Built to last: Speno’s locally built rail grinding equipment

Through accuracy and local expertise, Speno Rail Maintenance Australia is delivering the rail profile that’s right for the job.

Australia has one of the widest range of railways of any single country around the globe. From the heavy haul railways which carry some of the highest axle loadings in the world, to densely packed urban light rail lines. Each network has its own distinct conditions which are reflected in the standards that are applied by network operators and managers.

Speno Rail Maintenance Australia has been helping rail infrastructure managers in Australia and New Zealand meet their own unique rail profile standards for the past half a century. General manager Mark Green knows these networks well.

“Although similar, the majority of the standards and conditions are different. That’s because they are designed to suit the network they are operating upon.”

Many urban rail networks are looking to reduce wheel squeal, something that can be done through a targeted grinding program.

“Having a poor rail profile and poor surface condition will induce a lot of noise that creates a disturbance factor for the public,” said Green. “The tolerance factors within the metro networks are extremely rigorous to ensure they are providing not only the best level of service for their passengers but also for the neighbouring communities that are around the network.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Australia’s freight rail networks are looking to prevent the rapid escalation of a defect, which can be hastened by the heavy loads passing over the rails.

“If you leave a poor profile or poor surface condition, you will naturally induce defects on the head of the rail and in a heavy haul environment with 40-tonne axle loads, that induced defect escalates very quickly,” said Green.

For all rail networks, however, limiting the amount of maintenance that has to occur by preserving a good rail profile is another benefit.

“The more maintenance you have to do, the more delays that appears on the rail network, so by grinding to the correct tolerances and profile and therefore reducing the rail wear means it reduces the amount of maintenance that has to be performed on a network, ensuring longevity for the public and the taxpayer or the owner,” said Green.

Not only does accurate grinding protect the infrastructure but it increases the lifespan of rollingstock. By ensuring the wheel is in contact with the rail at the correct point, there is less stress on the wheel and supporting bearings and axles.

Getting rail networks to their optimum condition based on local conditions and requirements is the goal of Speno. To do this, the company has locally designed and built rail grinding machines that are above all, accurate.

“Our machines need to be able to produce the accuracy, repeatability, and compliance for each client each time we return to their network,” said Green.

While in the past, measurements of the rail profile were and often still are conducted with manual measuring tools such as a bar gauge, the increasing accuracy demanded by rail infrastructure managers is leading to new ways to get a more comprehensive picture of the rail asset. This is performed by Speno through onboard electronic measurement, which allows the rail grinder to accurately align with the current condition of the rail and the desired rail profile.

“When you’re measuring immediately before and after as you’re grinding, your skilled operators are able to manage the grind professionally and accurately then and there, without any preconceived ideas of what’s going to be applied. They are able to understand that this is the condition right now, this is the condition it needs to be returned to and they know exactly how to return it,” said Green.

Using on-board electronic measurement also makes for a safer grinding process.

“By having an electronic measurement system that’s measuring as we are grinding and producing that live data feed, we’re reducing the rollingstock-person interface and therefore increasing the safety of our people,” said Green.

Having had experience on all types of rail around Australia and New Zealand, Speno know that the rail grinding process needs to be individualised for the respective needs of each client.

“By using electronic on board measuring and vision systems, our highly skilled and experienced operators and rail network experts are able to look at the profile, look at the condition of the rail, and actually provide evidence or advice on what changes are needed to potentially eliminate and/or reduce the premature failure of the network,” said Green. “By reviewing and understanding the standards and the machines and how best to achieve it, we can actually improve the rail profile dramatically and reduce the premature wear on the network, wheels, and increase the life span of the rail and wheels.”

Combining data with local knowledge and expertise and the ability to carry out grinding to specification means that Speno are providing the client with solutions.

“When you operate between different operators the grinding machines need to be able to quickly, efficiently, and easily adapt to suit their requirements and that’s what our machines are set up to do. They’ve all got the capability and versatility in the programming and the measuring systems as such that we can produce the profile required by the client.” said Green.

Recently, this approach won an important note of feedback.

“We ground a section of rail in Perth six months ago and it was around a tight curve that was passing through a suburb. We recently received a letter from a local resident who noticed that the noise of the trains passing had substantially reduced since we had performed our last grind,” said Green. “That to me gives us an immense degree of satisfaction that we’re not only supporting our clients but we’re also supporting the community around the rail network.”

