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 Post subject: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the work?
PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 10:17 pm 

Joined: Thu Jul 29, 2010 2:49 pm
Posts: 52
Has anyone had experience with contracting out track work? A volunteer tourist railroad I am with is at the point where a good amount of work needs to happen on 10+ miles of track sooner than later, and it's seeming rather overwhelming to a very small and busy volunteer pool.
Something I had mulled over was having some mow contractor come in to do work, but I know that it can often get very expensive and unpractical for small outfits. Has anyone had any experiences with this or any advice? Most of what needs done is just tie work, but at 10,000 ties needed we could use a little help..

Thanks in advance!


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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 10:44 pm 

Joined: Wed Oct 22, 2008 8:18 pm
Posts: 2076
have a talk at the nearest railroad yard folks and ask around, they may lead you in some directions, but then, you might get donated work out of it...


so give it a shot.


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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 11:52 pm 

Joined: Tue Jul 02, 2013 10:45 pm
Posts: 106
Depending upon where the work is, installed ties with minimal tamping runs about $100 a tie. If you provide the ties, that can cut the cost in half or so, but you do provide the ties. If you have someone good with a backhoe, they can often do it cheaper, but the finished job isn't as good as far as track surface is concerned.
Several non-profit tourist lines have used military units doing track work training, or local labor provided by various government training programs.
If you have volunteers to do the hand work, you can cut the costs quite a bit and just have one or two trained people doing the heavy work.
Best advice is to hunt around and check every option you have.
I do track inspection training and consulting and have helped several such groups put together plans if you have any specific questions.


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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 1:05 pm 

Joined: Thu Aug 26, 2004 4:59 pm
Posts: 323
Location: western Maryland
Within the past two years I contracted the rehabilitation of one mile of track with ties and ballast and added a 300+ foot siding with a switch, which was moved from another location. It cost in the range of $115,000 - 120,000.

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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 1:25 pm 

Joined: Tue Dec 18, 2012 11:21 am
Posts: 39
Location: Milner, KY
We've had good work done by a local team, who uses a backhoe. They used to be with a large general contractor, but the railroad division was closed and the equipment sold. But they have 3-4 guys come in and do the bulk of the work. They charge about $40 for each tie. We have to mark the bad ties, purchase the new ones ($20 each), and distribute them where we want them. They come in, usually over maybe 3 workdays (for 200 ties), and perform the work. I don't remember who picks up the old ties. There usually isn't much to pick up.

But as alluded to by others, there's no tamping, so the track surface is slowly getting worse. We've found that we can get the line tamped for about $1 per foot. We have 5.5 miles, so it's about $30,000. We haven't been able to get it tamped again lately.

You can marginally exist on doing trackwork with volunteers and hand tools, but your usable track will get shorter and shorter, as the hard work wears down the number of volunteers and their available time.

James

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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 12:18 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:55 pm
Posts: 686
Location: Warren, PA
We're a consulting-engineering firm that works nationwide and have seen a lot of work - both good and bad - across the county, by volunteers and contractors alike. In the end, it has to pass FRA standards, no matter who does it.

While I've seen guys change ties with a backhoe, you really need somebody that is good with one, because a poor operator is going to do more damage to your railroad than he's fixing. I've seen truly expert contractors with a specialty tie handler rig on the boom push ties in without even touching the rail.

If your group is fortunate enough to beg, borrow or buy a real tie inserter and possibly a spot tamper, the most valuable volunteer becomes the guy that knows how to keep it running and repair it, as all track equipment basically seeks to destroy itself. A good volunteer that knows hydraulics and engines is gold.

So there's some soul-searching for an organization on whether they want to contract out work, or if they can get the resources themselves to do it. If you've got 10,000 ties to do, I'd say it's worthwhile to try to build that capability yourself. You can certainly get a contractor interested, but if you go that way, that's also when you really need the following:

1) A qualified individual to inspect track and mark the ties you need to replace to get the FRA track class you intend to be. You are literally spending $100 every time the paint mark can goes off.
2) A set of specifications established for both material and procedure to be followed. You can't believe how many ways there are to do the job wrong, including passing off bad relay ties, relay ties for new, etc.
3) If you've established 2), you can bid the job out, even if you don't have to, and get comparable results.
4) Monitor and inspect the work being done, and hold the contractor to the specifications and procedures agreed to
5) Get everybody paid, particularly if you got grants, when it passes inspection.

The reason there are consulting engineers is because 1-5 can literally turn into war zones given the wrong set of coincidences, and it helps to have somebody accustomed to dealing with the problems, anticipating problems, and taking a headache and making it into a routine process.

I'm not dissing volunteers at all, I've seen some really nice work out there. But the self-examination process here is particularly critical.


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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 12:44 pm 

Joined: Fri Dec 03, 2004 9:42 pm
Posts: 2431
It's a lot like the saying Clive Cussler uses in his books.

