A slow procession of railroad equipment is making its way across Pratt County as the Union Pacific railroad replaces about 50 miles of track that includes Pratt County.
A team of workers, using a variety of specialized equipment is replacing rails, plates and spikes, said Union Pacific equipment mechanic Roy Druery.
At this time, the railroad is not replacing ties but keeping the current ties in place.
The team of workers is spread out over a several miles and has very specific duties as they travel at a consistent walking pace.
Some of the equipment, like the spike pullers, is designed to work on just one of the rails while a counterpart does the other rail. As the rail puller moves along the track, the operator positions it on the spike and it pulls it out, drops it and moves on.
Behind the spike puller is the “gooper,” that fills the hole just made with a product that hardens very quickly. The “gooper” is also one of the pieces of equipment that does just one rail while another does the other side.
A specialized truck that is designed to run on rails hauls the plates while a crane worker uses an electromagnet to pick up the plates and delivers them to a feeding trough that puts the plates the rails.
Nearly every aspect of rail replacement is mechanical. However, several workers do their job walking along the track. These workers have a special rod they use to set the plates in their proper position on the ties where the rail runs, Druery said.
Another piece of equipment, a speed swing, lifts up the old rail, that can be seen lying off to the side of the new rail, and cleans off the anchors and uses a big magnet to pick up the pieces.
The new rails are in 1,450-foot sections. At each rail junction, special equipment heats up the rails to expand it then a Holland welder joins to two pieces into one seamless ribbon of steel.
Long gone are the days of the short rail sections that gave the railroad trains the familiar clickety-clack as it rolled across unending connections.
Eventually, the old sections of rail are cut and collected.
One of the pieces of equipment is an Azer that cuts the groove in the tie for the plates and brushes rocks out of the way. This process requires great care to make sure the plate is set correctly and the rocks are moved safely.
During the rail replacement, the Union Pacific trains keep running as they coordinate with the replacement process.
The entire process requires about 150 Union Pacific workers and another 50 contracted workers, Druery said.
A Union Pacific bus transports works to and from the work site. Union Pacific is using the Pratt County Fairgrounds to park some equipment and personal vehicles.