The rail grinding equipment that Speno supplies to Australia and New Zealand has been designed and manufactured in Australia. While local content policies in states such as Victoria and Western Australia specify a percentage of local involvement in rollingstock manufacturing, Speno is ensuring that there is local involvement in the manufacture of maintenance equipment as well.

Throughout Australia, Speno has a network of over 150 suppliers who are not just involved in the fabrication of the machines, by the supply of parts and materials that are used in the process of grinding while on the job.

As an Australian company and using Australian suppliers Speno supports the wider Australian economy.

“When working in Sydney, we’ll use Sydney hydraulics and pneumatics, boiler makers, whatever we need, to source locally,” said Green.

In addition to the materials required, Speno is investing in local skills and training.

“You can’t buy a rail grinder operator off the street, there’s no course out there, so we employ for the right behaviours, attitudes, and team fit based on required trades and skill set overall,” said Green. “Then we spend an immense amount of time internally training and mentoring our people through on the job skills and practical training to operate and maintain the machines effectively and safely and ensure maximum production and benefits to our client.”

This philosophy has meant that Speno is building and designing Australian equipment for Australian conditions and leading the world.

Ultimately, however, for rail maintainers and operators, the focus is not the grinding machine, but the product it leaves behind. With more pressures on rail systems as demand increases and possession time is limited, a focus on quality and results is essential.

“Today’s rail network operators require a highly efficient machine on the rail network. Grinding efficiently and effectively doesn’t mean a bigger machine, at the end of the day,” said Green. “The reality is it’s not the machine, it’s the product that we leave, a very good profile and surface roughness and that’s absolutely our focus right now – providing that level of quality that you’d expect from an Australian-based manufacturer and service provider.”

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Rail track. Photo: Shutterstock

Urgent track upgrades lead to Auckland-wide speed restriction

Urgent upgrades to track around Auckland have led to KiwiRail imposing a 40km/h speed restriction across the entire network for the next six months.

Testing conducted on the network found that track wear was more widespread than previously understood, leading KiwiRail to bring forward repair work, said KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller.

“Following our testing we are accelerating our programme of replacing the most worn sections of rail and resurfacing less damaged sections.”

The speed restriction and need to access the track will disrupt commuter services, with services running every 20 minutes during the day instead of every 10 minutes during the morning and afternoon peak. Journey times will also increase, said Mark Lambert, executive general manager of integrated networks at Auckland Transport.

“We hope to add some extra services at peak times to ensure that we can meet passenger demand, but this speed restriction will unfortunately mean longer journey times for all our customers of up to 50 per cent for this temporary period.”

The works will involve replacing 100 kilometres of track and are expected to take six months. Miller said that KiwiRail had the local capacity to complete the upgrade.

“We are equipped and ready to resolve the issue with the necessary rail already in the country and staff available to lay it. Specialist rail grinding equipment, which will be used to remediate some of the rail, will arrive from Australia shortly.”

While the track upgrade work was anticipated, the move to level three restrictions in Auckland due to cases of COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for KiwiRail to begin sooner.

“We are working closely with Auckland Transport to arrange optimum access to the track so we can get to work as quickly as possible while managing operation of services,” said Miller.

“The faster this work can be completed, the sooner the network can be back to operating safely at full speed as we continue our work to deliver a resilient and reliable rail network for Auckland.”

The works form part of the NZ$1 billion upgrade package for Auckland’s rail network, which includes electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe.

“This is part of the critical upgrade of the rail track infrastructure in Auckland as we plan and prepare for significant increase in services when the City Rail Link is open, and dramatically reducing travel times across the region,” said Lambert. “We are working closely with KiwiRail to ensure the track infrastructure is ready for the future demands that will be placed on it that will continue the transformational journey of rail in Auckland with the opening of the City Rail Link.”

Loram appoints new director

Loram Holdings has appointed David Freeman to its Board of Directors.

Freeman previously worked for BNSF Railway, the largest freight railroad network in North America. There, Freeman held positions in engineering and operations roles.

Prior to becoming a director at Loram Maintenance of Way, Freeman was the executive vice president of BNSF Railway, and focused on improving cost structure using technology, finding cost-efficiencies and improving effectiveness. Before this role, Freeman was executive vice president of operations, senior vice president of transportation, vice president of transportation, and vice president of engineering.

Loram designs, builds and operates maintenance of way equipment used in rail grinding, ballast cleaning, top of rail friction management, material handling, track inspection and structural monitoring. Based in Hamel, Minnesota, Loram has had equipment used in Australia for many years, and recently acquired Aurizon’s rail grinding business, creating a wholly-owned Australian subsidiary.