1) Done Cheap
2) Done Fast
3) Well Built
Pick any two...

Contractors will build it well and build it fast. It won't be cheap.

It can be an effective way of getting work done. For some reason, there's a lot more volunteer folks who want to run trains than those who want to change ties in the rain. Funny how that works.

Also, it's hard work, made even harder by not having the right equipment and/or doing much of it by hand. Your typical Mon-Fri desk jockey won't last long as a section hand, no matter how motivated he is. Grunting in ties is hard labor. We've hired experienced laborers who went to lunch on the first day and never bothered to came back, not even to pick up their paycheck, since the work was so tough. These are folks who do that sort of thing for a living.

How much will it cost? That's like asking "how much to restore old #47?" What do you need done? Who supplies the materials? How long is the job? Can you schedule far enough in advance that a contractor can do it during a slow time between other contracts?

That said, the $100 per tie cost is reasonable. Switches (turnouts to use engineering types) start at $30,000 or so and go up, way up, from there. You can reduce that by supplying the materials of course. Keep in mind though, if you supply 1/2 a turnout, made up of various bits and pieces, half of them not matching, you're not going to save as much by the time you pay the contractor to sort that all out and order the other half. So unless you know what you're doing, proceed with care.

Randy is right of course. Writing specs and managing this stuff is tricky business.

There's an established rule in contracting. "The contractor has no other choice but to assume the client knows what he wants, says what wants, and means what he says" If there is a lack of clarity, the contractor will interpret in their favor, in order to get the bid.

As an example. The term "Tamp the track". You may think it means to align the track, run the tamper over it and tamp the ties, install additional rock as needed and then dress off the rock to make it pretty.

The term "Tamp" actually means "Run the tamper over the track, tamping the ties." Want all that other stuff? The term you're looking for is "Surface, Line and Dress".

This may seem like a small difference, or nit picking, but it won't when the contractor tells you that adding those other items doubles the price.


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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 12:54 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 5:10 pm
Posts: 950
I will heartily concur with what Randy and Bob said above. I've led volunteer track gangs, I've worked with blended crews of volunteers and professionals, I've overseen work performed by professional track contractors, and everything Randy says above is absolutely true.

That said, you may be able to get away with a tie inserter and an operator, if your volunteer track crew is willing to pull spikes ahead of the machine and able to gauge and spike up behind it. But just as important as getting the ties under the rails is tamping the new ties up without wrecking the track surface on either side of the new tie.

A little story here. The first shortline railroad I worked for in 1981 hired an engineering firm and contractor to put ties in, and the engineers ordered the contractor to install new ties to meet FRA Class I standards. At that time the standard required a good tie every 96 inches. Now, imagine if you can, what that did to the rest of the ties and the track! But that was the specifications as written by the contractor and approved by everyone involved, except me. Guess what happened on the very first trip we made with a train after the contractor was done -- I got very good, very quickly, at re-railing equipment.

Ever since, I've been very observant of track specifications and inspection standards.


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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 1:39 pm 

Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2004 10:54 am
Posts: 726
Location: Tucson, Arizona
As previously mentioned, it all depends on the details that Randy mentions. When I was at TVRM, most of the maintenance of way was done by contractors due to our limited paid staff size. We would do minor, day to day work such as occasionally tamping a low spot or replacing broken joint bars. Big jobs that required pulling rail or ties were generally left to the contractor.

The biggest jobs I remember were the resurfacing of the main line through the tunnel and the addition of the industrial siding at MP 2.0. The tunnel was an issue as the drainage ditches had become clogged and the resulting backup softened the roadbed. The corrective work required excavating all of the material from the tunnel and clearing the drainage ditches. The tunnel has experienced water seepage throughout it's entire service life. The work on the tunnel was done with a machine but was challenging due to the limited clearance in the tunnel. That was done during the winter as the entire railroad had to be shut down for a month. New ties were laid in the tunnel. In the early years, volunteers did much of the work and on occasion, a section gang was obtained from the Southern.

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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 3:30 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:55 pm
Posts: 686
Location: Warren, PA
There's a shortine that shall remain nameless that got a significant state grant for tie replacement in order to serve a shipper at the far end of a rather shaky branch that hadn't seen traffic in years. Railroad decided to do the work themselves, State went along with it.

Ah, but the grant didn't include tamping and surfacing. Ties were put in, spiked up, some in the air. Railroad ran over it anyway. State objected, but hey, that's what the application was for and they did the work applied for - just tie insertion.

First two trains derailed, one rolling a loaded boxcar over a bank. Line embargoed AFTER the tie work was done and paid for. Shipper immediately went to truck and stayed there.

Line today is removed and a trail. State did not forget, things got a lot tougher on everybody else.


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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 5:04 pm 

Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2004 10:54 am
Posts: 726
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Good track work-like all other construction-requires a good foundation. Good rails and ties aren't worth the money spent on them if the roadbed isn't up to par. Some things are best left to the real professionals.

