Thursday, April 7, 2011

Should wooden ties just fade away?

New wooden railway ties await installation.
These tracks, running through a little town just east of London, disappear in the early morning fog. The staggered piles of lumber beside the track are replacement railway ties. Some of the old ties have rotted almost completely away and a good number of the railway spikes are lifting.

Note the spike lift, lower left, and rotted tie, right.
I wondered if this track was safe. I did some research on the Internet. I learned that the spike pictured is suffering from "spike lift." Whenever there is a derailment, spike lift is one of the things that investigators look for. With the rotted ties and the spike lift, this track appears to be suffering. New ties are needed.

I have a retaining wall behind my home that was made from railway ties. The wall is rotting and in need of replacement. From my personal experience with railway ties, I figure these big chunks of creosote-saturated lumber do not last all that long. My years of working for a newspaper tell me that trains occasionally jump the track. Derailments are far from unknown. This is 2011, not 1911, isn't there a better way of anchoring track?

Well it turns out there well might be. For more than 30 years, Europe and Japan have been using concrete slab track instead of traditional ties and ballast. This type of track works well for high-speed passenger trains, but the challenge has been to design and construct a track system providing the required ride quality for high-speed passenger trains with the strength to withstand 39-ton axle loads at freight train speeds.

The Portland Cement Association is leading research into the problem and slab track installations are being tested in the United States.

No comments: