With privatisation sweeping the world, passenger carriers are increasingly subject to the same pressures as those affecting freight railways. Heavy haul operators have invested considerable time and effort learning how to run the world's most efficient rail businesses, and their experiences should be of interest to all railway managers, including passenger operators

Heavy haul train.

Roy A Allen is President of Transportation Technology Center, Inc, and Albert J Reinschmidt PhD is Vice President, Marketing & Business Development

SOME PEOPLE in our industry hold the view that there is little value in the cross-pollination of technologies between the heavy haul and the passenger transport businesses. At the Transportation Technology Center we believe this view to be incorrect. We suggest that the knowledge gained across both forms of operation presents great opportunities for us to learn from one another.

Although not all the tools developed by freight railways are applicable to passenger operations, many are. Railways should focus on building on the best of what others have accomplished, fine-tuning engineering and technical developments to resolve their own particular problems. There is no time for 'not invented here' attitudes, as none of us have the time or the resources to relearn lessons.

Within the concept of flanged wheels running on parallel steel rails supported by a track structure lie a myriad of options, variables and techniques. But the basic principles are very similar, whether we operate heavy haul trains at 80 km/h or sleek passenger trains at speeds of 250 km/h or more.

To illustrate the value of the exchange of ideas we could construct a long list of technological opportunities, whether we are involved in hauling freight or passengers. But for the sake of brevity, we will discuss just three areas of common interest:

  • Increasing asset life, and lowering the life-cycle cost of wheels and rails by reducing maintenance costs and possession times.
  • Rolling stock management, including optimising fleet size, reducing energy consumption and improving the position of railways as the less environmentally damaging mode of transport.
  • Effective use of information and communication technologies in a railway environment.

Longer asset life

Heavy haul railways are extremely focused on providing the lowest possible transport costs. In the case of single commodity lines such as iron ore routes, if transport costs are too high, the commodity may become too expensive, leading to the end customer finding another source of supply. Similarly, more general freight operators could find their customers using alternative transport modes if costs are too high.

Given the 'lowest cost or die' environment that exists for these carriers, it is not surprising that the recent UIC Infracost benchmarking study1 of worldwide track maintenance costs found that the US freight railways had the lowest tonne-km infrastructure maintenance and renewal costs of all the railways surveyed. Maintenance and renewal costs were several times lower than those of typical European passenger-carrying railways. If the UIC study had included heavy haul railways in other parts of the world, they would have found costs comparable to, and in some cases better than in the US.

The low costs of heavy haul railways have not come at the cost of poor track quality or safety. Although typical heavy haul track may not be suitable for high-speed passenger operations, it is usually constructed with premium materials and maintained to geometry standards appropriate for the speeds operated.

Heavy haul railways have devoted considerable resources to the management of infrastructure. From the late 1970s it was recognised that the biggest single investment in a railway was in its rail. The spotlight was quickly turned to extending rail life. It was also recognised that unlike most other industries that use steel products, railways use the rail plastically.

To achieve the lowest life-cycle costs for rail, the usual approach is to use large section rails for their increased head dimensions and thus longer life, clean hard steels for their resistance to fatigue failures, and to grind out surface cracks whilst maintaining a good rail profile. The stresses at the wheel/rail interface are also reduced through the use of generous, but not excessive, lubrication.

The key to rail management is to balance wear and fatigue. Wheel/rail systems that exhibit low wear will accumulate fatigue damage resulting in premature failures. Rail with high wear rates will reach condemning limits before the fatigue life has been reached.

Recent events in Britain indicate that the accumulation of fatigue damage on low wear rails is not restricted to heavy haul freight railways. Reports have been received from other European passenger railways of fatigue cracking similar to that observed in Britain. Heavy haul railways have developed the management tools to control rail metal removal rates (either through wear or grinding), producing an optimum wear and fatigue life. Rail life on a typical North American freight railway now frequently exceeds by up to four times the average life obtained 20 years ago.

In addition to this, ultrasonic and other forms of non-destructive testing have also received considerable attention. Testing is a major element in maintaining safety whilst extending rail life.

Other elements of the track structure have been the subject of research. In all cases, the goal of this work is to minimise life-cycle costs through materials selection and maintenance management. Passenger railways can optimise their track structure and maintenance practices using the techniques and tools that the heavy haul railways have developed. A lower cost, more optimally maintained railway will reduce possession times, produce a better quality ride and result in more reliable service.

The tools are already there; the passenger railways need only to adapt them to their unique needs.

Rolling stock

Every piece of stock, whether a wagon or locomotive, represents a considerable investment. Obtaining a balance between fleet size and operating speed for a given volume of traffic is one of the major issues heavy haul management must face.

Running trains faster reduces the required fleet size but consumes more fuel and does more damage to the infrastructure, possibly increasing rolling stock maintenance costs. Increasing axleloads also decreases fleet size requirements and may cut fuel usage, but the infrastructure costs can be considerable.

