Georgetown Rail Equipment Co.

Since the 1830s, railroads have been a mainstay for transport across the United States. It wasn’t until 1982 when the railroads were deregulating that rail lines could contract services from outside vendors. As a result of this action, Georgetown Rail Equipment Co. (GREX) was able to demonstrate its innovations to the industry. The privately owned research and development firm, founded in 1992, offers a range of technologies to solve railroad concerns that have existed since the industry’s infancy.

Invented by founder Ned Snead in 1986, the dump train was the first of several innovations introduced by the company. “At the time, there was no economical way to move limestone aggregate from the quarry to highway construction projects by truck,” says H. Lynn Turner, vice president of marketing and sales. “They were just too far away.”

Moving the aggregate by rail appeared to be a logical solution. Initially used by road building contractors, the concept involves an underlying belt that runs continuously under rail cars. Material in the cars, such as ballast, is conveyed to a boom via the underlying belt, which is approximately 2,100 feet long.

The operator positions the boom from a work station on the stacker car. The system is capable of delivering 1,500 tons per hour with a single operator. “When the highway construction industry waned in the 1990s, we tried to market the dump train to the railroad lines but were only marginally successful,” Turner recalls. But that changed in 1993 when the Mississippi River Valley was flooded. “We sent a dump train to the Union Pacific Railroad in the flood zone,” he says.

“They told us if it hadn’t been for GREX and our dump train, they would have lost the railroad.”

Since then, GREX has continued to develop products specifically for Class 1 North American rail lines that contribute to the railroad’s safety, efficiency and productivity. “Our company serves a unique niche – our team has worked on railroads for many years, so we know the industry, and our customers know that we’re good at what we do,” Turner says.

“We use our railroad industry background as well as input from rail industry employees to continually find ways to invent new products and improve upon the existing ones,” Turner adds.

GREX offers these products to the rail lines under a lease agreement to operate and maintain the equipment. Because Georgetown is a research and development operation, it depends on outside vendors to build prototypes and repair equipment. In this capacity, Safety Railway Service of Victoria, Texas, is an integral part of Georgetown’s operations. “We are a preferred customer,” Turner says. “If we need an emergency repair, Safety Railway makes its shop available to us, which mitigates our client’s downtime.”

A Better Inspector

The Aurora system is one GREX invention. “In 2004, our company president at the time thought that facial recognition software could somehow be implemented into the rail lines to monitor track defects,” Turner says.

At the time, railroads inspected their ties and tracks on foot –walking about 2 or 3 miles per hour in a boring and exhausting job. “And even then, there were a lot of defects overlooked,” he claims. The Aurora implements a “machine vision” system mounted under the train car or Hi-Rail truck that scans the track for rail seat abrasion, component inventory and wood tie grading.

“The Borealis software then determines if the ties exhibit replacement characteristics and generates data reports,” Turner says.

In addition, the system moves at a speed of 42 mph and can monitor more than 70,000 railroad ties per hour. “It gives a rail line an objective way to gauge the conditions of its track,” he says. “The system indicates the precise spot where the irregularity occurs, as well as the nature of the defect.”

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