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Rail Grinders FAQ

Tom Kirchhoff wrote:

On 3/3/97 ---Saw a Unit (5 loco-like units w/ grinders working, pulling several tank cars spraying water, a work car and a caboose). The whole thing was doing about 8-10 mph on track #1 (CRR) in Rochester, NY. Any info on the Unit(s), Manufacturer, and Contractor, would be interesting and appreciated.

Doug Seymour ( writes:
"Tom: What you saw was one of the Loram Rail Grinding Trains. They are located in Hamel, Minnesota. The purpose of these is to return the rail to it's original profile. I understand from talking to railroad civil engineers (as opposed to locomotive operators) that several things happen to the rail over time. One is that the rail gets "washboard" like areas on it (a gravel road in the spring before the graders get out!), and on curves, the rail gets worn badly on the inside rail. "

R.R. deVries ( adds:
"The purpose of rail grinding is to extend rail life. We do not profile rail to its original shape, rather to an average worn wheel profiles. On Canadian Pacific Railway, we utilize four high rail profiles, three low rail profiles and two tangent profiles. These profiles were created by the National Research council of Canada The axles of a train are solid so this means that when negotiating a curve the wheel on the high rail will spin faster than the wheel on the low. This causes all kinds of problems. To compensate for this we create unique rail profile shapes that interact with the average worn wheel tread profile resulting in what I like to call "the pool que effect" What happens when you roll a pool que across the table? The fat end passes the thin end, and the que turns. Because train wheel treads are not flat but rather slightly cupped, we recreate this phenomena by changing the contact band so that the wheel on the high rail has a larger rolling but rather slightly cupped, we recreate this phenomena by changing the contact band so that the wheel on the high rail has a larger rolling diameter than the low rail wheel. The sharper the degree of curve, the more pronounced the effect. Thus all the different profile shapes. Tangents are different. We create to different contract bands on alternate subdivisions so that we can wear the train wheel treads in a manner that does not allow the tread to become too cupped. ( Reduces the false flange) There is a contractor that is involved in this called ARM - Advanced Rail Management"

R.R. deVries
supervisor, rail grinding
Engineering services
Canadian Pacfic Railway
Calgary, Alberta

Doug Seymour ( continues
: "There are two major players in the rail grinder business Loram (yellow units) and Panderol Jackson (orange units). Loram's locomotives seem to be almost completely home built, where as Panderol Jackson's are off the shelf units which have had new sheet metal applied.

Loram, at last count had 11 grinding sets, varying in size from a single unit (for grinding switches and crossings) to 6 or seven cars of various purposes. Often some sort of accomodation is included in the train since it may not always be able to end the working day at a location where meals and accomodations are available. Loram identifies it's units with the prefix RG (eg: RG-19) I have no record of where Loram is headquartered, maybe someone else can provide that info.

PJ has, at last count 6 trains plus a unit which looks something like one of the Plasser units. The latter is a Rail Surface Analyzer and is used to evaluate whether or not the rail needs to be ground. PJs grinders are fairly uniform in size typically either one or two locomotives, 5 grinders, 2 to 4 tank cars and 1 to 2 crew sleepers. They prefix their units with RMS (eg: RMS-13) PJ was originally Speno and is based at East Syracuse, NY. There are a couple of other firms with one or two small units, typically the switch/crossing type grinder. As an aside, I had the opportunity some years ago to watch one of the Speno trains grinding the CN mainline in the Fraser River Canyon of BC at night. At the point in question, the CN mainline is on the opposite side of the river to the highway and the sight was something to behold!

