Waikato first for rail renewal

21:31, Dec 11 2012
RAIL MEN: Speno’s managing director, Ben Lombardo, left, Kiwirail’s infrastructure and engineering manager, Rick van Barneveld, and the grinder in Hamilton.

It is known as the great corrugated railway.

At least New Zealand's rail network was dubbed such during a briefing about a big KiwiRail maintenance project that will essentially upgrade the most frequently used 2800 kilometres of its 4000km of rail.

The piece of equipment to cull the corrugations is called a "rail rectifier" or, as it is commonly known, a rail grinding machine.

After 90 years of wear, our railways have suffered a fate similar to an ungraded dirt road.

In simple terms, they are bumpy.

Speno Rail Maintenance Australia has the $8 million work contract and shipped a $15m grinder across the Tasman in October for the two-year job.


Managing director Ben Lombardo was at the KiwiRail yard off Norton Rd, Hamilton, this week for a demonstration on some of the worst rails he had seen.

The big yellow caterpillar-like machine crawled along the tracks at 3kmh to 10kmh with sparks swarming under its carriage and to its side.

The sparks are so thick, the track has to be simultaneously dampened to douse any flickers of flame.

It has 24 grinding motors on it - 12 on each rail - that push an aluminium oxide grind stone to 3500 revolutions per minute. From 0.2 to 0.5mm of rail is carved off and, after up to five passes, it's a smooth ride.

The job will take two years and range from Swanson in Auckland to Invercargill.

But the job started in Waikato because it is in the "Golden Triangle" of trade. KiwiRail's east coast main line is a priority - it carries 8.5 million tonnes of cargo from Hamilton to Tauranga a year.

KiwiRail infrastructure and engineering manager Rick van Barneveld was also at the Norton Rd yard.

"[The corrugated rail] gives an enormous hiding to the suspension components of the rail wagon," he said. "We've been procuring a lot of new wagons and we're really keen for them not to be hammered and to get the best performance out of those. This makes an extraordinary difference."

He likened the pre-grind rail travel experience to driving on a lightly corrugated gravel road in a very old vehicle with modest suspension. But the end result was like driving on an asphalt surface.

There were other benefits. "We expect to reduce our long-term rail consumption by more than 25 per cent, which is enormous. That's without the benefit of reduced wear on our wheels and wagons. It just stacks up."