Combining service and production for customer satisfaction

Loram is expanding its innovative solutions in track and below rail maintenance in Australia.

In late 2019, global railway maintenance equipment and services provider Loram Maintenance of Way, Inc. significantly grew its contract services operations in the Australian railway industry with its purchase of Aurizon’s rail grinding business and its fleet of Loram rail grinders.

Although Loram and its advanced equipment has serviced Australian railways for over 50 years, its increased scale is enabling its Australian-led operations
to draw on its global range of track maintenance solutions, Tom Smith, director business development, told Rail Express.

“Loram has a 122 year history and what it’s rail maintenance service division is best known for is rail grinding but we have a portfolio of other products. Now that we’ve made this acquisition and with our base here, we are now in the process of introducing our other products that have had a lot of success in North America and other parts of the world to Australia.”

Having cemented itself as a market leader in North America, and with global expansion underway in its establishment of a UK-based subsidiary, and now Brisbane headquarters for Australasia and sub-Saharan Africa, Loram is taking its reputation for dependable and productive rail grinding service and combining that with product innovation.

“Loram has experienced significant growth over the years, attributable to keeping a customer focus. Loram wants the railways to be successful using Loram services and equipment – our customers have come to trust Loram. When we finish our grinding, they know the rail is going to be improved and they receive useful reports that show the results and improvement of the rail,” said Smith.

“We are constantly in communication with our customers. They often come to us with a problem and Loram is here to develop solutions. New developments are almost always driven by our customers and the needs that they have.”

One example of where Loram has worked to provide a unique solution is with its Railvac excavator. Already in use across North America, Brazil and Europe, the excavation machine combines a powerful articulated arm to breakup compacted material with extremely strong vacuum pumps to remove ballast, clay, mud, water, sand, and soil. The machines have proven their value to railway infrastructure owners and network operators.

“The first Railvac we came up with went to work on a demo. It was supposed to be there 30 days and never left, it’s still on that same railway after nearly 20 years,” said Smith.

What distinguishes the operation of the Railvac is its versatility to work in places that traditional excavation equipment cannot, or has difficulty to complete in available track time. The machine can be used in applications varying from full section undercutting mainline mud spots, to removing all material in the ballast section right to the deck of bridges and tunnels, in yard clean-ups, along platforms, or around other obstacles and reconstruction.

“The Railvac is being used quite a bit in iron ore clean up at the ports and coal clean up at some power plants. It’s an excavating tool that finds limitless uses around a rail network,” said Smith. “Track windows keep shrinking for maintenance, if you don’t have the four to eight hours to go out and fully undercut a section or turnout you can perform work for just half an hour or the time available, clear to let trains run, return and get through the section or turnout in stages rather than all in one go.”

Initially, Railvac was developed for a specific, customer-driven requirement, said Smith.

“The Railvac was first thought up because there was a need to remove the ballast without cutting through the cables buried underneath the track. Trying to do that with traditional equipment, even manually with a shovel, you’re going to tear up your cables. That was the first application and is still being used for that same purpose.”

Other areas where the Railvac has been put to use is removing spillage in grain yards and to clean up areas around car dumpers. What ties these uses together with its other applications is the ability for the Railvac to get into areas that would be otherwise inaccessible.

“It works in places that’ve never been able to be maintained with traditional equipment – along a platform, on a bridge deck – and rather than tear out the panels and scoop up the fouled material, very much disrupting the track, the work can be done in small chunks with the Railvac sucking up everything right down to the floor of a tunnel, or the deck of a bridge,” said Smith.

In one project, on an iron ore railway in Brazil, the excavator was used to fully clean out a tunnel that was otherwise inaccessible to traditional equipment.

“They had tunnels where there were significant speed restrictions due to little maintenance over 40-years, no drainage, just a bunch of broken-up ballast, mud and iron ore dust,” said Smith. “With lengthy tunnels, the excavation averaged about 25 cubic metres an hour. It took some time with the limited track windows, but at the end of the job there was water rushing out of the tunnels that had been dammed up inside.

“The track structure has been engineered to provide stability. Internally there was the understanding there was a serious mud problem, but they had no idea there was that much water dammed up. When you think of the heavier loads being hauled, similar to here in Australia, when the track shows signs of movement, track slip potential shows the importance of drainage. The study proved the advantages of using the Railvac as it provided the most efficient and effective solution as compared to the alternative options. Most important, now that the tunnel is properly draining and the track is performing as designed, the speed restrictions have been removed,” said Smith.

Currently, Loram is in the process of upgrading and modifying one of its existing Railvac designs for operations in Australia.

With 50-years’ experience in rail grinding, the rail-wheel interaction for extending rail life is well known to Loram. Optimising the rail life is also influenced with friction management.

Again, listening to customers’ needs, ten- years ago Loram acquired a small company specialising in friction management and has grown that to become a major supplier to the industry. Today, Loram is able to offer the next generation of friction management systems to Australia.

