

The advantage of probabilistic design is the cost. It is more economical and practical for the railroad industry to use it. It means quantifying potential risks associated with having crossties. For example, based on probability, crosstie designs can now reduce up to 50% of negative impact at the center which is helpful if the railroad is used for freights using HAL. It also means reducing rail seat section for up to 40% as needed by the applications that will use the crossties.

With this method, the structure gets more reliable and balanced. It also becomes safer to use while improving durability. In the proposed method, there will be lesser prestressing wires (which means less cost during installation) while at the same time modifying the gravity center of the prestressing steel. With lesser funds for crossties installation, the fund can be reallocated to other track components (eg for tie pads under) or allocate it for regular maintenance.

This proposal is a hypothesis but with real possibility. RailTEC is known for designing and developing concrete crossties designs that work well for Armtrak. They are also known in developing designs for applications for heavy and light rail transit.

Crossties are now being used and installed for field use and for testing. The use of probabilistic method is useful in improving the mechanical and empirical design of crossties in the future. It can also be used in finding other usage for concrete crossties aside from being used in the railway industry.


Who’s Behind This Initiative?

The FRA and the FTA have been helpful in making this initiative a reality by providing financial support for this research. These offices are under DOT and they are giving support to this knowing its importance. There are also concrete contractors partnering for the projects. Companies like CCA Concrete Contractor Austin in Texas are constructing the commercial concrete for the project. When in need of a concrete company Austin TX, they rose to the challenge.

Other support were given by the following groups and companies:

  • BNSF Railway
  • Union Pacific Railroad
  • Pandrol
  • Amtrak
  • Progress Rail Service

Future of Railroads in America

Railroads in America

Railroads in America: In today’s world, everyone moves fast. People fly to get to their destination in an hour. People travel miles without spending days and nights on a bus making overnight train rides seem obsolete. Still, the railroad industry is trying to survive by introducing two ideas – bullet trains and passenger trains tours.

Bullet Trains

Bullet trains can go as fast as 267 miles per hour. In the US though, bullet trains are still in conception. To date, the fastest US train is Amtrak’s Acela that can get you to Boston from New York in 75 minutes. This is a 190-mile ride.

Despite the potential advantage of bullet trains, an environmentalist is looking at the potentially harmful effect of running it. A study in the US, led by Noel Perry of Transport Futures explains that one reason why the US is in the dilemma of building bullet trains is because of gas emission. Using highly powered locomotive like bullet trains can produce extensive gas emission.
In addition, the study says that US cities are not too dense. Having bullet trains that can run hundreds of miles is not a practical idea unlike in European countries.

Passenger Train Travels and Tours

Another future of railroads in the US that is of possibility is the continuation of train operations that offers tours. These are trains that run on scenic railroads and of shorter distance – like 4-8 hours on a round trip.

With the increasing congestion in the air, people are now opting to use the train instead of flying. When there is a shorter route such as Miami to Palm Beach, people seem to prefer using the train than booking a flight. The increase in the number of people using a train for their shorter rides have inspired other training companies to start running in new routes.

Virgin Trains announced that it might start running trains from California to Las Vegas while Amtrak is planning to start running passengers from Washington DC to Boston. Although the train industry is still suffering from a deficit from the previous years, the recent number of passengers using their services is enough to encourage those in the railroad industry to continue improving their service.


What Can Help Trains to Survive?

One of the things that can help the train industry to survive is the use of technology in reducing its negative impact on the environment. The industry must start searching for a locomotive technology that will allow trains to run safely and environmentally friendly while maintaining reliability.

If the train industry wants to survive today and, in the future, they must continue to develop important and practical technologies. Riding a train is something that everyone dreams of.

Who wouldn’t want to ride a train right? This fact alone means that the train industry wouldn’t disappear anytime soon. The train industry just needs to take advantage of automation and promote wider use of trains aside from transporting people. It can be used to transport goods and other things as well that needs to be moved!

A Brief History of Galesburg, IL

A history of galesburg

Galesburg is known for its Railroad Days festival that is celebrated yearly. It is also the birthplace of Carl Sandburg, a Pulitzer-prize winner, and a poet.

Galesburg, IL


In 1984, Galesburg rebuilds its train station that leads to its very recognizable steep and gabled roof entrance portico. They also added hipped roofs on its flanked wings. The fund to modernize the Galesburg station came from the IL Department of Transportation, Amtrak, and the city of Galesburg.

