Part tie pickup, part brush cutter, part ditch cleaner, the new Maintenance of Way machine might just be the most versatile piece of equipment in Union Pacific’s arsenal.
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And that’s the point, according to Salt Lake City-based Kevin Packard, track supervisor, Engineering.
"We’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg of what we can really do with this," he said.
The high-tech work equipment is part of the railroad’s Scrap Material Recycling Team (SMRT) and has evolved dramatically since it was first introduced two years ago.
Now on its sixth iteration, this piece of SMRT equipment and its crew no longer just pick up ties; they can clear vegetation and spray for weeds along railroad right of way, collect scrap metal, and load cars with ballast, the rock used to stabilize tracks.
"When we go along a territory, it looks 100% different and better in every single way than before we got there," Packard said.
Currently, six units are in service across UP’s 23-state system with plans to add an additional one early this year. Four sets of equipment are dedicated to the Northern region, two for the Southern region, and one more set for manufacturing.
Though this version recently completed its maiden voyage, the MofW team continues to improve the concept. Over the next 12 to 18 months, they’ll experiment with even more use cases, including snow removal between Roseville and Donner Pass in California.
If all goes well, this moving factory could see widespread adoption at the railroad.
"The beauty for me is this is something we used to contract out," Packard said. "Now we bring this back in-house, we create jobs for our own employees, and that gives them extra motivation to be successful."