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Transport & Logistics

Straight railways throw a curveball in heavy haul rail

25 Mar 2015, by Informa Insights

Heavy haul rail presents many singular challenges, particularly in established markets where interoperability is a requirement that can cripple the implementation of new technologies.

Tom Hewitt is Project Manager of Rolling Stock, CANARAIL Consultants (Canada). He will be one of the international keynotes at the Heavy Haul Rail 2015 Conference in Perth, 22-23 June 2015.

Having worked on rail systems from North America to Saudi Arabia, Tom will bring a global perspective to the issue of heavy haul rail, particularly the unique challenges of long-haul desert tracks.

Tom Hewitt, CANARAIL

Tom, can you tell us a little about your professional background and the  path to your current role?
After graduating from university in Mechanical Engineering, I got a job at a small Montreal-based railway supply company where we designed and manufactured air brake and truck (bogie) equipment. Due to the small size of the company I was able to not only design components but to travel across Canada, the United States and Mexico instructing railways and car builders in their installation, eventually participating in the Brake Systems Committee meetings of the Association of American Railways (AAR). This firsthand interaction with railways and committees reignited a childhood passion for trains that I forgot I had.

Since coming to CANARAIL in 2008 I have performed engineering studies, developed technical specifications for the acquisition of rolling stock, shop equipment, and maintenance of way equipment for new railways, and I have acted as an on-site inspector in Asia, North and South America, and Europe. Additionally, working on projects in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Canadian Arctic, has given me a unique experience in understanding railroading in extreme environments. I now act as project manager for procurement-related projects and a rolling stock technical specialist for feasibility studies.

You will be speaking at Heavy Haul Rail 2015 on “designing a heavy haul desert railway: lessons learned”. In the lead up to the event, can you share any one lesson in particular?
One lesson I can share with my experience in Saudi Arabia is that a relatively straight railway with few curves can initiate greater wheel wear than a curvy railway. This conclusion may seem counterintuitive; however, the drawback of a straight railway is that the lack of curves means that the wheelsets have limited opportunity to displace laterally on the rail head, thus producing a single wheel contact band resulting in hollow wheel treads. Once hollowing of the wheel treads sets in, the wheelsets will have high conicity that can result in unstable bogies and flanging. This phenomenon is further exaggerated by the extremely high coefficient of friction between the wheel and rail in a desert environment.

Multiple rail profiles should therefore be considered for predominantly straight railways that produce different contact bands on the wheels. A minimum of two rail profiles should be engineered for the tangent portions of the railway and additional rail profiles may be required for the low and high rails in curves. These rail profiles distribute the wear across the wheel tread.

Where do you see the biggest challenges in the various international heavy haul markets you have worked in?
Countries and regions with mature heavy haul railway operations have difficulties in implementing new technologies due to interoperability requirements – electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking, positive train control (PTC)/European train control system (ETCS), and increasing axle loads immediately come to mind. For example, a freight car sitting in a yard anywhere in North America must be interoperable with the other 1.5 million freight cars in North America, and must be “repairable” in any workshop on any railway across Canada, the United States and Mexico. It is therefore considerably easier to implement new technologies on mining railways that do not need to connect with other railways (such as Northern Quebec), or in regions where entire railways are being built from scratch (Such as Saudi Arabia).

The requirement for almost universal interoperability places particular challenges on system designers, railway management and policy makers and demand solutions that are not always evident.

Don’t miss Tom’s presentation – book now for the Heavy Haul Rail Conference 2015 conference. Other featured speakers include:

  • Mark Manion, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Norfolk Southern Corporation, USA
  • Alexander Kosarev, Deputy Director General, JSCo Railway Research Institute (JSC VNIIZHT), Russia
  • Zara Fisher, General Manager Railway Operations, Rio Tint
  • Matt Dowd, General Manager Railroad Operations, BHP Billiton
  • Mike Franczak, Executive Vice President, Operations, Aurizon
  • Roger Johnston, CEO, Pilbara Ports Authority
  • Michael Roche, Chief Executive, Queensland Resources Council
  • Alan Langford, Chief Economist, Bankwest

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