Acela Express Maintenance

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The following article was written by Jeffrey W. Nagy and is reprinted with permission from "Hard Hat News", March 6, 1998 issue.

Move Over... The Big Boys Are Here!

Recently, Amtrak began the final phase of an ambitious project, 10 years in the making: the high speed rail initiative for the Northeast Corridor, requiring the design and construction of three high speed rail maintenance facilities; Washington, DC. at the Ivy City Maintain facility; Sunny Side Yard in New York City; and one in Boston, Massachusetts. Of the three, the Ivy City facility will be the largest.

In the spring of 1996, construction began in Washington, D.C., and is primarily funded by a consortium of two corporate investors: GEC Alsthom and Bombardier. Both are major players in the design and manufacture of rail cars and locomotives. When finished, the building will enclose approximately 100,000 square feet of work area, in addition to 15,000 square feet for offices and classrooms. It will also mean employment for 20 subcontractors and their employees. It's also generated a mini boom of sorts for local concrete companies. John Prugh, Senior Project Engineer, said that "as of February, over 3500 yards of concrete have been poured. When the building is completed, that number will increase to over 6,000 yards."

Pre-construction planning meant careful consideration in choosing the right general contractor. Amtrak was looking for a company that had a history of excellence in transportation related construction, since railroad construction often involves federal regulations and special structures not encountered in other industries. After careful consideration, STV Corporation, with offices in California and Maryland, was chosen to head the project. Slattery Corporation is acting as the onsite coordinator or go-between for STV, lining up all sub-contractors.

"Planning and building the new structure has presented some interesting challenges," said Fred Nardelli, Assistant General Manager Of Maintenance Programs For High Speed Rail. "First of all, we didn't want the new facility to be a 'stepchild' of the overall operations at Ivy City, so placement of the building was of major importance." Three plans were submitted to an Amtrak Review board. The plan chosen places the new building immediately adjacent to the existing facility. According to Nardelli, doing this "also helped to make sure that we had a minimum of disturbance to the on-going operations." This was another concern to Amtrak managers, since to make way for the building, the rail yard needed to be reconfigured. This involved the removal, and eventual re-construction, of miles of track and roadbed, a job easier said than done, since, according to the Ivy City Yardmaster, Cleo Brickhouse, "there are over 200 different moves made in a 24 hour period, as over 275 cars and locomotives are shuttled to and from the maintenance facility to Washington Union Station." The new track configuration meant that the switching needed to be upgraded. "A new switching center, complete with a upgraded logic control center is being built, and will be controlled from the tower," said Nardelli. All the yard work was performed by Amtrak Maintenance Of Way, Control and Signal crews, and Fixed Property personnel, comprised of talented teams of Amtrak electricians, pipe fitters, carpenters, and concrete finishers. The Fixed Property crew also worked on the retaining wall for another associated project; the new car wash just south of the main yard, located in what is known as the Coach Yard. The completed wall is 14' high and 990' long. "From start to finish, our crews were able to complete the car wash retaining wall in 21 days. A great feat," said Nardelli.

Site preparation also meant the removal and renewal of 3.1 miles of catenary line and support structure (catenary lines are the overhead electrical lines that are seen suspended over the tracks in the Northeast Corridor, supplying 12,000 volt/25 hertz power for the electric locomotives). This work was done by Amtrak electricians, specially trained in the construction and maintenance of high voltage wires. The Catenary poles, about 30' high, are supported in the ground by steel caissons, 4 feet wide and 25'-30' deep. Each caisson is steel reinforced and filled with concrete. The catenary support system is designed to resist hurricane-force winds. For this project, 67 such support caissons were constructed as the new yard took shape.

A large rail yard, containing thousands of yards of crushed stone, becomes a huge catch basin for water. "To get rid of this water," says John Prugh, "over 7000' of new drainage pipe and 3,000' of concrete reinforced pipe, along with 37 new drainage structures, was laid before the new yard was constructed." All of this comprises a complicated drainage system that helps ensure the track bed doesn't get waterlogged and keeps the geometry (spacing between the rails) of the track stable.

All of this work, and more, is going toward a project that will house some of the most high-tech railroad equipment found in the United States. One side of the building will be dedicated to a sophisticated, computer controlled, wheel-true machine, a large metal lathe that re-profiles the wheels while they are still on the car. Technicians will have at their disposal the latest in computer-based diagnostic equipment. This will help maintenance technicians diagnose problems with the various systems incorporated in the cars, like computer controlled hydraulic tilt systems (a feature that will allow the trains to negotiate curves at higher speeds than present), state of the art lighting and communication systems, and the electronics that will control the locomotives themselves. When you look up, you will see a 30 ton bridge crane for moving heavy equipment. Look down, and you will see devices incorporated into the rails known as Split-Rail Drop Tables. A car wheel assembly can be positioned over these mini-elevators, unbolted from the carbody, and lowered. Then a new assembly can be wheeled into position and raised. Seven such tables will be in place. In the part of the building where traction motors for the locomotives will be replaced, a much larger version of the drop table will be used.

Another unique feature planned, is a small mono-rail system for the Service and Inspection tracks, with a 1500 lb capacity. When a mechanic removes or replaces an air-conditioning unit, he will be able to move it with ease to the area of the facility he needs to.

When you're dealing with equipment the size of a locomotive, safety issues come to the forefront. Federal railroad regulations mandate that certain rules be followed before, during and after the inspection and maintenance of railroad equipment. One term used extensively by railroad workers, is the phrase "blue flag." It's a term unique to the rail industry. One thing a railroad worker does not want to happen (other than the abolishment of railroad retirement), is to have the equipment he's working on move. Unexpected movement of a piece of equipment that weighs 100 tons, may mean the loss of a limb - even a life. Before work is performed, the mechanic will lock a de-rail device on each end of the track the equipment is on (fits over the top of the rail, and will derail any car or locomotive that tries to pass it), put a blue banner up in front of the de-rail as a warning that the device is in place, and hang a blue tag with his photo on it, declaring that these safety devices are not to be removed as long as his tag is displayed. A flashing blue light is then activated as a notification that the track is now protected against other equipment coming onto the work track. If a locomotive is on the work track, a blue tag is placed in the controlling end of the locomotive as a warning to the engineer not to move the locomotive.

So, where do you take a 100 ton engine for an oil change and wash? After October, 1999 the place to take your engine will be the new high speed rail facility at Ivy City, Washington, D.C.

If you would like to get more information about this and the other projects being built in New York and Boston, contact the High Speed Speakers Bureau by writing to:

National Railroad Passenger Corporation
60 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E.
Washington, D.C, 20002
United States

Jeffrey William Nagy, a certified Master Electrician in the State of Maryland, is currently employed by Amtrak as a Mechanical Foreman at the Ivy City Maintenance Facility.

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Last Update: June 1999

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