Lesson 1: A Comprehensive Approach to Rail Design and Maintenance

Bartlett & West

Each of the Class I Railroads has hundreds of repair and maintenance shops spread across North America. These facilities can range from large shops for handling major locomotive repairs and rebuilds, down to medium- and small-sized sites for routine work.

Many shops are legacy assets of the various lines that combined to form today’s railroads. As such, maintenance and repair shops have sometimes been an afterthought for Class I Railroads. They may only spend between 3 to 5 percent of their capital budgets on service facilities. Indeed, some shops still use century-old cranes or other equipment. Spending on maintenance and repair shops might only take place when that equipment finally breaks.

However, waiting for equipment to break no longer works for Class I Railroads because they are under more pressure than ever to ensure their networks are operating efficiently. Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) is prompting Class Is to use fewer locomotives, speed up transit times and reduce car dwell. New fuel-efficient engines require new types of repairs. Yard consolidations mean repair work done at one facility will have to be moved to another. Network changes and new customers mean Class I Railroads will have to be ready to quickly handle different kinds of freight. The upshot of these changes is that outdated service facilities can lead to locomotives sitting idle and railways losing business.

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The need, then, is for a holistic approach on how maintenance and repair will align with these changes. Instead of leaving planning for maintenance and repair to local site superintendents, chief mechanical officers should review spending on repair and service facilities system-wide to understand where track usage is heaviest, how many engines will go through a facility, how many people work at a shop, and how old is its repair equipment and buildings.

An engineering firm that specializes in railroad service facilities can help guide the decision-making process in whether maintaining current facilities or building new ones will be the best course for the future. An engineering consultant should have preexisting relationships with other railroads that provide the background and experience needed to help new clients make those decisions. They will have the knowledge of who manufactures railroad repair equipment, the equipment’s lifecycle, and what the total cost of ownership for that equipment will be.

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