How Railroad Tracks are Rehabilitated

I am fascinated by the vast infrastructure that’s required to keep a railroad running. And I’m especially excited by the coming Amtrak service that will blow through South Deerfield while making new station stops in Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield.

The other day I was having a soft-serv at Hillside Creamery, right next to the Pan-Am tracks. As the warning lights began lighting up and the bar went down over Elm Street, an odd flotilla of track-based vehicles passed by, going up to get on the siding and then park on the side of the main tracks. These include what looked like a grader on rails, an car with an excavator shovel, and many other Dr. Suessian looking yellow vehicles with large hydraulic pullers, diggers and lifts.  Then one car with four automobile seats facing each way, that looked like it was where the workers rode on the way to the job.

So fascinated was I with this strange bunch of machines, I went to YouTube and found out what each one does. It turns out this was the track rehabilitation brigade. First a smaller machine runs along the track and pulls out each spike. Then another machine rips out the track base plate. Then a bigger machine with mechanical arms pulls each old railroad tie out and deposits them beside the tracks. Then a giant magnet is used to push the ties away from the tracks and pick up each base plate and spike.  Then the big grader uses its giant arm and stuffs new ties into the space where the old ties were.  After this a big sweeper with rotating brushes cleans off all of the ties and moves the stones to the side.

Along the railroad tracks today, you’ll see very long iron rails. These are the newest kind of rails that are continuously welded, so that there won’t be any bumps where the tracks meet. There won’t be any more clickety-clack after the new rails are installed.

If you ever see this motley train passing through, take a minute and watch how they do this. It’s fascinating! Here is a video from Plant City, Florida where they were doing the same thing.