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Remote operation making ballast replacement safer and more efficient

Rail Express speaks with the Australian distributor for Cattron’s remote ballast car control system, designed to be a wireless, safe and efficient solution for ballasting operations.


Ballasting is a key part of track construction, and ballast replacement is a crucial component of track repair and regular network maintenance. During such operations, the manual operation of ballast car hopper doors not only puts workers in danger, it can also be slow and inefficient.

Manually opening and closing ballast car hopper doors means workers are forced to navigate uneven and unsteady ground, while performing slow and awkward work. Alongside the usual hazards of working close alongside a moving rail vehicle, injuries are possible from the manual operations of release levers. Longer-term health risks also exist, with harmful dusts like silica sometimes present during ballast operation.

The aim of the ballast car control system from US firm Cattron is to remove these proximity risks from ballast replacement operations. Using a handheld remote control, the system takes the operator away from the ballast car and the risk-prone ballast formation, giving him or her freedom of movement and the ability to work in a safer, more efficient manner with a better vantage point.

Robert Comber is Director of C5Solutions, the Australia and New Zealand distributor of the Cattron remote ballast car operation system. He tells Rail Express the ballast car technology from Cattron is already in use on multiple railways around the country, and all around the world.

“A receiver is fitted onto each wagon in a ballasting consist,” Rob says. “The operator can walk alongside the track – at a safe distance – with a hand controller, which allows them to dial up the number of a wagon, and open a number of doors on that particular wagon to drop ballast where they want it, as the train moves slowly down the track.”

With a large pipeline of projects around the Australia and New Zealand region to build new track, upgrade existing track, and maintain older networks, Rob says ballasting operators should be seeking out the most efficient and safest options available.

“In the past ballasting workers had to use a crank wheel to open the doors on the bottom of a wagon to drop the ballast. Now they can stand back away from the roll-off of the ballast formation, and they can view what they’re doing from a safe distance,” Rob explains. “This technology has been around for some time, and the Cattron product has proven to be the most reliable in the challenging rail environment.”

Cattron’s technology is already used by most major operators around the region, and was used to assist the major track repair program after the Mount Isa railway was heavily damaged by floods earlier this year.

“With the amount of investment going on and planned in the Australian rail sector, especially in the construction and upgrade of new tracks, efficient and safe measures around ballast operations will be critical to achieve the necessary targets,” Rob says.

The system’s dustproof and watertight receivers can operate in temperatures as high as 60°C. The handheld remote control, weighing 1.4 kilograms including battery, transmits to the array of receivers on the 450-470 MHz spectrum (usually on a free to air channel around 472MHz), and works up to 100 metres from the consist with an average response time of less than 60 milliseconds.

The remote features spring return to centre toggles, maintained toggles, and pushbuttons. Safety features include a push-to-operate safety bar on the remote and watchdog timers.

Rob adds that the technology has additional uses outside of just ballasting; it can be configured to offer remote control unloading of bulk products, like grain, iron ore, and mineral concentrate.

Cattron also provides remote control solutions for locomotives, cranes and mining equipment.

Contact: c5solutions (at)

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