Randy, what you're describing sounds like skeletonized track.

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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 5:57 pm 

Joined: Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:50 am
Posts: 16
If tamping is that important ,Seem's like someone should design an build a tamper that fit's on a bobcat [they already make a jackhammer]Are better yet on a truck with rail wheels.I was looking at a Norfork Southern tamper the other day seemed incredibly complex if all it did was tamp.Maybe on the back of a dump truck so as you could fill as you go.I bet they got something down in Cuba that don't cost much.


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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 6:10 pm 

Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2004 10:54 am
Posts: 726
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Well, when you're tamping, rail elevation is necessary so that the ballast will fill in under the ties and compact enough to hold the track in place. If you watch a modern tamping machine, you'll notice that it clamps to the rails and has hydraulic legs that can provide the amount of lift needed.

The thing is, designing a maintenance of way machine has a great deal of engineering required and the market for a small machine is limited. Much cheaper and equally effective to use a real live section gang with tamping/lining bars and rail jacks. Take a look at a railway engineering text and you'll see that track is much more complex than one would first think by looking at it.

If you want to see plenty of examples of what a poor roadbed will do, take a gander at some of the ICC accident reports. Plenty of locomotives turned over due to soft roadbeds-some due to poor maintenance, others due to washouts.

Unfortunately, maintenance is quite expensive but without safe track, a railroad is dead in the water. TVRM has been fortunate to have had leaders with the knowledge and foresight to build up a collection of working maintenance of way machines to use on it's lines. In addition to the usual motor cars and trailers, they own a ballast tamper and regulator that are old but not antiques.

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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 7:31 pm 

Joined: Thu Aug 26, 2004 2:50 pm
Posts: 2091
Location: Northern Illinois
I think you're missing the point. Replacing a tie will leave a trench larger than the tie, so the new tie has no support at all. "Tamping", to a railroad contractor, means tamping THE ONE TIE HE REPLACED, so it has support. The problem is, tamping is likely never better than 95% compaction. No, this isn't from the rail industry, but from construction, where I've seen the best efforts of compacting back fill only test out at 96%, which was acceptable, because everybody knew 100% was not possible. So. the more ties you replace, the more soft spots you create.

SURFACE is the term for bringing the whole track structure to grade. But surfacing requires lifting the whole track structure, and if the ties drop off, it indicates more tie replacement. Plus, you will likely need a spread of new rock so there are some stones to push under the ties.

Be careful what you ask for.

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 Post subject: Re: Getting trackwork done, methods.. contracting out the wo
PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 9:00 pm 

Joined: Fri Mar 12, 2010 9:52 pm
Posts: 103
Location: Pittsburgh
If Clay320 has ten miles of main track, at 3,000 ties per mile, and an average tie life of 25 years, he probably needs to be replacing about 1,200 ties annually just to keep up. This could vary depending on many factors such as the overall condition of the roadbed and ballast, the weight of rail and its condition, and the nature of the train operations. Twenty-five years is average on my railroad; your mileage may vary.

Also keep in mind that the FRA Track Safety Standards are just that – safety standards – and not recommended maintenance limits. You should be maintaining your track to a much higher standard than the absolute minimums that the FRA requires. Rule of Thumb: If your main track has more than 10 to 15 percent defective ties, you’re likely overdue for a tie replacement program.

At Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, we do all track maintenance and some new construction in-house, largely because our 62 1/2 inch track gauge makes it rather difficult to contract work out. It helps that we have two crazies (including yours truly) who actually LIKE doing trackwork. Even when we do contract out new construction, we still need to do the ballasting and tamping/surfacing with our own broad gauge equipment. (The photo below shows us spreading stone on some contractor-built track using our Differential Car Co. bottom dump car.) But even just to get skeleton track built requires an extensive amount of holding the contractor’s hand so as to make certain we get what we want.

Word of caution: Specifications don’t mean a thing unless the track contractor's personnel who are actually doing the work have read and understand them. That’s more difficult than you might imagine. The track gang foreman may have graduated from high school but his laborers likely did not. Reading isn’t their strong suit. Typically, the gang will show up at the jobsite the first day having never seen a drawing or a specification. So, your first handholding exercise should be to sit down with the foreman and go over the specs and drawings line by line to make certain that he (1) understands what they require and (2) will pass along appropriate guidance to his gang. Next, you need to inspect their work EVERY DAY. You can't just wait until the next weekend and look at it then; it will be too late when you discover that half of the ties have been installed with the heartwood facing up and a third of the tie plates are the wrong punching or rail cant. Check all of the contractor's materials before he installs them to be certain they are what you bargained for. On one project, the contractor said he would be providing 100 RB rail. When the flatbed truck showed up, it wasn't - it was 100 RG (Reading) which is almost but not quite the same as 100 RB. He thought I wouldn't notice but a detail like that wasn't going to get past this Reading Company alumnus.


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