The railroad track
The railroad is different from other kinds of roads. Carriages and wagons and motor vehicles, directed to right or to left at will by their drivers, can run upon any part of the roads or streets which they use, moving from side to side to pass and repass one another. The railroad has a raised track for its cars and engines, and the wheels of these railroad vehicles have flanges on the inner side to keep them on this track. The engineer in control of a locomotive drawing a train over a railroad track does not steer his vehicle as the driver of a highway motor vehicle must do. Railroad trains can not meet and pass one another at any point of the road over which they travel. They must keep to their tracks. Some railroads are built with two or more tracks, and on each track trains all usually move in the same direction. Multiple tracks simplify the problem of meeting and passing. If a railroad has a single main track, it must have turn-outs or passing sidings at intervals, where trains may leave the main track temporarily and wait for other trains to pass.
The most common type of railroad track consists of two parallel lines of heavy steel rails, securely fastened to wooden crossties placed in a bed of rock or gravel ballast. The distance between the rails is called the gauge of the railroad. The standard gauge of the railroads in the United States, and for the railroads in many other countries, is 4 feet 8i/2 inches. On sharp curves the rails are spread to a gauge of 4 feet 9 inches, and on very sharp curves to 4 feet 914 inches. A few railroads in mountainous parts of our country have been built with a "narrow gauge" of 3 feet or feet, but these railroads do not have much traffic. Some of our railroads were built originally with a broad gauge of 5 and even 6 feet. When the present gauge became accepted as standard, the broad gauge lines reduced the width of their tracks, making it possible for the cars and engines of any one railroad to run on the tracks ot all other railroads. A uniform railroad gaugemade it possible for a person to travel over several railroads without changing cars; when the gauges were different it was necessary for freight or passengers to be transferred from one car to another at all points where there was a change of gauge The adoption of a uniform gauge effected a great saving in the time and in the expense of transporting both passengers and freight.
Railroad rails are long heavy bars of steel of such shape that the end or cross section of a rail looks something like the letter T. 1 he rails are called T rails, because of this shape. They are manufactured in many of our great steel mills. A large ingot of white-hot steel is passed back and forth between huge steel rolls, made to give the rails the shape which they have. After the rolling is completed the rails are sawed to proper length and branded, the brand showing the date of rolling, the kind of steel, the weight of the rail, the name of the manufacturer. After branding the rails are cooled, straightened, the ends squared and the holes drilled for the bolts of the rail joints.
The heavy top part of the rail, on which the wheels of cars and engines run, is called the head; the Hat part, which rests on crossties, is the base; while the thin part between the base and the head is called the web. Rails differ greatly in design and weight, according to the kind of traffic they must support when placed in the track, and according to the preference of the engineering authorities of different railroad companies. Some of the largest rails are sixty feet in length and weigh as much as three thousand pounds. Most of the rails now manufactured in the United States are 39 feet long, and vary in weight from 70 to 152 pounds to the yard. The largest and heaviest rails are to be found in the main line tracks of the railroads which carry the largest volume of freight and passenger traffic.
The crossties on which the rails are laid are nearly all of wood. Oak, and other hardwoods such as walnut or hickory, are the best woods for ties, because they are heavy and closegrained , and being less susceptible to decay, last longer than nearly all other kinds of wood. So many of our hardwood trees have been cut down and used that ties from such trees have become very expensive, and railroads now use ties that are cut from pine, cedar, hemlock, fir, and other cheaper and less durable varieties of wood. To make these ties of soft wood last longer they are subjected to a preservative treatment, which will keep them from rotting when placed in the railroad track. The most common method of preserving ties, and other timbers too, which are used in railway construction, is to treat them with creosote, an oily product derived from coal tar. Other chemicals, such as zinc chloride, or a mixture of zinc chloride and sodium dichromate, are also employed for wood preservation, and in some treating plants the chemical preservatives , including creosote, are mixed with petroleum before being applied to the wood. In nearly all modern wood treating plants, the preservatives are forced into the wood under pressure.