The Galesburg station stands on land donated by BNSF Railway while the landscape was funded by a local bank. For less than $300,000, the Galesburg station was renovated, keeping some of its facilities such as the original wooden pews from the old Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) Railroad station.

The wooden pews can be seen at the new facility, putting a highlight to the classic wood interior panels, lamps, and fans of the new facility. The exterior of the station is under the care of the city while the interior is being maintained by Amtrak. At a depot ground, the statue of Abraham Lincoln reminds visitors of how much the late President loved the community as shown in his frequent visits before.


The ground expansion

The ground expansion was envisioned in 2011 and in November 2014, the city began making changes. An open house followed a year after.

Legal Architects used the 1400 square feet areas in the south and north porticoes to set-up a Burlington Trailways ticketing office. They also added a waiting area for passengers and spaces for Amtrak personnel and baggage (checked baggage).

Legal Architects also worked on improving the heating and air-conditioning system and restrooms. They also added LED lighting (efficient wall lights) into the new building.

The funding to renovate Galesburg station came from a Section 5311 grant. The grant aims to improve public transportation in rural areas. The station received $690,000 from the said grant.

The station also received funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 including a $40,000 grant from the ‘Illinois Jobs Now’ program. This program is a $31 billion statewide capital program that runs for six years with funds coming from 20-year state bonds, local, and federal matching funds.


Knox County

The seat of Galesburg is in Knox County. its settlers started arriving after a year since it was founded in 1825. Galesburg was founded by George W. Gale, a native of Oneida County, New York. He was a Presbyterian minister. His vision was to start a religious school in the Mississippi Valley.

Gale’s scout found the perfect spot in 1835 and they immediately purchased the 36-square mile land. The plan was to make small plots around the supposed to be school, making it the center of the community. As time passed by, the plan reached Illinois.


Gale College

Gale started the Knox Manual Labor College in 1837 in his newfound home. He also created a group of trustees. In 1857, the school was renamed to Knox College. Some theories say that the college was named after the US Revolutionary War Hero and Secretary of War Henry Knox. Another theory says it was named after Calvinist leader John Knox. Only Gale knew the truth perhaps.

The college started operating in 1841, a great moment for the town in terms of financial growth. In 1858, the Old Main building witnessed history through the celebrated Lincoln-Douglas debate.


Three-story Victorian station

Galesburg aspired to be a commercial center and it can be seen in their attempts to successively built three CB&Q stations. The first station caught fire in 1881 and a new one was built in 1884. It was a Victorian structure made of red bricks.

The three-story Victorian station had two wings and a square tower with a pyramidal roof. It is embellished in pale stone. Unfortunately, it also caught fire in April 1911.

In 1912, a new structure was built to replace the Victorian structure. It is bigger with its five arched bays. It is made of Italian bricks and it comes with projecting porticoes. The design aims to show solidity and purpose.

These three structures were all situated as to where the new Galesburg station stands. The Italian brick station was renovated in 1983 and so the new one rose in 184.

Way to Chicago

In 1987, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) Railroad built a railroad that passes Galesburg on its way to Chicago. This signifies the opening of the community to a larger market of travelers. The new railway followed the Cedar Creek line, one of the lowest elevated rail lines in town. The rail line was completed in 1887 and it was celebrated by the locals.

In 1888, ATSF opened its red sandstone station designed with an octagonal tower. This station was open and working until 1996. Amtrak stopped using the station and moved its services to the new station. The change happened after the successful merge of Burlington Northern (formerly CB&Q) with ATSF. It is now known as BNSF.

ATSF transported products from Galesburg and one of their major products was Purington Pavers – a great-looking and highly durable paving bricks. It is known and used as far as India and Paris. This type of brick is most sought in construction and restoration works even when tile and brick factories are no longer operating in Galesburg,

BNSF opened its rail yards to the public in 1974 and public tours were welcomed. It was known as Railroad Days. A museum next to the station was opened containing employee memorabilia and artifacts. The museum is now home to the notable Pullman club car, the CB&Q Way Car, a CB&Q locomotive #3006, a railway post office car, and different railroad-themed pieces. If you are travelling with your kids, you can then bring them to the nearby Discovery Depot that is open every day, 365 days a year!

During Railroad Days celebrations, events are always happening in the popular rail museum just north of Galesburg station. CB&Q merged with Burlington Northern (BN) in 1970 and 1974, the first open house happened. It was the railroad company’s way of thanking the community for their continued support. During the said open house, memorabilia were brought out by the employees for visitors to see and people had to wait in line for their tours.