For decades, gauge face lubricators (Greasers) have been used to lubricate the gauge corner of rails in order to help the wheels roll through a curve, thus reducing gauge-face wear and extending rail life, as Smith explains. Noise reduction is also important through metropolitan areas, a calculated combination of top-of-rail friction modification and gauge-face lubrication can assist in this.

Not stopping there, in addition to the traditional gauge-face lubrication, Loram helped spearhead heavy-haul railroads’ system centric implementation of top- of-rail friction modification program as a solution to reduce fuel usage and reduce rail wear. Smith, who himself has a 40-year history within Loram – starting in the rail grinding operations department – and speaks with railways around the world, understands how valuable saving fuel can be.

“Fuel is often one of the biggest operating expenses a railway has these days and it is easily quantifiable with Australian heavy haul traffic.”

“The top-of- rail (TOR) friction management is really where a big cost savings for railways can be realised. Unlike grease, the TOR friction modifier are specially designed such that when applied in very small amounts, the modifier is carried by the train wheels for up to seven kilometres. Loram’s TOR modifiers do not affect tractive effort or braking conditions of a train. The traffic and track conditions are analysed and the modifier is strategically applied in very small amounts, maybe every third or even sixth wheel.

“The fuel savings are tremendous.”

In tests conducted by Loram’s customers, savings of seven per cent on fuel have been observed when using Loram’s top-of-rail friction modifiers.

Already, thousands of units have been installed or converted to use Loram’s modifier and greases across North America in the 10 years since Loram has started selling this range of products.

The friction management range comprises three types of top of rail friction modifiers and two types of greases. Friction modifiers consist of a water-based, synthetic, and hybrid modifier and two heavy-haul greases where one has an ECO certification. These are then applied with Loram’s range of application systems and backed up by Loram’s service offering.

Smith highlighted the experience and knowledge that the Loram’s team has in servicing and maintaining any type of brand of lubricators. Proper maintenance and unit up-time is key to maximising investment. The team understands that it’s not just about equipment, consumables and parts, it’s the unique combination of all three categories coupled with field maintenance that provides the winning ROI to its customers. There are many companies that claim to understand this, but Loram live this day in and day out. Each customer has unique operating parameters and as such friction management is not a ‘one size fits all’ application.

With decades of experience in the production of friction management systems, all the way from research and development, through manufacturing, installation, field service and maintenance to analysis, Loram expects to continue to innovate in this field, both in response to the emerging needs of its customers globally and locally in Australia.

NZ City Rail Link commences next stage of construction

Building works have started on the Aotea underground station in central Auckland part of New Zealand’s City Rail Link (CRL).

Dale Burtenshaw, deputy project director for the Link Alliance consortium which is building the stations and tunnels for the CRL project, said construction of the Aotea station under the intersection is “massive in scale”.

Construction of the station, platform and tunnels continues will continue below ground until 2021.

Wellesley Street West intersection with Albert Street and Mayoral Drive will close to road traffic from Sunday, 1 March 2020 and is set to reopen in a year.

This follows the removal of the information hub building in the middle of Beresford Square last month to construct the station under nearby Karangahape Road.

The CRL is set to be a 3.45km twin-tunnel underground rail link up to 42 metres below the Auckland city centre.

The depth of the two new underground stations will be 11m at Aotea and 33m at Karangahape Road.

The CRL will extend the existing rail line underground through Britomart, to Albert, Vincent, and Pitt Streets, and then cross beneath Karangahape Road and the Central Motorway Junction to Symonds Street before rising to join the western line at Eden Terrace where the Mount Eden Station is located.

The project was launched in 2017 and is estimated to cost $4.419 billion by the 2024 completion date.

Lankhorst expands KLP Hybrid Polymer Sleeper success into Australasia

Dutch company Lankhorst recently made its local entry with a significant order for its KLP steel-reinforced Hybrid Polymer Sleepers to the Australasian region.


The increasing scarcity of hardwood and the ban on creosote-treated wood for sleepers have created challenges in the maintenance of timber infrastructure.

Lifespan of timber sleepers is dropping and the replacement of timber with stiffer or weaker materials creates new problems. Lankhorst, a global firm whose Dutch origin began in 1803, has developed its modern Hybrid Polymer Sleeper to mimic the dynamic behaviour of a traditional wooden sleeper with an extended life span.

First installed on the Dutch rail network in 2006, KLP Hybrid Polymer Sleepers consist of highly ductile recycled polymer, reinforced with steel rebar. Lankorst says the steel reinforcement is located where it is most effective, and does not interfere with the installation of fastening systems. This helps it achieve longitudinal and lateral stiffness to maintain track gauge under all load and climate conditions, while the recycled polymer simultaneously acts as an effective impact absorber and sound damper, resulting in a reduced noise and longer lasting infrastructure.

