March 11, 2024

How to move a railcar.

Pacific West Systems

We get asked, as normal conversation, “What do you do for a living”?  We say “we are in the railcar mover business” and no one knows what business this is.  So I say the railroad company drops off railcars to a plant and will come back in a few days to pick them up.  The plant, in the meantime, has to either load or unload them before they show up.  Our business is providing a machine that gets onto the track and moves the railcars to load or unload them, then stage the railcars to be picked up.

This brings up a good question “how do I move my railcars”?  There are many answers and we would like to provide an explanation about the pros and cons of each one.  What is apparent in almost every railcar accident inside a plant, is the lack of understanding how much these railcars weigh and how hard it is to stop them when they are moving!  Railcars are somewhat easy to get moving, but very difficult to stop unless you are using the right equipment.  Here are some ways companies use to move their railcars.

  • Let the railroad move the railcars – The railroad will move railcars if they have provided this service in the past.  If you are a new customer, they will probably not provide this service.  We have heard figures of $150.00 to $300.00 per railcar for each move (that gets expensive).  The biggest down fall of this method is you are at the mercy of the railroad’s timing.  They regularly miss their appointments to perform this service.  This leaves you in a bind because the products you need to keep the plant running is in the railcar or the plant needs to unload product into the railcar to keep production running.
  • Use a payloader – This is a fairly common way railcars are moved.  Most companies are not aware moving railcars by a payloader has OSHA guidelines.  The short version of the OSHA guidelines is you must install a railcar coupler to the rear of the payloader and you must have an auxiliary air compressor to utilize the railcar air brakes.  Both these options are costly and slows down the “quickness” payloaders have moving railcars without the proper OSHA methods.  Also, you will think this will never happen to you, but over time, the payloader rail wheels loosen the rail spikes and weakens the rail ties – this leads to huge track repair bills a decade down the road…
  • Use a forklift – This is a seemly easy method when one first starts moving railcars.  Over time, because the forklift drive train is not designed to move this kind of weight, the forklift transmission goes out.  Also, you do not have a good way to stop the railcar and accidents and property damage occurs.
  • Use a tractor – If you have one, this can be common in agriculture related industries.  Because it is hard to stop the railcars (and usually a chain or rope is used) we have seen tractors flipped over and railcar pulling tractors into items which always gets damaged badly (see video).
  • Use a railcar mover – This a safe way to move railcars because these machines are designed for this task.  Railcar movers are best when moving one to twenty railcars at a time.  Larger railcar movers can move more than twenty railcars, but they travel slow and have high Maintenance costs.  If the proper railcar moving procedures are utilized, you will have minimum costs and accidents.
  • Use a locomotive – This a safe way to move railcars because these machines are the heaviest duty for this task.  Locomotives are best when moving large number of railcars at a time and they have faster travel speeds.  They have high fuel consumption unless they are repowered and maintenance costs depend on their condition.

Feel free to contact us to answer any questions and help you determine how to move your railcars!

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