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rail-ballast-car-april-19-2017MassDOT today announced the purchase of 20 steel ballast cars – hopper cars with gates used to dispense ballast onto train tracks – that will be used by MassDOT for projects which maintain and repair crucial rail infrastructure.

“MassDOT is pleased to now have its own fleet of ballast cars which will save money and time when repairing tracks,” said MassDOT Rail & Transit Division Administrator Astrid Glynn.  “With this investment, MassDOT is continuing to take steps to improve its rail infrastructure and ensure that our customers can count on reliable service and our freight partners can use our system for their transportation needs.”

The new steel ballast cars, purchased by the Rail & Transit Division, arrived last week and are notable for their feature of remote control-operated gates.  This innovative component makes the process of pouring ballast speedier, more efficient and safer than traditional ballast cars, which typically require personnel to crank the gates open and closed by hand.

Ballast, which in layman’s terms, consists of pieces of stone, is an essential part of providing reliable rail service as it evenly distributes the weight of trains on tracks and prevents railroad ties from shifting or settling into the soil.   In addition, ballast facilitates drainage and inhibits plant growth, which extends the life of railroad ties and reduces maintenance costs.  After a certain amount of use, however, ballast becomes less effective and must be replaced.  After crews remove old ballast, new ballast is loaded onto the cars, which pour the small, irregularly shaped rocks onto the tracks.

MassDOT Secretary Pollack views remote control for rail ballast car.

MassDOT Secretary Pollack views remote control for rail ballast car.

Previously, MassDOT rented ballast cars, which was more costly than owning the vehicles.  In the Fiscal Year 2017, MassDOT spent approximately $109,000 leasing ballast cars.  By purchasing the new cars, which can have a 50-year operating life, for $3.2 million, MassDOT is projected to save about $2.25 million.  MassDOT will experience additional savings by storing the new cars in its own facilities, thereby lowering the cost of transporting the ballast cars.

On Wednesday, April 19, MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack visited the railyard where the cars are being stored to see how the cars are remotely controlled.  The cars will be put to use after MassDOT workers have completed their operation training program, which is being provided to MassDOT as part of the contract.

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