> ######    |\^/|         Doug Seymour		Railfan & Ham
> ###### _|\|   |/|_      Edmonton Alberta	    VE6DHS
> ###### >         <      CANADA		
> ######  >_./|\._< 

PJ Update 9/99

Max Engelbach writes:

PJ has switched to blue with yellow leterring (even on the coaches), and instead of 6 units, they now have 4: RMS-4, RMS-5, RMS-6, and RMS-7. The consists are much more uniform. Instead of the 3-5 grinders and 2-4 tank cars and whatnot, the trains all have generally the same consist: Lead Locomotive, Camp Car, Kitchen Car, Water Tanker, Power Car, 3 Grinding Cabs, Second Power Car, Second Water Tanker, and Trailing Locomotive. Furthermore, although the 2 tank cars, 2 power cars, and 3 grinders are standard, the camp car and kitchen cars are optional. I have seen some strange variations on the old orange units (RMS-2 and RMS-13, namely.) If memory serves me correctly, RMS-13's trailing engine was actually the second tanker with a seemingly home-built cab on the end. The cab controlled a slug unit behind the leading engine.

What's the difference between a Switch & Crossing Grinder and the Main Line Grinders?

Bob Lapsley replies:

Because of close tolerances maintained in switches as well as the distance between the converging rails, (where they come together in the turnout), a machine with smaller grinding stones must be used. This is also evident on railroad crossings at grade where space between the rail, the crossing material and the "mud rail" is limited. The diameter of those stones, or rocks, as we used to call them, are six inches.

The stones on the Speno Machine, which is called a "Main Line Grinder", are 10 inches in diameter. The RMS-12 indication translates to Rail Maintenance System while 12 is just the machines number designation. All the stones come in a variety of hardnesses, with the harder stones being used in the front to make the initial cut, followed by softer stones to smooth things out. Most of the Speno/PJ trains operates with a total of 96 stones, 48 on a side. There are a couple that employ 120 stones, the RMS 1, RMS 2 and RMS 14. The S&C Grinders have only 20 stones, 10 to a side.

Pandrol Jackson, merged with Harsco Track Technologies
200 South Jackson Road Ludington, MI 49431
Tel: (616) 843-3431 Fax: (616) 843-4830]

BTW, the photo of the S&C #J8 was shot after the machine was brought back into Canada after a major overhaul in the Syracuse shop. The shiny panels on the side are "Spark Shields". They are made of stainless steel and are lowered when grinding next to vehicle's, private property and when fire danger is high.

RMS-12 Work Train from "Buffalo Bob" Lapsley, ex-Grinder Guy!!!
The first car is the main Water Tanker. If memory serves me correctly, it holds approximately 20,000 U.S. gallons. This water is used for the fighting and suppression of fires caused by the result of grinding. Occasionally, but rarely, it is used for the toilet facilities. Most times it contains a fire retardant making it unsafe for any use but fire protection. On top of this tanker you will notice "Two separate tanks". These are what we referred to as the "Saddle Tanks" and they contain all of the crews Potable Water. Each tank holds, and again, if memory serves me correctly, 400 U.S. gallons. Note; the Camp Car, not shown, also carried several hundred gallons of drinking water.

The second car houses a 16 cylinder, diesel locomotive, (EMD), engine. This car is referred to as the "Power Car". It provides power for all the electrical equipment on the train. It also houses a Detroit Diesel - 471 and an Onan generator for Camp Car use when the work day is complete. The EMD is idled down when the train is not working and is unable to provide electrical power at it's idle speed, about 1,200 rpm if I remember correctly. An Inverter is also located in this Power Car to change DC Current to AC Current.

The third car is basically the same except, it is a 12 cylinder and does not house an additional Detroit. Both cars carry 2,000 gallon fuel tanks which are coupled with the 2,000 - 2,500 gallon tanks on the Main Locomotive. This provides enough fuel for approximately 5 - 6 working days. The fourth car is an extra water tanker that provides another 20,000 gallons of water for fire protection.

The fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth cars of the RMS 12 are the "Grinding Cabs". On each corner of the fifth car are built in, 400 gallon tanks. The front tanks on this car carry more diesel fuel and have a line running from them to the fuel tanks of the Power Car located directly in front. Another line runs from that Power Car to the Power Car in the lead. The rear two corner tanks on the Grinding Cab carry water for fire protection. The sixth and seventh car's also have 400 gallon tanks in each of their four corner's, all holding water for fire protection. The water system is continuos and is tied in with both tank cars.

