CANADIAN Pacific Railway is increasing the efficiency of its ballast spreading operations with the introduction of the PLUS train. The Programmable Linear Unloading System cuts the time needed to drop ballast, reducing possession times and minimising the impact on revenue trains.

A track maintenance supervisor in a road-rail vehicle surveys a stretch of line before the PLUS train arrives on site. A laptop computer with a global positioning system transponder records the locations where ballast is needed, and, equally importantly, the locations of bridges, level crossings and other sites where ballast is not required.

The data is transferred to the 60-wagon PLUS train, which uses custom software linked to its fully-automatic hydraulic doors to position ballast where it is needed, smoothing the application process and almost eliminating waste. So far 250000 tonnes of ballast have been dumped in western and central Canada.

Previous methods of ballast delivery required around 70h of track time and four or five staff to dump 60 wagons of ballast onto the shoulders of a stretch of track. ’Now we can dump the same amount in 21/2 to 4h, day or night, rain or shine, with only one technician’, according to Vern Graham, CPR’s Vice-President of Engineering Operations. ’We can now efficiently dump ballast at any time and at a speed that will increase the overall capacity of the corridors on which we are working.’

CPR expects the PLUStrain to save around 10% on the amount of ballast used, generating total annual savings in track maintenance costs in excess of C$500000.

Canadian Pacific Railway, Canada

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