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Caring for Bridges and Roadways
Under every train is a complex highly-engineered support system kept in safe condition. Bridge and building crews handle all aspects of inspecting, maintaining and repairing the 306 bridges across MRL. Dispatchers provide track crews with a "window" allowing them time to work without interruption by train traffic. Maintaining tracks and roadbed requires teams of skilled workers, numerous materials and a fleet of machinery. We invest in new specialized machines that remove employees from hazardous tasks.
To keep freight moving safely every component of our roadway, from ballast to bridges, undergoes continual improvement – building tomorrow’s railroad today.
Railroads have always looked to the future. The transcontinental line, constructed in 1883 across southern Montana, served the needs of a growing nation. Maintaining that road to commerce became an important legacy. Today, Montana Rail Link operates on the same historic route, although its 287 bridges have been reconstructed, and its 900 miles of rail are being constantly replaced.
Preserving the trust of our customers and the public depends on maintaining our roadway to stringent standards for the over 382,000 total carloads of freight we collectively transport each year. But MRL's rigorous program goes far beyond repair of wear and tear. We are improving our railroad both physically and operationally, investing in being a safer, more efficient business partner for our customers and building an enduring and reliable service.
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Concrete and steel
In a top-to-bottom project MRL Bridge 209 is being refurbished for many more years of service. Massive concrete beams affected by age and weather were removed to be replaced with precisely-engineered steel supports. Bridge decking was replaced at the same time. Every MRL bridge receives regular inspection and maintenance as warranted.
Constant communication for safety
There’s a lot of traffic happening along the railroad that can’t be seen. Maintaining full and certain contact with all points is vital, but in mountainous areas conventional communications can be affected by topography and can be intermittent. MRL owns and operates a microwave communications system consisting of 27 sites between Laurel and Clark Fork to ensure voice and data communication is never interrupted.
Over, under and through; restoring the Mullan Tunnel
The Mullan Tunnel is a key passage at the summit of the Continental Divide. Restoration of the 3,896 foot tunnel began in April 2009. When complete, the tunnel will be reduced in length by more than 400 feet and increased in width and height, creating additional clearance to help reduce the overheating of locomotives.
Specialized equipment speeds maintenance work
Often visible from adjacent highways, a fleet of curious-looking machines travels the rails. The lineup includes speed swings, spikers, liner tampers, and tie inserters. MRL regularly invests in specialized equipment and operator training to maintain its railroad more safely and efficiently. Depending on terrain, the track equipment handles the repetitive tasks allowing roadway crews to replace an average of 3,500 lineal feet of rail or 1,600 ties per day.
Maintaining the railroad still depends on manpower
There remains a great deal of work that must be done by hand. Swinging a maul or manning a shovel requires good physical conditioning and proper technique. Crews start their day with warm-up exercises to prevent injuries, and they stay in shape through company-sponsored gym memberships.
Continuous improvement, the length of the line
Montana Rail Link’s entire main line is continuous welded rail, which is upgraded as necessary on an ongoing basis. MRL uses 136 and 141 pound continuous welded rail across its railroad. The rail is installed with a neutral temperature of 90ºF or more to minimize track buckling during hot summer months.
Working around maintenance work
The safety of our people, cargo and the public is our number one priority. We make every effort to strategically schedule maintenance to maximize the safety of all involved and minimize the impact felt by our customers. When service interruptions are anticipated, we work closely with our customers, connecting railroads and employees to ensure that freight moves expeditiously.
Keeping an eye on rail condition
Weather and traffic load weight conspire to affect integrity of the rails. A rail detector car regularly travels across MRL using induction and ultra sound methods to locate internal rail defects, pinpointing repair needs. Specialized vehicles and hy-rail trucks inspect the railroad’s mainline continuously.