Western Rail Road Museum Track Crew News

The Track Crew meets twice per month, on the second and fourth Saturday. Track Crew News Archive

November 2011

This week, we received a Tie Crane that was purchased at a used equipment auction. It was previously owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, and is a Kershaw model 12-5 manufactured in 1997.

For several years, we have been using a tie crane on loan from the California State Railroad Museum. This has proved to be instrumental in a number of tasks, most importantly in our annual program of replacing ties. This type of machine is designed to handle ties singly or a few at a time. We have used it to distribute the new ties where needed along the line, and to pick up the old ties released from the track. The new tie crane will take the place of the one on loan from CSRM once the new one is fixed up and ready for use.

The Kershaw Tie Crane is about 20 years newer than the one belonging to CSRM, and has a number of features that make it more productive and user friendly. It was well used by the Union Pacific before being sold, so we can expect that some repairs will be needed to put it in working order.

The Track Crew has been very busy recently with a variety of different track repair projects. The most exciting news for the Crew is the resurrection of the Torsion Beam Tamper. This machine, purchased from Amtrak in 2008, required a tremendous amount of work to bring it back to life. The Track Crew had been using this machine for about a year as a basic tamping machine, without the automatic track raising, lining, and leveling features. Now that those features are working, the Crew put it to work immediately to work surfacing the track as part of the Destination Molena project. As expected, the machine produces beautifully smooth track. It will be exciting to see the difference in ride quality later when the historic cars begin operating over this segment of track.

Resurrecting the Torsion Beam Tamper was no small task. The machine is far and away the most complex of the Association’s collection of track maintenance equipment. It seemed that every system was worn out, frozen with rust, or abused from a long life at the railroad. Perhaps the worst was the electrical system which controls the automatic features of the machine. Many of the wires in the electrical cables connecting various parts of the machine had become brittle with age and had lost their insulation. These wires required replacement, and in addition a number of electrical “mysteries” needed to be solved. The machine has a very complicated control system and many, many wires! Beyond the electrical system, major repairs to the hydraulic and air systems as well as mechanical operating parts were required. Using the spare tamper purchased from the Northwestern Pacific, many parts and assemblies were replaced. About $25,000 worth of new parts were purchased from the manufacturer to replace things that were worn out or otherwise not usable. In the end, it was tremendously satisfying to see the machine begin to raise, line and level the track as intended.

The Torsion Beam Tamper is being used first to surface the track between the current end of operation and Birds Landing, as part of the Destination Molena project. This is a good place to test out the machine and train operators, as it is out of the way of operations. Also, this is the area where a contractor replaced 1,000 ties last year, so the tie condition of the track is good. This is a prerequisite to using the tamper, because ties that are in poor condition will not come up with the track when the machine raises and shifts the rails. The plan will be to eventually use this machine to surface all of the operating tracks; however, this requires many more ties to be replaced. As tie replacement moves forward each year, the Tamper can follow along surfacing the track.

The Track Crew spent a few days in the past months repairing and replacing rail joints. Many of the joints on the Sacramento Northern track are worn to the point where even if the bolts are tight, the joint is still loose. The solution is to replace the joint bars. The Track Crew replaced the joint bars in about 30 joints over two miles of track, and replaced or tightened many more bolts. Further work of this nature will be required to keep our railroad in good condition.

A very different and interesting project for the Track Crew was replacement of one bent in a bridge along the Sacramento Northern line. Bridge 56.94 is the first wooden trestle south of the museum. The rows of piles supporting the bridge are known as bents, and one of these had deteriorated to the point of requiring replacement. Unlike many wooden trestles, this one is built on concrete foundations, meaning that the piles are not driven into the ground but rather extend only from the foundation to the superstructure. As part of doing this work, it was decided to increase the height of the concrete foundation, so that the piles wouldn’t be submerged in water during the wet season. The piles and other timbers were ordered pre-cut to the final dimensions prior to being treated with a timber preservative. When they arrived, they were pre-assembled into the complete bent at the museum, and then transported to the site. On the appointed Saturday, the track was taken out of service, the bridge deck was jacked up slightly, and the old timbers were removed. The new bent was lifted into place using a small crane, and bolted to the superstructure. Re-bar was placed and forms built to construct a concrete cap over the old foundation and under the new timber bent. On the following Monday, a contractor arrived to place the concrete. Once the concrete was cured, the jacks were released and the project was complete.

Looking ahead, the Track Crew will continue to use the Tamper to surface the track to Birds Landing. After the first of the year, they will return to the annual project of replacing ties in the operating tracks. Later on in the year will be more track surfacing, more work trains, more rail joint replacement, and lots of other tasks!

Track Crew News Archive