When the treating of railroad ties began some 60 years ago ihere were many engineers who doubted that it would be sufficiently effective to justify the expense. But experience has shown that a soft wood tie given preservative treatment will have a life often double the length of life of an untreated tie. As a result of the knowledge gained from actual observation, all but a small portion of the ties placed in railroads each year are given preservative treatment. This has meant not only that our railroads have saved money, but that one of the great natural resources of our country has not been consumed so wastefully as it was consumed in former years. Ties cut from green timber must be seasoned before they are treated with preserving fluids and placed in the track. The seasoning, if done in the open air, takes from 4 to 18 months, depending upon the kind of timber used and the local climate. The ties are carefully piled in such a way that air circulates freely among them and falling rain will readily flow away. Little by little they lose most of their moisture. During this period of seasoning the ties have a tendency to check and split because of an uneven rate of shrinkage as the moisture evaporates . Various methods are used to overcome this difficulty, the most common being to drive thin plates of iron, shaped like the letter S or the letter C, into the ends of the ties. Always on the alert for improved methods of getting things done, scientists have recently developed a process by which ties can be artificially seasoned in a few hours, by enclosing them in a huge air-tight container, filled with a chemically treated water vapor hot enough to draw the moisture from the ties, but not hot enough to destroy the wood fibers. Though the process is somewhat expensive, the saving in seasoning
time more than offsets the cost, especially for those varieties of wood which require a year or more for natural seasoning. Another method which railroads have generally adopted to make wooden ties last longer is to put steel tie-plates on the ties beneath the rails. Where tie-plates are not used, the weight of passing trains causes the edges of the rail base to cut into the ties, not only wearing the ties out, and exposing them to more rapid decay, but causing the rails to sink below their proper level. The tie plates provide a broader bearing surface for the weight of the trains; they also help keep the rails in place laterally, and maintain the line and the gauge of the track. Since wooden ties show a tendency to become more expensive, steel tie plates are used more and more on all our railroads.
A few railroads in this country have experimented with steel ties. In England and Germany and several other European countries the use of steel crossties is quite common. Only one railroad in the United States, the Bessemer and Lake Erie, extending from East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Conneaut , Ohio, is equipped with steel ties. Though steel ties unquestionably outlast wooden ties, they are more expensive, both because of their first cost and because of the construction problems involved in their use. Perhaps the day will come, however, when our forests will be so depleted that the use of steel ties in our railroads will become general.
Railroad rails are fastened to the crossties with heavy steel spikes. The most common type of spike is the cut spike, made of tough steel, with a wedge shaped point that permits it to be driven into the tie with a heavy spike maul, and a hooked head which fits over the edge of the rail base and holds the rail fast to the tie. Another type of spike, which does not bruise and tear the fibres of the tie and thereby lead to decay, is the screw spike, made much like a large screw, with a flanged head that fits over the edge of the rail base. Where screw spikes are used, holes are bored into the ties, and the spikes forced into the holes with wrenches. Screw spikes, when first inserted, hold rails more firmly in place than the ordinary cut spikes. A type of spike newer than the screw spike is an elastic or compression spring spike. It is made of spring steel, and resembles the ordinary cut spike except that instead of having the conventional hooked head, it has a goose-necked head. When driven into the tie this head exerts a spring pressure upon the base of the rail, holding it and the tie plate firmly in position with a force which the cut spike and screw spike do not have. The elastic spike is a fairly recent invention , but already a number of American railroads have made extensive use ol it.
Where the ends of the rails meet in the track, they are held together with splice bars or joint bars, heavy plates of steel, which fit closely to the web and base of the rail, on both sides, and are fastened together with large steel bolts passing through holes in the web of the rails. There are several types of rail joints, all of them designed for strength and stiffness, to hold up the weight of passing trains and keep the ends of the rails from breaking and wearing out. Rail joints can not be made entirely stiff, and even with the strongest joints the ends of the rails give a little as trains pass over them. As you stand by a moving train, or even when you are riding in a passenger car, you can hear the sharp, regular "click-click, click-click" made by the wheels as they move over the rail joints. The pounding of the wheels causes the ends of the rails to become battered and to split as time passes. Nearly all rails wear out first at the ends; the rail joint is the weakest part of the track.
When rails are placed in the track, it is customary not to lay the ends of adjacent rails closely together. Like any other piece of iron or steel, a railroad rail expands and gets a bit longer when it becomes hot, and contracts and gets shorter when it is cold. If not held firmly in place a 39 foot rail will change about a third of an inch in length with a change of temperature of 140 degrees. If you will look at a railroad track on a hot summer day, you will probably see that the ends of the rails fit snugly together. On a cold clay in winter the ends are a small distance apart. It was formerly necessary for railroad builders, when they were laying track, to make allowance for the expansion and contraction of the rails, because they were not held to the ties firmly enough to prevent their lengthening and shortening with the change of temperature between winter and summer.
Modern methods of track building are such that rails can be held in place and the force of internal expansion and contraction almost entirely overcome. A few railroads have been experimenting in recent years with rails much longer than the standard 39 feet. The rails of standard length have been welded together to make rails several hundred feet in length A. continuous rail 12,000 feet in length has been laid in one railroad. On the Delaware and Hudson Railroad several miles of track have been laid with rails 1,500 feet long, and a few rails of much greater length are being tried out on this road. The welding is done by electricity, by an oxy-acetylene process, or by the use of thermit, which consists of a mixture of iron oxide and aluminum. It has been demonstrated quite satisfactorily that the problem of expansion and contraction can be solved by proper fastening of the rails to the ties, and there is no danger that the track will buckle, as it might do if the rails were not firmly held in place.
