When they first see it, people ask, “What kind of machine is that?” It looks like an excavator but there’s something unusual about it. Then the graceful, yet powerful machine quickly straddles the railroad tracks, sets its specially designed rail carriage down on the rails, lifts up and effortlessly speeds off down the tracks at speeds up to 20 kph. But wait, how can a full-size excavator run on railroad tracks?
Welcome to the innovative—and remarkably efficient—Haulmax RMT14D Road-Rail Vehicle. A modern engineering marvel, the RMT14D machine is reducing rail bed maintenance times from days to just minutes.
Innovation from down under
Designed and built by Haulmax®, Tasmania, Australia, with assistance and support from Caterpillar OEM Solutions—and invaluable direction from their customer, Schwarz Excavations—the RMT14D is revolutionizing rail bed track maintenance. Haulmax has an established working relationship with OEM Solutions and is part of the Elphinstone Group.
The RMT14D was designed specifically to handle rail bed maintenance on the thousands of miles of railroad track that crisscross the Australian outback. The rails carry a constant stream of trains loaded with coal and other indigenous resources from throughout Australia to port cities that dot its coastline.
According to Noel Schwarz, Managing Director of Schwarz Excavations PTY LTD, a civil, rail and heavy haulage contractor based in Gracemere, Queensland, “We used to cut maybe 100 meters a day five years ago and now we can cut up to a kilometer in one day with the high rails working.”
The RMT14D base machine is a Cat® 314D CR Hydraulic Excavator, fitted with the compliant, certified and specially engineered Railmax rail guidance system. The hybrid machine also involves sophisticated engineering modifications to hydraulics and control systems.
The RMT14D combines the innovative engineering expertise of Haulmax with the proven reliability and unmatched product support capabilities of Caterpillar and its dealer network, to deliver the most efficient railroad/track bed maintenance machine on the market today.
The compact radius excavator is the best choice for the application as it is able to work effectively while on tracks that run through narrow passages or tight valleys between steep rock formations and/or alongside steep embankments where other machines can’t reach or operate.
Watching it work, you quickly appreciate its ingenious design. A three to four-meter long, finger-like cutter bar extends outward from the front edge of the stick. Chain-driven, tungsten-tip teeth line the cutter bar’s outer edges and it’s controlled by a cab-mounted floor pedal.
The cutter bar easily swings out and underneath the section of suspended track to be repaired. Its edge full of sharp teeth then cuts out the mudholes and small diameter rocks, or cribbing, in any deteriorating sections of the rail bed beneath the track rails.
The Railmax rail carriage system enables easy hydraulic mounting and dismounting from the tracks and safe, fast, smooth travel on the rails. The custom design of the RMT14D enables it to perform its special task better than any other machine.
Railroads essential to Australian mining economy
Moving mining materials from scores of mines to Australia’s port cities requires hundreds of trains. Maintaining thousands of miles of track is essential to keep those trains running on time to meet shipping and production schedules. The trains cannot afford to lose any time due to washed out or damaged sections of railroad track bed, which is why the tracks must be constantly monitored and maintained.
Recognizing an opportunity, the resourceful Schwarz Excavations now operates five specially designed RMT14D Road-Rail Vehicles, within his fleet of more than 100 other machines, and has become the leading rail maintenance operation in Australia.
According to Lindsey Ames, technician at Schwarz, “There's no other machine in the world that can sort of do what we do in the timeframe that we have to do it.”
Ames continued, “The new way we do it now is no comparison to the way we used to do it. The finished job is 100 times better than the way we used to do it. These machines make it 10 times easier, twice as safe. You just can't compete with these RMTs, if you are trying to do it the old way.”
Schwarz explained, “Our work involves cutting out mudholes from rail track beds. We cut sections out from under the sleeper that are weakening the track. An undercut section might be anywhere from 100 meters to 400 meters or more of bad track. We just remove the old, loosened rock cribbing from underneath the sleepers and put new material in without dismantling any track at all.”
Tracks with deteriorating sections of rail bed are closed. The RMTs then mount the track and are able to quickly speed along the rails to the sections slated for repair, which can often be miles away.
“It's a pretty simple process. The cutter bar is hydraulically driven from the cab and all it really does is drive a chain in a horizontal position. We just start it up and poke it under in horizontal position. It's all hydraulically driven and computer operated so basically, the machine does all work—the operator just needs to guide that cutter bar.” said Schwarz.
Because the RMTs work so quickly, several Cat mini hydraulic excavators are required to keep pace with them, scraping out the broken-up rock cribbing and casting it aside, while Cat wheel loaders carry in fresh rock and dump it over the open track sections to rebuild the support cribbing below the suspended track rails.
Schwarz’s team must work rapidly and efficiently. “A lot of times we only get a 12-hour closure and we may have to do 60, 80 meters of track in that time. We are always on timed schedules,” Schwarz said.
“The high rail machines have enabled us to get on track at the specified time; cut out a specific section of track bed within a certain amount time; and have it all completed and be off track quickly. A lot of our closure times are only 12 hours. Sometimes we get a 36-hour closure. That's when we do the bigger jobs.”
Operators like the machines
Mitchell Offord, supervisor, who also operates the units, commented, “The comfort of the seat is unreal. You can adjust it to whatever position way you want. If you want a little bit more suspension, you let the air in and out. It slides back to adjust the controls to precisely where you want them. With air conditioning in the comfortable sealed compartment, it's good for Queensland conditions. If you need to see more of the work area directly below the front of the machine, you just slide your chair forward. Or if you want to look back around the other side, you can adjust the chair for a good view of whatever way you're cutting.”
“The stability of the high rail is exceptional,” Offord added, “Sensors slow the machine down automatically to prevent any chance of tipping over. It won't let you do anything that it thinks is unsafe. It's a very safe machine to operate.”
Due to the fact that some of the Australian trains are powered by overhead electrical lines, the RMT14Ds are designed with integral height and slew-limiting systems. The systems are calibrated prior to each job. The height limit is set at 3.3 m which keeps them out of the danger zone when working beneath overhead electrical wires; and the slew limits are set to prevent the boom from swinging into the adjacent train lines that can carry oncoming trains.
Why they chose Haulmax and Caterpillar
Schwarz said, “The reason we chose these machines from Haulmax is that we know they are a very reputable, family-oriented company that’s owned and operated by the Elphinstones. They also align themselves with Cat machines which were in our bloodstream, so they were the obvious choice.”
All the Schwarz machines are fitted with Product Link™ that is used for service diagnostics and machine location.
“The backup with these machines, if we got a problem it's handled straightaway. It's real good backup service,” said Schwarz. “The parts reliability that we have with our Cat dealer Hastings is unbelievable. We can have parts delivered to our remote jobsites overnight. Our technician can look up any parts, order them on the computer and they'll be here the next day. Hastings looks after us well,” claimed Schwarz.
“Haulmax and Hastings have the knowledge and support you need. The RMT14D is a very complex product and the team that built it are the ones who are helping you,” said Schwarz.
Schwarz has logged more than 3,000 hours on the RMT14Ds yet their like-new appearance speaks volumes about Schwarz’s excellent maintenance and operating practices.
“The performance of these machines has been absolutely magnificent. Beyond our belief as to what we could achieve with them and the backup. We're really happy with the machines,” said Schwarz.