Advanced Rail Management has been many things to many people over the past 25 years – rail grinding specialist; wheel/rail interaction consultant; noise and vibration management expert; a high-tech rail measurement contractor; and purveyor of the first, and the definitive, conference on wheel/rail interaction. A blueprint for the company can be found in the pages of a study of rail grinding practices that ARM founder and president Gordon Bachinsky made while working for Canadian National Railway in the 1980’s. Steel wheel / rail shavings and grinding dust are part of ARM’s DNA.
ARM’s first major project as grinding consultant on the former Illinois Central Railroad in the early 1990’s, was a total immersion – a turnkey service that included a pre-grind survey, scheduling and field supervision of the rail grinding program and post-grind inspection of the rail profile and surface.“I told [Gordon] that he had the opportunity to save me $2.5 million a year,” said Dave Kelly, Chief Engineer of the former Illinois Central, “and he has been able to show us how to do that.” ARM’s work with IC made possible the development and deployment of the ORMV-1, one of the first contract optical rail measurement vehicles in North America.
From the beginning, ARM extended beyond its own level expertise and worked with some of the best minds in the industry, such as Dr. Joe Kalousek, whose seminal theories on preventive rail grinding and the “magic wear rate” continue to guide rail grinding practices today.
Working with Kalousek and a cadre of other experts ARM evolved, taking on new roles in the mid-1990s. Recognizing that rail wear and rail profile design were only half of the wheel/rail system, Gordon Bachinsky brought ARM’s expertise to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Red Line. The Red Line was in crisis; wheels were being scrapped at a fraction of their expected life and metal shavings were piling up on the base of the rail. ARM and its partners tackled the problem by developing and implementing matched wheel and rail profiles – a systems approach that quickly quadrupled wheel life and dramatically improved overall wheel/rail interaction on the system.
Work in the transit arena taught ARM that older light-rail systems often have legacy issues that can severely compromise wheel/rail interaction — especially when new elements are introduced. ARM undertook a unique and extensive project to correct a significant maintenance / performance issue on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority Green Line, in the early 2000s.
The MBTA’s problems started with the introduction of a new low-floor car with independently rotating wheels. After several derailments, it became clear that a gauge-face “shelf” worn into the rail, combined with the new cars’ wheel profile, presented a high risk of wheel-climb. The MBTA suspected that the worn rail would have to be replaced. ARM had a better solution. Working with Loram Maintenance of Way, it developed a first-of-its-kind vertical rail grinding program to remove the gauge-face shelf. ARM also developed a modified rail profile to reduce future wear. The MBTA estimated that these efforts, combined with the introduction of a new wheel profile, saved $27 million in rail replacement and wheel/rail maintenance costs.
Of course, wear isn’t the only symptom of poor wheel/rail interaction. In urban areas, concerns about noise and vibration are often front and center. Over the years, ARM has worked with a number of properties to address these issues. In 2010 Seattle’s Sound Transit hired ARM to address noise issues on its Link light-rail line. ARM’s “systems” approach to the project included an acoustic assessment that factored into the redesigned rail profiles and compatible wheel profiles, a customized lubrication regime, and a comprehensive rail grinding and maintenance plan. These steps helped reduce the scope and mitigate the cost of the City of Seattle’s plan to soundproof homes and businesses along the line.
ARM has often been at the forefront of implementing new technologies in the field of rail management, and that tradition continues today; eddy current measurement is one such technology. ARM and partners International Engineering and Rohmann LP began validation of an eddy current system to measure railhead cracks generated by rolling contact fatigue in 2013. And while eddy current devices have traditionally been hand-pushed, ARM is currently testing one of the world’s first hi-rail-mounted version. Validation and testing by ARM, IE and Rohmann is scheduled to conclude in 2015.
ARM has been many things to many people over the past 25 years. But right from the beginning, it has worked with railroads, transit properties, and its research partners to innovate and to improve the industry’s understanding of wheel/rail interaction.
Seeing both the complexity of wheel/rail interaction and the benefits that could be obtained by optimizing the system led Bachinsky to establish a conference devoted to it. The annual Wheel/Rail Interaction Conference, which started in1994, was the first of its kind to bring together railroaders, suppliers and researchers from the track and vehicle departments to build a better understanding of wheel/rail interaction.
The WRI Conferences have helped disseminate and shape that understanding. And for 25 years, ARM has served the industry with techniques at the cutting edge of that understanding. “There are technologies on the horizon that may revolutionize wheel/rail management,” Bachinsky, “we’re excited to be part of that.”