A few years ago Loram Maintenance of Way set out on a mission to become the world leader in quality and advanced-technology rail maintenance systems. Edward N. Chaves gives us a status report.
Five years ago Loram Maintenance of Way, Inc. of Hamel, Minn., outlined several priorities for the future. First on the list was Loram’s aim to become the world leader in quality and advanced-technology rail maintenance systems. Given Loram’s product line and customer base in 2002, a very convincing argument can be made that the company has achieved its ambitious goal.
Loram engineers and manufactures grinding, ballast cleaning and ditching equipment for railroad operators worldwide. In addition to serving the North American market where it is generally acknowledged to be the industry leader in main line grinding equipment, Loram’s equipment can also be found in Europe, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Oceania. “Our equipment can be found anywhere there’s a major rail line,” says Keith Johnson, manager of Loram’s manufacturing plant in Hamel.
Every major railroad operator in North America uses Loram maintenance equipment. “We deal with all of the Class One railroads in North America,” says Johnson. Class One customers include Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific.
The company also has a strong presence among light rail and short line operators. Light rail operators can be found in a growing number of U.S. cities and Loram equipment is there to meet their maintenance needs. Short line railroads are usually those operators that maintain no more than 100 miles of track.
When it comes to its larger customers, Loram places an emphasis on establishing and maintaining a long-term commercial relationship. “Our contracts with major customers are usually all long-term,” explains Johnson. “The contracts run up to as much as five years.”
One of the ways Loram stands apart from competitors is its flexibility with customers. The company understands that not every railroad wants to make the investment necessary to purchase Loram’s capital equipment. For those customers, Loram offers them the opportunity to lease its maintenance equipment. “We’re pretty unique in the business in that we can either sell or lease our equipment to railroad operators,” notes Johnson.
Loram Equipment at work
In 2000, Loram introduced RAILVAC™, a unique 90-foot train car that can be used to clean and excavate switches, road crossings, bridges, wire pole footings, cable trenches, tunnels and stations. RAILVAC is self-propelled and used to clean out the cavity that forms between the railway ballast and the subgrade. “RAILVAC removes the mud pockets that can develop in the railroad ballast area”, says Johnson. “RAILVAC is a unique piece of high-pressure equipment. There is no other machine on the market that can excavate and clean automatically. The only other way to clean the cavity out is to do it manually and that’s extraordinarily labor intensive.”
Railroad ballast is the rock that’s placed on the side of railroad tracks to keep them balanced and prevent them from moving.
Loram rail grinders take advantage of the latest mechanical and computer engineering, while retaining traditionally high-quality standards. A single-pass removes corrugation and defects, and restores proper profile. “Basically we keep rails in shape with our grinding equipment,” says Johnson.
To determine whether a proper rail profile exists or to test whether its grinders have done their job properly, Loram relies on the latest technology. That’s why Loram has teamed up with KLD Labs, Inc. of Huntington Station, N.Y. KLD supplies Loram with exceptional rail profile measurement devices.
The benefits to Loram customers of using its grinding equipment include longer rail life and more economical railway operation. According to Loram, one customer reported an increase in rail life, measured in total accumulated gross tons over a ten-year study period, of approximately 25 percent on tangent track, and from 25 percent to more than 100 percent on curves.
Loram’s exclusive high-speed, heavy-duty “Badger” Ditcher cleans and restores railway ditches efficiently, which results in improved drainage and track stability. The “Badger” Ditcher is a self-propelled system that’s capable of moving 800 tons of material every hour. The ditcher goes where and when it’s needed under its own power regardless of wet or dry weather conditions. The ditching wheel cuts a swath that can be varied from 30 to 54 inches wide, at a depth as low as 6 feet below the top of the rail.
“Our ditching equipment removes water from the railway that if left could potentially destabilize the tracks,” says Johnson “It allows the water on the tracks to drain properly.”
Loram entered the rail grinding business in the 1970s. Today, Loram’s L Series Rail Grinders provide dust and exhaust control with the flexibility to allow customers to tailor their production requirements to 4 stone, 8 stone or larger consists. The L series gives customers smooth and quiet operation when grinding crossings, switches, tunnels, imbedded rail and heavy rail.
Loram also specializes in servicing light rail operators with its grinding equipment. Recently, the company introduced a self-propelled light rail car used in pushing its L series of grinding cars.
In 2000 the company unveiled its RGI series of grinders especially designed for the international market. The RGI series can be found on the railways of Ferrocarril Mexicano, India Railways and Intercur, a Colombian railway system. Through a partnership with another company, Loram is supplying its grinders to the Scandinavian market.
Loram is never content with its product line-up and always strives for innovation while working with customers to help define their needs and determine how it can serve them more effectively. “We’re constantly developing new products with our customers in mind,” says Johnson.
Loram’s glittering past and future
Loram was founded in 1954 and one of its first products was the Undertrack Sled, which revolutionized track maintenance. The innovative machine went against conventional wisdom at the time but proved to be a far superior solution to rehabilitating railbeds.
In the future Loram intends to aggressively expand its presence overseas. According to Johnson, going forward the European and Asian markets show the most promise. “In Europe, we want to form partnerships with local companies,” says Johnson. “We want to use their knowledge of local markets to help us increase our number of European customers.”