Crew Sets Record For Number of Railroad Ties Put Down in a Day

It's like a mechanical conga line inching down the track in Speonk -; eleven pieces of heavy-duty equipment used to pull out old railroad ties and replace them with new ones.

First the spike puller with its claw-like hands pulls out the spike that holds the old tie in place; next, a Tripp machine pulls out the old tie and throws it to the side of the track. A tie crane then positions the new tie to be installed, followed by another Tripp machine that jams the tie into place -; leaving a precise 19 inches sticking out on each side of the track. The line continues with a materials cart, a Jackson machine that lifts the rails so connecting plates can be slid into place, a tamper which aligns the tracks, a Quad Drill which makes holes for new screws, Quad laggers which insert the screws, and another tie crane which picks up the old ties from the right-of-way and stacks them on a cart.

"It's a big assembly line," says Track Supervisor James Dormer, who is in charge of a crew of 56 workers. On this day, they will put down about 450 new ties covering just over one mile of track. However, back on April 8, a track crew put down a record 1,120 ties between mile marker 96.1 and 98.4 on the East End on the Montauk Branch.

"Everything came together that day, we had access to the tracks without interruptions, there were no crossings to deal with," remembers Dormer, who was in charge of the crew that broke the old record of 1,108 ties put down in 1999.

The machines that pull out spikes and ties and lift the rails to make room for new ties and plates have increased productivity tenfold. Dormer said when the work was done completely by manual labor, only 40 to 50 ties a day were installed.

Operating the machines is like performing surgery with a ten-ton scalpel. The claw hands of the spike pullers are stopping on a dime and picking out a spike with the head size of a quarter. The Tripp machines are pulling out and inserting 8.5 foot long ties that weigh approximately 200 pounds -; under a rail with a couple of inches clearance.

Track workers are still needed to hammer off the pretzel-like steel coils that help hold the track in place and diggers are needed to clear away excess ballast and smooth out the area where the new tie is inserted.

The work is hard and can be made even more difficult by hot or cold weather. Dormer said the crew is on target to replace nearly 65,000 ties over 77 miles of track this year.

LIRR Track Machine