Grinding Cab Number 8 is designed to look like an engine, it is not. However, it does have controls that make it possible for it to operate the train in the opposite direction. When the "Swapping" process is complete, the Tail End, (B-end), operator has full control of brakes and throttle while the operator in the Head End, (A-end), must constantly monitor the Amp Gauge. This cab also houses a tool room, work bench and parts storage. Controls are only swapped when a long run must be made in the B-End direction, not when grinding.

All the Grinding Cabs on the RMS 12 operate twenty four separate, 440 volt electric grinding motors, (12 per side), from a centrally located cab. Note; updates on these trains since I last worked on them may see a central control unit for all of the 96 motors. The best way to tell is this. If there are men operating controls in the middle of 5, 6 & 7 grinding cabs, they will be controlling those motor's. The RMS 13 is, or was, set up in this manner also.

Grinding stones on this machine turn at approximately 2,300 rpm's, are 10 inches in diameter and come in a variety of hardnesses. The harder stones are used in front to make the initial cuts while softer ones smooth out the facets of the preceding stones work. The motors are set down and lifted from the rails with an Air over Hydraulic system. They can also be tilted from a - 45 degrees to a + 45 degrees with actuators and arms comparable to those used on home satellite dish systems.

A computer system allows the A End and B End operators, (depending on direction of travel), to set targets allowing the motors to raise and lower when an obstacle such as a switch, road crossing, lubricator and hot box detector is encountered. By sighting with the aid of a camera, a button is "Punched" for either one or both sides of the machine. When the cab gets to the obstacle, the motors will lift automatically and be set back down wherever the Leading End operator has chosen for the target. Cab operators must always be on the lookout for errors in target selection. The most common of these occur due to wheel slippage. Also, to keep confusion at a minimum, the right side of the train, as viewed from the front ward direction of the A End operator is always referred to as "Pandrol Right". The left side is, of course, "Pandrol Left". These references are used when traveling in either direction. Each Grinding Cab has four grinding trucks with 6 motors, 3 to a side. Note; there was a plan to equip both the RMS 12 & 13 with trucks that would accommodate 8 motors per truck. I am not aware if this upgrade has taken place. This would also increase the total amount of motors to 120. The RMS 1, RMS 2, RMS 3 and RMS 14 are set up with 120 motors. The RMS 1, RMS 2 and RMS 14 are pretty much the same as the 12 and 13 other than the fact that they have locomotives at each end. The RMS 3 is a totally different beast. It operates with more hydraulics than the other's but that is a whole different story.


Per R.R. deVries (

The RMS5 (Rail Maintenance System) is the former RMS14 completly rebuilt. This machine represents the latest in rail grinding evolution in North America today. It has two sister trains, the RMS4, and RMS6, with a RMS7 rollout in October of this year. The RMS5 began service on CPR at Portal, North Dakota on October 24th, 1997


Dust suppression system. complete fire suppression system including foam application beam. Crew quarters, Kitchen, Bath, Laundry, and ten rooms. For tractive effort, this machine utilizes a GP 38 (RMSX0501) for the head end, and a F-40Ph for the tail end (RMSX0511)

Switch & Crossing Grinders HTT - T-805

They are used to grind switches and crossing. The big production grinders can't grind these. They just pick up their stones and skip over the spots. The smaller grinders grind at a slower speed, and have the ability to miss the crossing material, as well as guard rails, frogs, etc. in the turnouts while still grinding the rail.

Rail Inspection/Geometry Cars

Amtraks track geometry car operates at track speed. On the NEC it is regularly used on scheduled Metroliners. It measures gauge, crosslevel,warp,alignment, etc. It also does curve analysis so the track supervisor can determine the condition of the curves in his/her territory. The car is also equipped with an accelerometer, used to grade ride quality. Info from this is used to locate areas which may possibly meet all FRA track safety standards but yet give a sloppy ride. This info, of course, is more important to passenger carrying lines than freight. Each run is recorded and video-taped. A separate video is also made up top, on the roof, to follow the alignment of the trolley wire in the catenary, on electrified territory. Lance Pinkerton
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