Proper Rail Switch Maintenance Prevents Derailments

Proper Rail Switch Maintenance Prevents Derailments

In Anti-Icing Deicing, Ice Free Switch®, Rail & Mass Transit by Eric Vantiegham

Train derailments can interrupt regularly scheduled rail service and cause profit losses across the board; fortunately, vigilant maintenance can prevent these incidents.

When a passenger train derailed in 2014, it was estimated that the economic impact of just a single day without service cost affected businesses and consumers $100 million. For that reason alone, preventing unexpected downtime should be a priority for all players in rail industry.

Fortunately, the frequency of rail accidents has been on the decline in recent years. Still, rail operators should continue to investigate the causes of derailments, establishing comprehensive maintenance practices in order to ensure smooth and reliable rail service.

What Causes Derailments?

A recent report sponsored by the Transportation Research Board focused on a class of derailments known as “wheel climb derailments,” which occur when a train moves through switches. When switches or wheels are damaged due to excessive wear and tear, the wheel and switch point misalign — often resulting in derailments.

“Turnouts” — the instances when rail cars switch between tracks or the trains travel over complex track networks — also pose a risk of derailment by placing extra pressure on the train’s wheels and the rail tracks.

Safety Measures Keep Tracks Operational

Train operators, as well as federal, state, and local regulators, have stepped up efforts to prevent derailments through vigilant monitoring and maintenance with the use of recommended gauges. According to railway experts, keeping rails or welds from breaking reduces the likelihood of train derailment. Proper rail lubrication as well as the use of guard rails and switch point protectors can also minimize the risk of derailments.

New technologies further serve as an important safeguard against derailments. In particular, a positive train control (PTC) system senses a train’s speed and automatically slows the vehicle if it is traveling at a dangerously fast pace. Though PTC mainly acts to prevent train collisions, experts contend that the technology can also stop derailments that might be caused by excessive speed.

Congress originally mandated that all railroads install PTC where applicable by the end of 2016. However, that deadline has been extended as rail operators search for funding, during which time they will need a more immediate solution for their rail safety needs.

Act Now to Keep Railways Safe

Even before U.S. railways install PTC, operators have numerous options available to keep rails and those all-important switches in peak condition year-round. In order to prevent the possibility of derailment, experts recommend the use of rail lubrication products and solutions like those offered by Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc.

Midwest’s switch lubrication products include Glidex® and Glidex® MC, biodegradable synthetic solutions that keep switches and metal components lubricated so trains can travel smoothly along the railways in all types of weather. Both products can be applied at temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit, and Glidex’s organic, non-corrosive formula never hardens while preventing dust from covering the switches and metal components. Midwest’s array of anti-icing and deicing products also protect switches when snow and ice fall and form. Ice Free Switch® never freezes, and therefore eliminates the need for costly manual de-icing.

As research has indicated, the potential for derailments increases as trains move along switches. Midwest’s switch lubrication, anti-icing, and deicing products are at the ready to help rail operators prevent those incidents through proper switch maintenance.

Eric Vantiegham is Midwest’s Rail & Transit Specialist. Skilled in product development, new business development, and strategic planning, he enjoys playing ice hockey and coaching his boys' youth teams.