Rail Grinder

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Crews rush to meet strict import laws

By Laura Elder, The Daily News
Published April 20, 2009

GALVESTON — For 10 hours each day for three weeks, nine men have worked to painstakingly remove grease, dirt, hardened iron dust, residual flora and stowaway fauna from eight pieces of heavy railroad equipment.

They pressure clean. They steam clean. They scrub by hand. They fumigate. It’s filthy work. And if they miss a spec or a spore, the lapse could cost many tens of thousands of dollars.

The men, who work so meticulously at Portside Cleaning, 35th and Church streets, are under intense pressure to sterilize the apparatus, a Loram rail grinding train, before May 4 when a chartered vessel arrives at Pier 37 to haul it to Queensland, Australia.

Should the rail grinder, a maintenance train used to resurface worn rails, violate Australia’s rigid Biosecurity laws and be refused entry, Ross Radich, Bio Security Consultant will have to answer to his bosses.

“The pressure’s on,” Radich said.

Before Australian inspectors allow the rail grinder in, the machinery has to be as clean as new, Radich said.

“They don’t say as nearly as clean as new,” he said. “They say as clean as new.”

Australian’s tough Biosecurity laws are meant to protect its flora and fauna. The island continent has for decades battled with invasive species, including red fire ants, cane toads, rabbits and a variety of fungi and parasites. In recent years, Australia has been battling citrus canker, a bacterial disease harming its orchards.

Each car of the rail grinder, made by Hamel, Minn.-based Loram Inc., is filled with electronics. The machinery is run by a crew and computers.

Track maintenance is a $6 billion a year industry. With grinders, tracks don’t have to be taken out of commission for restoration.

Grinders, which emit sparks, can create interesting light shows at night and come equipped with water tank cars for preventing fires and hoses to fight them.

Although the rail grinder in Galveston has two water tanks, they won’t be traveling to Australia. Instead, they’ll be installed there, Radich said.