Various research projects at the Facility for Accelerated Service Testing in the USA (p407) and on heavy haul routes that are primarily 'captive service' in other parts of the world have produced considerable data to arrive at the best solutions.

Fuel consumption can be reduced by decreasing the energy required to perform the transport work, or through improvements to the locomotive fleet. One simple but effective way to cut energy requirements is effective lubrication of the wheel/rail interface. Tests at TTCI have demonstrated a reduction of as much as 25% attributable to lubrication. Reduced fuel consumption means lower emissions, further enhancing the railways' reputation as the 'green' choice.

To balance all these competing issues, heavy haul railways have invested in developing a large body of experience and tools to predict the effects of changes in any of these parameters. Generally these are not the statistics-based models common in the passenger environment. The problem with statistical models is that they break down outside their calibration range. Models typically used in North America and in other heavy haul operations are often based on first principles and do not face this limitation. Numerous 'what if' scenarios can be tested when engineering-based models are used. Such engineering-based models can usually be applied to passenger railway requirements with little effort.

Information & communications

The old axiom that you can't manage what you can't measure applies to railways as well any other business enterprise. To squeeze more out of the asset base, the heavy haul railways have sponsored the development of measurement systems to keep the operating parameters of their systems in balance.

One example of these measurement systems is the wheel impact load detector. In North America these devices have been installed to highlight wheels producing excessive vertical loads. Recognising that the North American railways are not strictly vertically integrated, and the vehicle may be owned by a party other than the operating railway, the emphasis in setting the standards is not solely on safety limits, but also on maintenance limits. The limit for impact load is established at a point where the cost of running the defective wheel is greater than the cost of replacing it.

Impact detectors are only one example of measurement devices currently being used or under development. Timing the maintenance of bogies has always been a difficult issue.

Measurement technology is now being used to locate bogies with deteriorating performance and to schedule maintenance time and place. Predictive maintenance systems for roller bearings are also under development.

This monitoring is being made possible by the development of trackside detector systems capable of monitoring various vehicle performance parameters and communicating that information to a central database.

Expert systems software can be used to analyse the data from different detectors and monitor any trends in deterioration. This will provide fact-based input to vehicle owners to allow them to carry out preventive maintenance programmes. These technologies are applicable to both freight and passenger vehicles.

Newer, complex, high horsepower, high adhesion locomotives have also benefited from the advance of communications technology. Major North American builders are experimenting with on-board health monitoring systems, where information on faults is communicated to a help desk. Corrective action instructions are either transmitted to the crew via voice radio or sent electronically to the locomotive's control system.

Heavy-haul railways are very interested in the development of radio communication based train control technology such as Positive Train Control (RG 6.00 p359). These systems have the potential for extending train control to remote locations at far lower cost than conventional systems, significantly increasing track capacity, and so reducing infrastructure investment. This may also help in dealing with the problems associated with operation of passenger and freight traffic on the same tracks.

There is also the potential for an improvement in safety. Again, the technology is potentially applicable to any type of railway operations.

The International Heavy Haul Association can be contacted at 2808 Forest Hills Court, Virginia Beach VA23454, USA. Tel +1 804 496 9384 Fax +1 804 496 2622 email: ihha@erols.com

  • CAPTION: Western Australia Resources Minister Colin Barnett predicted in 1999 that the Pilbara railways could one day be hauling 200 million tonnes of iron ore a year
  • CAPTION: Delegates to the International Heavy Haul Association's conferences have the opportunity to participate in study tours and see at first hand how problems are handled.
  • CAPTION: IHHA delegates visit the Datong-Qinhuangdao coal line in China.
  • CAPTION: Spoornet dealt with the problem of alkali aggregates reaction in concrete sleepers on its Sishen - Saldanha Orex route by replacing them or spraying them with a coating of hydrophobic silicon
  • CAPTION: Right: Trackside equipment is increasingly used to monitor the health of wagons on heavy haul routes. This acoustic monitoring station checks bearings and relays data for analysis using expert systems
  • CAPTION: Several designs of concrete sleeper have been tested by TTCI in Pueblo, Colorado
  • CAPTION: Wagons are loaded to precise criteria to achieve the most economic use of resources
  • CAPTION: The latest on-board health monitoring equipment can send information about locomotive faults to a help desk, which can either give instructions to the crew or send them electronically to the unit's control system

1. The Cost of Railway Infrastructure Maintenance and Renewal, Phase 3 Results. UIC, Paris, October 2000.

Heavy haul experience could benefit passenger operations

Heavy haul railways have extensive experience of maximising efficiencies through the lowering of costs. They have achieved this by increasing asset life, optimising rolling stock management and using communications technology. With the wave of privatisation sweeping around the world, passenger operators will find themselves under similar commercial pressures to freight railways. Considerable resources have been expended in optimising infrastructure management, and studying the lessons learned by heavy haul companies could benefit passenger operators.

L'expérience du trafic lourd pourrait profiter à l'exploitation voyageurs

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