Railroad track replacement

CalTrain maintenance of way project, 2003

From 2002 through 2004, CalTrain conducted a hundred million dollar maintenance of way (MOW) program on the peninsula. This involved new signalling systems, passing tracks, rebuilding bridges, replacing track and ties, renovating stations and almost anything else you can imagine related to keeping a rail line in good shape.

The contractor was a joint venture formed by Herzog and Stacy and Witbeck, Inc. It doesn’t prove anything, of course, but there are few, if any, pictures of equipment marked S&WI, and few, if any, pictures of men wearing Herzog safety vests.

Ordinarily, MOW projects are done at night when there are few trains, trains that can be single-tracked or even cancelled. The cost of this approach for a big project is that every evening, the work sites need to be prepared, and before dawn, everything needs to be complete and checked out, so the line can be used for the trains of the day. This is a very inefficient process; CalTrain chose to suspend weekend train service instead, originally for two six-month periods, then for the full two years. They worked Thursday night, probably preparation, and then they had complete freedom from Friday night until early Monday morning. Not only was this a lot more efficient, but also safer, because no trains would be using the other track, save a work train now and then.

Of course, working weekends made it ideal for me, since that’s when I had the chance to seek out interesting things to observe.

Any number of times, I would come upon something, shoot a number of pictures into what looked like the hotbed of activity, take them home and put them up on the screen. I could then see things that were invisible on the spot, partly because I could hold the camera overhead and thereby give it a better view than I had myself, partly because of the camera’s zoom, partly because I could inspect the pictures at leisure and roll the clock back. Make and model numbers of material and machines helped as I followed up with research on the web to develop an understanding of what was going on.

And any number of times, I subsequently came upon the same activity, and, now understanding what was going on, saw a lot more and was able to take a new series of photos that focussed on particularly interesting aspects of the work. You see to learn, but you also learn to see.

So you’ll find two slide shows for replacing ties, two slide shows for welding rail, etc. For the most part, I kept the slides in the context where they were originally photographed; but sometimes, to better explain the process, I drop slides from other contexts into the sequence. Usually I point out that the sequence is broken.

This is probably the best order in which to run them. The slide shows are large files, so give them enough time to download before giving up on them.

Boring details

I tagged the slideshows with a copyright statement, because it’s hard to know where they might go. I have no objections to parts or wholes being used elsewhere, as long as I am recognized as the source.

Dave Hood

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