Extending the life of rail with advanced milling technology

In this interview for Global Railway Review, Richard Stock, Global Head of Rail Solutions from Plasser American, discusses how advanced rail milling technology can help to significantly extend the rail life.

What are the key characteristics of rail milling?

Rail milling is a rotational cutting process that gently removes material from the rail. The only by-product (milling chips) are collected on-board the machine to be recycled at a later stage. As this dry cutting process does not result in any sparks or dust, it can be used in tunnels, stations as well as general fire and dust sensitive areas without any special measures. Due to its adjustable cutting depth in 0.1mm steps up to several millimetres (dependent on machine size) per pass, rail milling can fully remove any rail damage and can completely restore the rail profile in transversal and longitudinal direction. In addition, rail milling creates a perfectly smooth surface finish that can meet or even surpass tightest noise standards. The resultant rail profile is defined by the shape of the cutter head, thereby significantly limiting the requirement for human intervention. Rail milling technology can be applied for all common rail maintenance strategies.

What are the features of ROMILL Urban that makes this machine so innovative?

Robel’s ROMILL Urban 3 E3 is the globally first milling machine that uses a hybrid drive system which allows for up to three hours of purely battery-electric operations in smallest clearance gauges. The machine is equipped with a Tier 4 final diesel generator that acts as a quick charger, range extender and back-up power supply. Charging can alternatively be realised through an external power source. The system works with the latest milling technology by Schweerbau International that translates into extended tool lifetime and allows treating low quality track that, so far, was deemed not treatable by conventional rail milling. Also included is an advanced polishing system called HPP (High Performance Polishing). This technology removes the typical milling structure and creates a noise optimised, high quality surface finish. Finally, the machine has integrated measurement technology to create a ‘track certificate’ with respect to profiles and rail surface condition.

What are the possibilities of operation in the North American market due to these?

Track environments in North American transit systems cover tunnel areas, street level tracks and elevated track systems. For all these environments, the ROMILL Urban 3 E3 offers the most suitable rail maintenance solution. Besides the benefit of regenerating the rail condition and preventing premature rail exchange, the absence of dust and sparks provides a huge health, safety and cost benefits when operating in these environments. Due to the battery operation capability, the noise emissions of the milling machine during operation are significantly reduced, thereby greatly extending the capability of working night shifts in densely populated areas. For freight railways, the system can act as a specialty milling machine to  treat bridges, switches, and general damage hot spots.

How will this machine bring rail treatment to the next level?

Rail milling is a very flexible technology. It can be used complementary to conventional rail grinding when medium to high metal removal is required. When considering all benefits of milling technology, it has the potential to widely replace rail grinding in urban environments due to its unparalleled quality, safety, and positive environmental impacts. With the experience and network of Plasser American, the ROMILL Urban 3 E3 will bring a new level of rail maintenance to North American railway systems by reliably and sustainably extending the life of the most valuable asset – the rail.

Richard Stock, Plasser AmericanWith over 20 years of industry experience, Richard Stock is the leading expert for topics concerning rails in general and extension of rail life. In his role at Plasser American, he is responsible for rail maintenance, rail welding and rail measurement technology.


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