Innovative Track Maintenance Equipment Increases CTA Productivity and Improves Ride for Customers

August 25, 2005
8/25/05

At its main rail maintenance facility, CTA officials today demonstrated some innovative equipment and a revolutionary process that prevents and repairs defects in running rail. Rail can become misaligned as a result of regular wear and tear and this situation can be exacerbated by extremely high temperatures. The process not only significantly improves the quality of the ride for customers by smoothing out the kinks in rails, it allows CTA maintenance crews to align more rail in less time, thereby improving maintenance efficiency and increasing productivity.

?If the rails aren?t properly aligned, customers will experience a jarring effect, similar to the way the cars jerk on a roller coaster," explained CTA President Frank Kruesi. ?Investing in this state-of-the-art technology benefits both customers and the CTA. Customers experience a smoother and faster ride, and CTA's operational efficiency is further improved."

Aligning the rail allows trains to travel more smoothly over the track and maintain a consistent speed instead of having to slow down to travel over an unaligned section of track. The new tamping equipment can tamp 2,000 feet of track per hour, compared to 500 feet per hour with the old machine.

In addition to its rail alignment process, CTA demonstrated its rail tie replacement machine, which replaces rail ties more than four times faster than the old manual process. This translates to 240 ties being replaced in a six-hour shift compared to 60 ties over the same period when performed manually.

CTA is replacing existing wooden rail ties with recycled plastic rail ties on much of its system to improve performance and lessen the environmental impact. The plastic ties have a corrugated surface that better adheres to the gravel track bed and provides better stability. Plastic ties last twice as long as wood ties, 50 years compared to 25, and better resist decay, insects, water absorption and are free of chemical preservatives. To date, CTA has replaced 42,000 of its 650,000 wooden rail ties with plastic ties.

"Continued capital investment in equipment and facilities improves the transit experience for customers and enhances CTA's ability to operate more efficiently," said Chicago Transit Board Chairman Carole Brown. ?With the time saved as a result of this new equipment, maintenance crews can perform their duties more effectively throughout the entire system."

The $1.4 million Model Mark VI production tamper is manufactured by Harsco Track Technologies of South Carolina and works in combination with three other high tech machines to lift, level and align the running rails and stabilize the gravel bed and rail ties, keeping them compact and tight underneath. The new machine features a computerized trouble shooting system that uses lasers to identify and repair defective rail. CTA purchased the machine following a competitive bidding process in late 2004 with a combination of federal funding at 80 percent and RTA funding authorized by the Illinois General Assembly at 20 percent.

The track maintenance process for preventing and removing rail kinks is performed on CTA's 111 miles of ground level and embankment tracks from April to November each year. Since the debut of the new production tamper this April, CTA has completed alignment and tamping on the Forest Park branch of the Blue Line and is currently working on the north branch of the Red Line. Track maintenance is done at night or on weekends when it will have the least impact on service.

CTA purchased its latest rail tie replacement machine in 2004 from Harsco Track Technologies for $136,000. CTA first began using rail tie replacement equipment in 1996.

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