Southern's Timbering & Surfacing: New Methods for an Old Job



Billows of dust,: the rapid pounding of hydraulic hammers against steel and crushed rock and the roar of diesel engines mark the progress of Southern Railway's timbering and surfacing gangs as they put modern technology to work smoothing the way for the railroad's freight and passenger trains.

Highly coordinated and equipped with the latest in specialized machinery, Southern's timbering and surfacing forces (better known as T & S gangs) replace worn crossties, rework ballast and align track to maintain the smooth, stable track and roadbed vital to modern high speed railroading.

One key to the rapid pace of mechanized maintenance is this tie replacing machine, one of five that a Southern T & S gang uses to push out an old tie and pull In a new one (as shown here) in a single, minute-long operation. Old ties are loaded on the cart In front.


Southern's three T & S gangs maintain all main and secondary track on the railroad on a five to-seven year cycle (smaller specially-assigned crews maintain yard track) .In practice, main line is ,worked every five years and the less heavily used track is refurbished at about seven-year intervals.

With timbering and surfacing work planned a year in advance, each division engineer and track supervisor knows at the start of the year exactly how much work will be done in his territory in the next 12 months. To meet this schedule they plan the work for most effective use of on-track time.

Old spikes are cleaned of rust in this rotating tumbler and come out ready for reuse.


Prior to the arrival of the T & S gang, the track supervisor walks the track to be worked and marks with white paint the ties to be replaced. New crossties are then unloaded at these points from Southern's special tie cars and new ballast is unloaded alongside the track. The supervisor schedules the work with careful regard for area train movements; once a T & S gang is set up and operating, clearing the track for a train means delay that could seriously affect work plans.

A powerful ram chain on the tie-replacing machines generates a force of 1,500 pounds per square inch. It pushes out an old tie and then, operating in reverse, pulls a new tie under the track.


All this advance preparation suggests that planning plays an important part in the T & S gang's operation, and it does. M. L. Denton, Southern's process engineer-Track, and the man who has overall responsibility for directing the T & S gangs, puts it this way:

"Planning is the key to our operation, both on the gangs and in the preparations carried out by the local people before we arrive. Good planning means we accomplish more with less time and effort."

Two automatic spike drivers drive most of the spikes in the new ties. This manually-operated machine is used to drive spikes at rail Joints and other areas inconvenient for the automatic machines. .


When the T & S gang arrives, they set up and calibrate the complex machinery that will spread out to form a half-mile long caravan when in full operation. The first machine in line is a hydraulic spike puller which extracts spikes from the ties to be replaced. Reusable spikes are placed in a rotating tumbler designed to remove encrustations and rust by the action of the spikes knocking against each other.

Five tie-replacing machines, the "heart" of the timbering operation, follow the tumbler. The leader, equipped with a plow, pushes ballast away from the tie ends to allow easy removal of the ties. Positioned over the tie to be replaced, the machine grips the rail and lifts it high enough to clear the tie plate while a powerful ram chain pushes out the old tie. Operating in reverse, the machine then pulls a new tie into position and eases the rail down:' The entire replacement operation takes approximately one minute.

A ballast regulator redistributes the ballast between the ties in preparation for the surfacing operation.


A small hoist on a swinging boom on the tie-replacing machine lifts the old ties onto a cart attached to the machine. Bundles of 16 used ties are banded and dropped by the side Of the track. They are picked up later to be taken to Southern's Track Assembly Shop in Atlanta where reusable ties become parts of panel-track sections.

Two automatic spikers and one manually-operated spiker (for driving spikes at rail joints) spike the rails to the newly-laid ties. A ballast regulator redistributes the rock ballast between the ties and a self -operated boom sweeps the excess from the rail in preparation for the surfacing operation.

In Southern's computerized Jack tamper a surfaclng-beam measures the elevation of the track and a computer automatically indicates to the operator how much the track will have to be raised to restore the surface and cross-level. Photo 7


As the tie-replacing equipment is the "heart" of the timbering operation, the computerized jack tamper is the "brain" of the surfacing operation. Southern's engineers have added to the jack tamper a computer and a long surfacing-beam extending ahead of the tamper. The computer compares the angle of the beam to the angle of the track immediately behind and tells the operator automatically how much the track will have to be raised to restore the surface and cross-level. '"(he jack tamper works every fourth or fifth tie, depositing a color-coded paint by the tie end to indicate correctly tamped ties.

Another machine straightens the ties, positions them flush with the rail and secures the spikes. Three production tampers, guided by the paint marks of the jack tamper, tamp the remaining ties and a track alignment machine measures and adjusts the track for horizontal position.

Following the Jack tamper the gang's three production tampers automatically tamp ballast under and around each tie to a uniform compaction. .


A second ballast regulator reshapes the track shoulder and a self-operated broom sweeps the track to complete the surfacing operation and leaves the track in dressed condition.

Division engineers and track supervisors work closely with the T & S gangs. Inspecting the surfacing-beam on the Jack tamper are (left to right): C. W. Scoggins, a T & S supervisor; M. L. Denton, process engineer-Track; J. F. Morrow, general division engineer; and Jack E. Greene, division engineer-Danville division.


T & S gangs coordinate their operation through the use of horn signals and radio. The T & S supervisor maintain constant radio contact with the front and rear units of the gang and also with Southern's dispatchers via microwave to coordinate the gang's operations with area train movements.

Standardization of gang operation is also an important factor in achieving full efficiency. "We have standard operating methods on all our T & S gangs," Mr. Denton points out, "but not to the point of discouraging useful ideas. If someone thinks he has a better way of doing the work, we're always interested. We'll take a long hard look-and if he's right we'll recommend it throughout the system."

The track alignment machine measures and adjusts the track for horizontal posilion.


In fact, some of the most remarkable innovations on the T & S gangs have come about in just this way-a Southern man with an idea. Virtually every piece of equipment used on the present gang has been designed or modified by Southern. The introduction of the tie replacing machine in 1955 and the hydraulic tampers in 1965 were major factors in making it possible to increase the production rate in timbering and surfacing operations from 800 feet per on-track hour to more than one-half mile per on-track hour .

Other ideas included the design of the rotating spike tumbler (allowing renewal of old spikes on the spot) and the replacement of steel cables used as brushes on the automatic brooms with discarded locomotive air hose (just as effective and more economical)

A self-operated broom completes the limbering and surfacing operation leaving the track in dressed condition.


Maintaining track better with modern machinery and techniques creates a strong and stable roadbed for the kind of useful, economical transportation service that meets customer needs and brings the railway more business. .

The final result (track on the right) is a completely refurbished track and roadbed. The bundles of ties to the right of the track are old lies ready 1or pick up.