Replacing Railway Ties, The Slabs That Hold The Tracks Together

Railway workers use a special machine for this task.


The average train traveler might not realize this, but there is an immense amount of work required to keep the railways going. A big part of railway maintenance involves tending to the tracks that the trains run on. Railway ties or crossties, which are the slabs of wood or concrete that support the tracks, are particularly important to keep the track in shape.

From laying down a new railroad to replacing old tracks, there’s a range of different practices that ensure your train journeys are safe and sound. Today, we take a look out at the process of replacing old railway ties with new ones.

While the process is not really complicated, it is always understood better with visual aid. So, here’s a video that shows how railway workers and their machines replace the railway track ties.

The purpose of railway ties

Railway ties are one of the three main components which make up a railroad. The other two are the steel tracks and the stones under them aka track ballast. The railroads have a foundation composed of ballast, on which metal rails rest; and sandwiched between them are the railway ties.

These ties have spikes that attach to the steel tracks, allowing them to keep the parallel rails held together. Ties serve a very crucial purpose, which is to maintain the right gap between the rails and make sure the track stays level. Besides the traditional wood, these slabs are also built from prestressed concrete, steel, and plastic composite material.

Railway tie maintenance

Like everything else, railway ties are bound to degrade with time due to the pressure from trains, weather conditions, and other factors. Once they are no longer good for use, they must be replaced to avoid inconvenience or even accidents.

While the process of replacing ties depended on human labor before, today, there are specialized machines that do this work instead. From plucking out old ties to installing new ones, these machines make it easier for us to perform tie maintenance.

tie changer machine
A tie-changing machine at work. (Image: Knox Kershaw Inc.)

The railway crew uses a manned machine, equipped with a tie changer, to replace ties. As the machine moves along the tracks, the tie changer clears the ballast near the target tie. Afterward, it grabs the tie and pulls it out to the side. Then, it picks up the new tie and puts it in place for a crew member to manually fix it to the tracks using fastening clips. At last, the tie changer pushes the ballast back onto the replacement tie to finish the job.

The discarded railway ties are either recycled for other projects or burned down to produce energy. In other cases, old ties are simply sent to the landfill as they are not typically considered toxic waste.

Do you find the hidden maintenance needed for sustaining railways interesting? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Priye Rai

Priye Rai

Priye is a tech writer who writes about anything remotely related to tech, including gaming, smartphones, social media, etc. He prefers to be called a "video game journalist" and grimaces when he doesn't get to be "Player 1." If you want to share feedback or talk about games, reach out to @priyeakapj on Twitter.
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