Gerhard Klooster, business development director of Brisbane-based Link Asia Pacific (LinkAP) – which represents Lankhorst in Australia and New Zealand – tells Rail Express the combination of metal and synthetic material was immediately recognised by operators as a good solution to transition from traditional wooden sleepers.

“It did not take long for other track operators to see the logic and benefits of this design,” Klooster says. “KLP Sleepers are now operational in mainlines, bridges and turnouts in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, Gabon, Malaysia and Mexico.” That success has continued more recently in the Australia and New Zealand region. After Lankhorst and LinkAP participated jointly in AusRAIL PLUS 2017, they were pleased to see an increased interest in the hybrid polymer product.

“We were impressed with the progressive approach towards new technologies,” Lankhorst commercial director Stefan Hofman says. “We are now reaping the first fruits from our joint efforts. We recently received a significant order for supply of mainline sleepers and turnouts in the Australasian region. We are working towards first delivery of product in early 2020.”

“We knew that the demand for alternative sleepers would increase with time,” LinkAP’s managing director Pieter-Jan van Driel adds. “We believe that no other product in the global market matches the comprehensive and balanced offering of the brilliantly engineered products from Lankhorst. We believe that the KLP sleeper products not only offer environmental and functional benefits, but also that their ‘value-for-money’ offer is in a sweet spot compared to alternative offerings.”

When asked what the future holds, Van Driel smiles. “We are in discussion with various Australasian track owners regarding test installations and type approvals,” is all he can say.

Engineered and tested solutions

Lankhorst technical director, Aran van Belkon, said the product is backed up by solid engineering and extensive laboratory testing, which has enabled its use in railways operating at speeds up to 180km/h.

“Hybrid polymer sleepers combine the consistency and durability of concrete sleepers with the favourable impact and sound damping behaviour of timber sleepers,” van Belkon said.

“With more than 13 years of practical product performance at various clients in a variety of applications in 11 countries, we have proof that our engineered hybrid solutions meet customer requirements.”

The combination of the respective strengths of steel and recycled polymers is designed to achieve a number of desirable objectives throughout the Lankhorst range of sleepers:

  • structural soundness, with dynamic stiffness comparable to timber sleeper it replaces;
  • staged implementation, with 1-in-2 to 1-in-4 interspersed implementation possible due to designed stiffness;
  • gauge stability, thanks to high lateral and vertical stability under working load across broad temperature range, due to steel/polymer combination and unique footprint;
  • safety, with no sudden catastrophic failures under extreme overload situation, only gradual deformation;
  • environmental, with a certified net carbon store, a negative CO2 footprint and full recyclability;
  • easy handling, as the range can be machined on-site and handles and installs like timber sleepers; and,
  • health benefits, as the sleepers contain no fibres, meaning no special respiratory equipment must be warn during installation.

To satisfy the demands of various clients for type approval over the years, Lankhorst has successfully put the range through a range of testing, including static and dynamic loading, destructive testing, water absorption, electrical insulation, UV testing, slip and wear resistance, storage, handling, screw spike pullout tests, flammability and more.

The result of the testing and implementation of the sleepers in the field is satisfied customers. Voestalpine, which has fitted dozens of bridges with KLP Bridge Transoms since 2010, says there is “no maintenance required [and] performance on all bridges is satisfactory”. LEAG’s head of rail track infrastructure in Germany, Torsten Scharnetzki, adds: “The KLP Switch Sleepers were installed in 2008, handle 25 tonne axle loads and have remained within tolerance without maintenance after 10 years accumulated exposure to more than 250 million tonnes of load passing.”

Varied range

Optimised KLP Mainline Sleepers, the “everyday” member of the Lankhorst range, are designed to use up to 30 per cent less material, resulting in a more economic and environmentally friendly product. A unique bottom profile and increased ballast on top of the sleeper are designed to offer the required lateral and vertical stability, even against uplift. The reduced weight allows for easier handling during installation and maintenance.

Meanwhile, the KLP Turnout & Crossing Sleepers are designed with an enhanced ability to absorb and distribute impact when compared against timber and concrete; a benefit at crossings and turnouts, which are typically exposed to severe impact and lateral forces. Unlike concrete (where every hole must be pre-cast), KLP Sleepers can be drilled and milled. This saves costs and time.

Finally, Klooster says its KLP Bridge Transoms benefit most from the hybrid design. “The steel reinforcement provides the strength required to easily handle the high bending moments in bridges with offset girder applications,” he says. “The design offers enough safety margin to ensure no gradual plastic deformation occurs.

Unballasted bridge structures are very stiff and do not have the ability to flex during load and unload cycles; this is where the KLP Sleeper’s polymer absorbs and spreads impact energy, resulting in lower loads in the bridge structure.”

Measurements conducted on a steel girder bridge in Amsterdam yielded a 3-5dB noise reduction, following replacement of timber sleepers with KLP Bridge Transoms, Klooster adds.