CALGARY, Alberta – Canadian Pacific Railway has become the first Canadian railway to use a PLUS train – a high-speed ballast unloading system that is revolutionizing the way the company spreads new ballast to maintain the integrity of a track roadbed.
PLUS or “Programmable Linear Unloading System,” reduces ballast spreading to a fraction of the time it previously took, speeding up maintenance work, thus reducing impact to the train operation. Ballast, made up of cleaned crushed rock, is the solid foundation that ensures the tracks are able to handle modern trains.
With the aid of a laptop computer, global positioning satellite (GPS) transponder and a hi-rail truck, a track maintenance supervisor can quickly survey a stretch of track, recording the locations where ballast should be distributed or – just as importantly, for overpasses, level crossings and such – where the company doesn’t need it utilized. The information, recorded on a special software program, later allows the PLUS train to link to global positioning satellites and then make a smooth application of new ballast with virtually no waste.
“This is a good fit with our company’s commitment to embrace technology in order to remain agile and responsive to the needs of our customers,” said Vern Graham, CPR’s vice-president of engineering operations. “We can now efficiently dump ballast at any time and at a speed that will increase the overall capacity of the corridors on which we are working.”
Graham noted, using previous methods, it would consume about 70 hours of track time to dump 60 carloads of ballast onto the shoulder of one or both sides of a stretch of track. Four or five people were needed to watch for obstructions and to open and close the doors at the bottom of the ballast cars using long bars or, in recent years, remote control doors.
“The new GPS system is supported by ballast cars equipped with electronically controlled, fully automated hydraulic doors. Now we can dump the same amount in two and-a-half to four hours, day or night, rain or shine, with only one technician,” Graham said.
By the end of August, the specially designed 60-car PLUS train will have dumped more than 250,000 tons of ballast on CPR lines in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northern Ontario. The annual efficiencies realized by the new technology are expected to exceed $500,000. CPR also expects a 10-per-cent saving on ballast as a result of the precision dumping.