Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand)

Knowledge to be shared at field day

Preparations are in full swing for the RTAA’s much-anticipated Field Day for 2024.

It always amazes me how fast the beginning of the year slips away.  

It feels like yesterday that we were taking some time off for the end of year holiday and now we are rapidly approaching mid-year. 

Importantly that means that the RTAA Field Day is just around the corner. 

Bookings are still being finalised but already there are some amazing displays and demonstrations planned. 

We will have the time-honoured showcase of rail management technologies from Speno on rail grinders, and Linmag with the rail milling machines. 

In the welding area, Pandrol and Goldschmidt will provide demonstrations of aluminothermic welding alongside mobile flashbutt welding.

Elsewhere we are looking at demonstrations of track slab and green track construction techniques, and as always the latest and greatest in track maintenance equipment and machinery. 

This fantastic show is only possible with our sponsors and supporters, such as our event partner Sydney Trains and our Gold event sponsor Pandrol.

The field day is not complete without the No Tie Dinner. 

This year we will be holding the dinner at Waterview in Bicentennial park. This is an exceptional venue and I very much look forward to unwinding with everyone. 

Tickets are on sale now, and will sell out so don’t wait! The dinner is proudly supported by our Platinum sponsor, Anric Developments, and our Gold dinner sponsors Saint-Gobain Abrasives and Blackwoods.

Planning for the Field Day never fails to make me consider how we work in rail, and in particular the nature of maintenance and track maintenance in particular. 

Often when we think of maintenance it is in the context of preserving an asset in a condition through some intervention task like lubrication, cleaning or adjustment. 

But in a track asset context it is far more concerned with detection of variance; this in turn then results in an intervention program such as resurfacing or rail replacement.  

There are very few tasks in the track world at least that would be considered truly preventative. 

Rail husbandry, through either milling or grinding, is one of these and important for preserving the good condition of the rail. 

Tamping or resurfacing prompts some interesting discussion in this context. Is it a corrective program or a preventative? The extension of this is the debate around undertaking resurfacing as a cyclic program to maintain condition. 

Examining it in more detail,  resurfacing is a corrective activity that restores the line and position of the track back to its design position and is used to improve stability and smoothness of the ride. 

On the flip side, the act of resurfacing degrades the ballast through crushing and abrasion and in the short term reduces resistance to buckling. 

Over time the ballast column will consolidate and resistance will be restored.  When we then look at maintenance programs, they are normally implemented cyclically with a task being repeated at a regular interval determined by the expected system decay. Is there then value in setting a cyclic ballast resurfacing program? 

Maybe. In a system with rapid degradation or that has a lack of good quality information, then the benefits from regularly tamping likely outweighs the costs. 

On the other hand, where the network has access to good quality and frequent condition monitoring data, then a proactive program of resurfacing can be implemented that targets intervention only where it is needed, gaining the benefits of correction while minimising disruption as far as practical. 

I find this change in ballast maintenance because of technology particularly fascinating and it nicely shows the need to continually review practices and adapt to rapidly developing technologies. For anyone interested I would be very happy to discuss over a coffee at the field day.

In a similar vein, I recently attended an interesting technical presentation on air quality in underground subway systems. 

How is this related to track maintenance? The link between them is fascinating, I
assure you. 

The presenter was talking about the particulate matter that the site monitoring had recorded and he made a bit of an off-hand comment that the ferrous microparticles that they had detected were very anomalous as they require very high temperatures and particular conditions to form that they couldn’t explain. 

And there is the link. Through other research into rail surface conditions, we had postulated that the earliest stage in a squat’s life was a phase transition in the rail steel caused by very short duration heat and pressure in the wheel-rail contact zone, conditions that would coincidentally explain the ferrite nanoparticles being detected. 

An amazing correlation of results that help explain one of the most concerning conditions in rail management. 

Makes you wonder, how many other research overlaps are there to explore? 

All the more reason and value for in-person sharing like conferences and the
Field Day.