Maintenance on the Tracks
To provide a superior customer riding experience with expected consistency and on-time performance, it is essential that NCTD maintenance crews perform regulatory required inspections and routine maintenance to stay compliant with federal and state railroad regulations on the railroad tracks and along the right-of-way throughout the year. Because of the varied nature of these activities, residents and business owners who live or work near the tracks may notice unusual bright lights and loud noises for extended periods of time. Many times, these maintenance activities are scheduled overnight or on weekends to allow for more efficient work schedules during times with fewer commuter trains, thereby affecting a smaller number of rail passengers and their commute times.
Ongoing Routine Maintenance Activities
Weeds and overgrown trees are more than an eyesore or inconvenience. For railroads, they’re a safety and operational issue. Uncontrolled vegetation can reduce visibility for operators, pose a fire hazard, or come in contact with trains, causing passenger-train delays.
To keep vegetation growth in check, NCTD has programs in place that aim to proactively eradicate weeds before they grow, eliminate those that already have sprouted, and control tree and bush growth. And we rely on a combination of herbicide spraying and mechanical brush cutting to do it.
NCTD’s contractor’s goal is to spray a pre-emergent herbicide on and off track in Spring, as well as a post-emergent herbicide in early Summer to eradicate pesky plants that weren’t killed off by the pre-emergent application. This is of course dependent on weather conditions as we will not spray during rain events.
The benefits of transit rail grinding include:
- Improves ride quality and reduces noise which enhance passenger comfort and safety
- Extends rail life
- Removes corrugation for a smoother and more consistent running surface
- Restores rail head profile to optimize wheel/rail interaction
- Removes rolling contact fatigue to mitigate effects
The rail grinder may cause a high level of noise and vibration consistent with up to 18 grinding wheels spinning on the rail head surface. This function is typically performed over a 10-day period annually.
A tamping machine is used to pack (or tamp) the track ballast under railway tracks to make the tracks more durable. It can correct the alignment of the rails to make them parallel and level, to achieve a more comfortable ride for passengers and freight, and to reduce the mechanical strain applied to the rails by passing trains. Ensuring a firm foundation across the railroad system is paramount to protecting the performance of the track and the operational effectiveness of the railroad itself. This is done by finding places where the concrete or wood ties have settled into the ballast from the weight of the passing trains, causing the track to have profile deviations. The tamper lifts each tier and the rails up and packs ballast underneath. When the sleeper is laid down again, the low profile rails now sit at the proper level profile for a smooth ride. This task is performed routinely and typically performed at night when there is no train traffic.
Track Structure Repairs
Routine repairs may include mechanical cleaning of the ballast, replacement of individual components of the track structure, fixing the quality of the track structure components, and running repairs and maintenance of railway/road crossings This work is generally driven from track inspections that are performed twice a week and scheduled for repair.
The signals team is dedicated to maintaining, inspecting, and controlling the hundreds of signals and miles of signaling cable along the tracks. They maintain and repair crossing warning systems, fiber optics, wireless communications, relays, gate mechanisms, cables, batteries, grid resistance, and more. The signals team handles a variety of different tasks from lubricating mechanisms and machines to troubleshooting code or signal failures.
Graffiti creates an unsightly eyesore in the communities that NCTD serves. For that reason, NCTD contractors work quickly to remove the graffiti using various methods depending on the location. These might include painting over the area, wire-brushing the graffiti, or the use of environmentally safe cleaners. This task is typically performed during daylight hours.
Tree trimming along the tracks may occur due to the foliage in the area overhanging or being overgrown in areas that affect sightlines for our conductors, impede our signals, or create a safety hazard for pedestrians and riders. Contractors may use large bucket trucks, chainsaws, and other large mechanical items for this routine maintenance.
Rail inspections are the practice of examining rail tracks for flaws that could lead to catastrophic failures. There are many effects that influence rail defects and rail failure. These effects include bending and shear stresses, wheel/rail contact stresses, thermal stresses, residual stresses, and dynamic effects. Because of these, and many other possibilities, it is imperative that NCTD inspects the rails for the safety of our crews, riders, and the public. These inspections are required by Federal regulations, are required at a minimum of twice a week, and are typically performed during daylight hours on the COASTER line and nighttime hours on the SPRINTER. These inspections are performed utilizing a motor vehicle equipped with hi-rail gear to be able to travel on the rails. This vehicle will have a strobe light that may be visible from some distance away.
A railroad switch is a mechanical installation enabling railway trains to be guided from one track to another. NCTD contractors inspect these switches regularly to ensure that they are operating correctly. This is a necessary step in preventing derailments, collisions, and damaged trains.
As NCTD is made aware of contractor projects and maintenance activities, NCTD will do our best to post updates on social media. Please keep in mind that some maintenance activities are not pre-scheduled and occur at the contractor’s earliest convenience.
Follow us on Twitter for further updates: @GoNCTD