Anybody who had an electric train as a child remembers the frustration when the track separated and the train derailed.
Putting the track together and checking out all of the track to ensure the same thing wouldn't happen again was a necessity if any self-respecting boy engineer wanted to have several hours of fun with his train.The same type of thing is going on in Utah, only in this instance it's with real Union Pacific trains. The rails haven't separated, and there haven't been any derailments, but UP crews are busy replacing some rail and ties on the Utah trackage.
Crews started west of Lake Point and are working northeast toward Great Salt Lake, laying 8.5 miles of rail at a cost of $2 million. The proj-ect will be completed by the end of May.
The work is part of UP's annual track renewal program, which will cost $238 million this year. It includes replacing more than 600 miles of rail and more than 1.6 million ties.
Track gangs will be all over the UP line this year and at the peak of the work more than 2,000 employees will be involved in the track and tie replacement program.
The gangs begin working in March and continue until next November. The larger gangs live in their own mobile cities consisting of railroad "outfit" cars, which have been converted to living quarters. While working in one area, gang members are driven from wherever the rail cars are parked to the work site by bus.
The outfit could consist of as many as 15 10-person bunk cars plus additional six-person bunk cars, three shower cars, three or four dining cars, boxcars for tools and supplies and tank cars for drinking water.
Gangs are equipped with a wide variety of track-working equipment, including trucks, cranes and other tools. Gangs not equipped with outfit cars are paid per diem and stay in local motels.
The largest gangs are called steel gangs, specializing in laying rail. UP will have two this year with as many as 150 employees each.
Rail is delivered in quarter-mile lengths by train prior to the arrival of the steel gang. The gang removes the old rail, pushing it to one side for pickup later by a rail train and installs the new rail, welding the lengths into a continuous rail. The eliminates the old traditional rail joints, which produced the "clickety-clack" noise.
Welded rail is easier to maintain and produces a smoother ride for trains.
Because steel expands or contracts with temperature differences, welded rails must be laid at the average temperature for the area to prevent the track from pulling apart in cold weather or buckling in hot weather.
UP also has curve gangs to replace rail on curves where wear is most severe. The rail on curves is either replaced with new rail or changed to the other side to even out the wear, much like rotating tires on an automobile.
Other important gangs are the switch gangs, which specialize in replacing switches and gangs that regauge and respike the track without replacing the rails to maintain track standards.
Another important aspect of railroad maintenance is the ties. Depending on the condition of the ties in a particular area, between 15 and 30 percent are replaced to avoid having all of them reach replacement age at the same time.
A typical wooden railroad tie, depending on the traffic and local climactic conditions, will last an average of 35 to 40 years. A mile of railroad track contains about 3,250 wooden ties or 2,640 concrete ties. The rails are fastened to the wooden ties with spikes and to the concrete ties with steel clips.
A tie gang consists of 56 employees, and UP will have nine tie gangs fixing rails this year.
The other big maintenance groups for UP are surfacing and lining gangs. A railroad track often can develop unwanted dips and wiggles due to weather and trains and the surfacing and lining gangs eliminate the dips.
Sometimes, the railroad track running through cities needs attention, and when that happens heavy wood timbers are removed to permit work on the track. When the level of the crossing has been changed, the road approach must be rebuilt to reduce bumping. Later a signal crew reconnects the signals.