December 2017
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Ton Crane

A train's been derailed?

how do you put a derailed train back on the rails?

It ain’t easy.

The first order of business after a train winds up in the ditch is to re-open the line and get trains moving again. To this end huge bull dozers are usually the first pieces of heavy equipment to arrive at the derailment site and they push the derailed stuff out of the way.

There is usually a bunch of torn up track as a result of a pile up. Most railroads have pre-built, loaded on cars and ready to go “track panels.” It is just the same as pieces of model railroad track that you snap together. When they arrive a temporary piece of track called a “shoo fly” is slapped together to get traffic moving around the pile of twisted steel and scattered lading.

Next to be used are the cranes. Prior to technological advances, steam derricks were the order of the day. These days, there are 200 ton cranes that move on the highways and are equipped with hi-rail equipment. They are driven as near as possible to the derailment site then put on the tracks to get to where the mess is. They are able to pick up and re-rail cars that are close to the shoo fly. Pretty amazing. I’ve seen ‘em suck an SD45 right out of the mud, one end at a time.

Cars that are derailed, upright and near the rails are re-railed with the use of frogs, as Andy said. Ahead of the derailed trucks on the car, pieces of wood and chains are placed for the wheels to get to the frogs, which are of two types: the “Budda” and the “Butterfly.” Locomotives used to carry the Budda frogs on the side of the engine trucks, but I’ve no idea if this is still the case as I haven’t looked lately. Sometimes the derailed trucks need to be “steered,” for lack of a better term, towards the frog. When necessary, a “slewing cable” is attached to the side frame of the truck with the other end attached to a piece of heavy equipment. As the car is pulled forward, the tractor will back up slightly to turn the truck in the desired direction so it will get to the frog oriented properly to throw on the rail. If the trucks are too damaged, the car will be lifted by crane and placed on top of temporary wheels called “bogies.” Damaged brake rigging is bypassed via a long hose called a “baloney hose.”

Sometimes lading in trans-loaded onto other cars at some point in the process.

Locomotives are a bit trickier to re-rail. They are the only equipment that have the trucks attached. Freight cars merely sit on top of them with gravity keeping them on top. But, when lifting a locomotive, the traction motors want to drop, as they are very heavy and have little room for movement without damaging other components, such as cabling. Here, pieces of wood are wedged under and between the journals and the pedestal bar on the bottom of the trucks to keep the travel as short as possible.

Equipment (never locomotives) that is too far gone meets up with the scrappers’ torch on the spot.

It is usually the car department that calls the shots when picking up the equipment and of course it takes an army of maintenance of way personnel to do all the track work. Most railroads have portable “kitchens” to keep the troops fed. These guys work around the clock for as long as it takes (days, sometimes) to get the line open again and are truly the unsung heroes behind the clean-up.

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