The memorabilia and collection at the museum grew as employees and railroad companies started donating. BN donated the Pullman Parlor car in 1981. It is called Meath. CB&Q followed by donating the locomotive engine #3006. In 184, BN again gave their CB&Q Waycar 13501. The museum officially opened to the public on December 7, 2004, in time to celebrate CB&Q’s arrival in Galesburg.

To add fun to Galesburg, the public schools in the city also host their annual duck race. This activity started in September 1996. It is a fund-raising event and all money raised from the said event is given to schools in the district in the form of grants.

Carl Sandburg, a Pulitzer award winner, and a poet was born in Galesburg. His father used to be a railroad worker. A school was named after Sandburg – Carl Sandburg College. Sandburg’s poems are celebrated for being inspirational. He also wrote proses. In 2006, Sandburg’s contribution to the community was again recognized after naming one of the IDOT-supported trains his.

To date, there are eight trains operated by Amtrak that use the Galesburg station. The station has a staff room and a waiting room. The Illinois Department of Transportation They shoulder the cost of the Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr operations.

Most Scenic Railways in the USA – Top 5

Scenic Railways In the USA

In the old days, traveling across America is best done by train. Today, despite the introduction of first-class bus rides and airplanes, traveling by train remains to be a great way to enjoy and experience moving from one place to another. 

Provided that you are not in a hurry and you want to experience the classic dreaminess of train traveling, here are the most scenic railways in the USA that you shouldn’t miss. 


Rail station In British Columbia

For your first long train trip, you can try the Cascades, a 156-mile trip from Vancouver, British Columbia to Eugene Oregon. This train ride will treat your eyes to one of the most scenic views in the Pacific West as you pass by greenish and eye-refreshing forests. 

Try travelling on a clear day and enjoy Puget Sound in Seattle. Make sure to face the west side so you can get a glimpse of the Olympic Mountains as well. Riding Cascade is like watching different postcards as you pass by town after town. The good news is, you can post each picture you take in your social media accounts as this train comes with Wi-Fi. 

Grand Canyon Railway

Are you looking for something great to do this weekend? Why not ride the Grand Canyon Railway and treat yourself to a breathtaking and dramatic Grand Canyon tour! 

View of train in Gran Canyon National Park railway station.This train ride is 4 hours long so if you have the entire day to yourself, you can do a roundtrip ride easily. This 65-mile trail can be enjoyed with wester music that the train provides. 

The Grand Canyon Railway ride can show you the forest side of Northern Arizona plus its deserted lands. It also passes by the Native American reservations and the highest elevation in the state of AZ. The train stops at the Grand Canyon National Park for a 4-hour stopover so you can breathe in more of its beauty. 

Mount Washington Cog Railway

View of a train on the Mount Washington Cog Railway from the summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire

A ride with ‘The Cog’ is like experiencing history as this train is the first train that climbs a mountain. This train climbs the summit of New England, approximately 3500 feet above the ground. To date, this railway is the second steepest railway in the world. 

That is something to experience! This is aside from the fact that every inch this train move is a scenic and breathtaking view that you can feast your eyes on as it passes the green valleys and mountains of New Hampshire to Vermont. 

White Pass and Yukon Route

Built-in 1898, this train ride is one exciting and adrenaline-rushing ride to have if you ever pass by Alaska. This train passes by a narrow-gauge railway on a very steep cliff.

Skagway, Alaska. The scenic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad.

Experience a train ride that climbs up to 3000 feet above the ground as you pass by glaciers, waterfalls, and mountain lakes. The ride starts from a mine in Yukon then ends in Lake Bennett. There are other routes as well such as the Dead Horse gulch route or the Bridal Veil Falls route. 

Are you afraid of heights? Be warned.

Amtrak Empire Builder

Are you in Chicago and you need to get to Seattle in no rush? Hop into Amtrak Empire Builder and get to Seattle through a dreamy and relaxing ride.

Eastbound Empire Builder at Two Medicine Trestle East Glacier MT

Credit: Loco Steve

This train ride is a 46-hour ride of different landscapes and sceneries from Mississippi, Montana, the Gassman Coulee Trestle, the Glacier National Park, and the awesome Columbia River Gorge

This train ride is like retracing the steps of those who travelled to the west in the early years of American civilization.