Tag Archives: Railroads in America

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!