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  • How Real Railroads Are Built -- No. 9


    Model Builder - November/December 1937 - Page 14 Model Builder - November/December 1937 - Page 15



    Laying Ballast

    RAIN. Snow. Flood.

    Those are the Three Horsemen who savagely attack a railroad, month after month, year after year, iIi what seems almost like a vicious battle to prevent the movement of trains.

    And so the good railroad builder must be able to see far into the future. He must know weather conditions in the territory he is about to conquer with his new road. He must start the battle against the Three Horsemen long before they begin t o attack his long lines of rails, ties and roadbed.

    Rain will probably always cause washouts. Floods will continue to wipe out whole sections of a railroad. Snow will probably always cause delays.

    But railroad builders prevent many a washout, many a flood-wrecked section, many a snow-buried track by their foresight and their knowledge of what the best defenses are against these raging elements.

    They know that snowsheds, snow fences, the landscaping of slopes, and proper ballasting all will help them win their battle against nature.

    This job of ballasting a right-of-way may seem like a dull, uninteresting p art of the great drama of throwing a new railroad across a stretch of wild territory, but here is a job which must be done just right if accidents are to be avoided, nature defied and train operation made smooth.

    The four principal purposes of ballast are:

    1. To distribute the weight of the train over the whole roadbed; instead of letting the ground directly under the rails bear it all.
    2. To form a support for the ties.
    3. To provide for efficient drainage.
    4. To deaden noise and lessen jars within the train.

    If the job isn't superintended by experts, the tracks on a curve will start to "creep" … and that will mean death and disaster. Passengers will complain that the road is noisy … and that will mean a loss of business. Washouts will occur . . . and that will mean costly delays.

    It costs about $1,000 these days to ballast a single mile of track, so its an expensive job and one we don't want to have to do over again, so let's find out how the experts do it.

    First, there's the material. What should we use?
    Sand is alright for light traffic, but it is blown away by wind and washes away in storms.
    Cinders make a cheap, well-draining ballast, but until they get caked down, they make for a dusty track.

    Oyster shells (believe it or not) are used on some lines along the coast and make a good ballast for light traffic, but they don't do if you expect to run heavy traffic freights and passenger trains.

    In the west, and in England, burned clay is a favorite ballast. It is burned by spreading a layer of coal on the ground and igniting it, then covering with a layer of brick clay, and then piling on another layer of coal, then more clay, until a huge smoldering mound is built up. One disadvantage of this material is that it is likely to turn to dust.

    Broken stone is the generally accepted ballast. Most roads require that it be put through a screen to get stones of a uniform size. The Pennsylvania requires that the stones go through a two and a half inch ring. The Chicago and Northwestern will take them up to three inches. Other roads have their preferences, too.

    Now for the real job.

    An amateur road-builder probably would spread his ballast first, place his ties in position and then lay his rails, but real railroad men don't do it that way.

    First, as we have seen, the road bed is prepared, a sub-grade evened off, the ties put down, and the tracks laid. Work trains may have been running over these tracks for weeks. But now that we are nearly ready to begin regular operations, the ballasting job must be done.

    The ballast is loaded into cars which are puled over the new rails to the spot where the work is to begin. One method of unloading these ballast cars to "plow the stones off the cars. The sides of the cars are removed and wedge-shaped plow is put in place at the end of the last car. A cable runs from the plow over the new rails to the spot where the work is to begin. One method of unloading these ballast cars is to "plow" the stones off the cars. The sides of the cars are removed and wedge-shaped plow is put in place at the end of the last car. A cable runs from the plow over the tops of the cars to the locomotive at the head of the train. the locomotive is not uncoupled and starts slowly ahead. The plow is thus pulled down the line of loaded ballast cars and pushes the stones off to heath side of the rails.

    Now we have a long pile of ballast at each side of the right-of-way. Our specifications calls for stone to the depth of 10 inches (this figure varies, according to the road, from eight to 12 inches) and to a width of 22 feet (the width also varies from 22 to 30 feet for a double track line).

    To get the ballast in place, we must jack up our ties and rails … both sides at the same time … carefully … just lineal 100 feet at a time … slowing … now line up those rails just right … and now throw your ballast in place.

    On some roads they jack up the rails before the ballast is dumped, and allow the work to trains run over the raised track. Other roads dump one load of blast, jack up the rails only about six inches, fill in with ballast, bring on another work train with ballast, and then repeat the process. On still other roads they do the whole job with one jacking-up.

    In throwing the ballast into place, forks are always used instead of shovels. We don't want to get any dirt in with the stones, for that would give weeks a chance to grow.

    Grade or ballast stakes are used to get the rails to a uniform height along straight-of-ways, and to give each rail the right elevation on baked curves. The stakes are set every 50 feet on curves. The top of the stake is painted red to indicate that that-is-level-at-which-the track must be set.

    Ballast is never allowed to cover wooden ties, for this would encourage rotting and would make it difficult to inspect the ties. If you have steel ties on your road, you needn't worry about this precaution, of course.

    Even through ballast has been firmly tamped into place, section foremen must be warned to be on the alert for weeks after the job is finished to repair and re-tamp places where the stones settle unevenly and leave hollows.

    And so at last our rails are ready to receive the big iron monsters!


    Model Builder - November/December 1937 - Page 32

    Article Details

    • Source Model Builder
    • Publication Date December 1937

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