Long welded rails are being laid in regions where the range of temperature during the year may be as much as 100 degrees. In such regions it is customary to lay the rails on days when the temperature is, as nearly as may be, midway between the annual maximum and minimum. This means that the force of expansion and contraction to be overcome is reduced to the lowest possible point. The greatest measure of success with the long rails is obtained in tunnels, where the variation in temperature during a year is much less than in the open air.
The continuous rail is now well past the experimental stage, and it is steadily growing in favor with railroad construction engineers. The elimination of track joints reduces the expense of track repair and maintenance. The continuous rails have a longer life than the short rails, they give to the railroad track a smoother, more even riding quality, and since there is less danger of rail failures, they permit the operation of trains at higher speeds.
Occasionally, the steel from which rails are rolled may be defective, though the faults may not appear on the surface of the rails. A rail with a hidden flaw may break suddenly under a heavy train and cause a wreck. Accidents of this kind are not so frequent as they were in former years, because steel manufacturers knew how to make better steel, and because greater care is exercised in rolling rails and in testing them before they are laid.
During the past few years the number of rail failures on our leading railroads have been greatly reduced by the use of a device known as the Sperry detector car. This car has an electrical testing mechanism which reveals hidden flaws in railroad rails. As it moves over the track it sends a current of electricity through each line of rails, and if any rail has an interior defect, its existence is disclosed by a recording device in the car. Any railroad can have its tracks tested by a detector car, and all defective rails can be promptly removed and replaced by sound ones.
The trains on our railroads, both passenger and freight trains, are being operated at a considerably greater speed today than they ran a dozen years ago. Many of our new passenger trains have schedules calling for a speed of a mile a minute, and a few of these trains lly along the track at a speed of more than eighty miles an hour. Railroad engineers have discovered that some of the high speed trains cause severe damage to steel rails. Observations with fast moving picture cameras show that the wheels of some steam locomotives traveling at a high rate of speed momentarily "lift," or rise from the track, exerting a pounding effect which produces a "kink"
in the rails. The causes seem to lie partly in existing methods of track construction and partly in the improper balancing of the heavy driving wheels of the locomotive. Both the track and the engines are being improved to prevent undue wear or injury to the rails from the fast moving trains.
Railroad accidents occur now and then because the brake beams or some other parts of a car become loose, and dropping on the track, cause cars to be derailed. Some railroads have installed "dragging equipment detectors" on their tracks. When such a detector is struck by a loose brake beam or other part of a car, it causes a roadside signal to be set at danger. When the engineer sees the signal he can bring his train to a stop and have necessary repairs made before a derailment occurs.
On railroads built through deep cuts or at the foot of high cliffs there is always a possibility that large stones may roll down to the track and cause a train accident. Perhaps you have driven along a road in an automobile and have seen signs telling passing motorists to look out for falling rocks, especially in the spring time, when alternate freezes and thaws are likely to cause stones to become dislodged and roll down a hill onto the highway. Some railroads have built fences along those portions of track where there is danger of accidents due
to fallen rocks. These fences are not strong enough, of course, to hold back huge rocks, but like the dragging equipment detectors, when struck, they cause a warning signal to be displayed , and a train can be brought to a stop before it reaches the obstructing rock on the tracks. The ties of the railroad track are not laid upon the soft earth of the roadbed, but rest upon a bed of crushed rock or gravel, which is called ballast. On rainy days the ballast lets the water drain away quickly without weakening or washing away any of the track. In the winter time water can not collect in the ballast and freeze. Any poorly drained highway will "heave" in the spring time, under alternate freezing and thawing , and the railroad is no exception. Good drainage is the first
requisite of a good highway; it is the ballast in the railroad which helps provide needed drainage. Ballast is also necessary to keep the railroad track at the proper level and in correct line. Everybody has seen section gangs surfacing tracks in the summer time, working the ballast with shovels and picks. Crushed rock is the best kind of ballast because it lasts long, it is not dusty, it lets water drain away freely, and it affords the best support for the track. Next to crushed rock, gravel is the most common material used for ballast. Other materials, such as slag from iron furnaces, volcanic cinders, crushed shells, and even sand, are used as ballast. Cinders are used frequently, both alone, and in combination with other materials, especially on side-tracks ancLin railroad yards, but cinders are neither heavy nor durable enough to make good ballast. A few railroads are unballasted, that is, their tracks are laid directly on the earth, but such roads do not carry much trallic.
The railroad track of today is quite different from the track used in the early days of the steam railroad. The first tracks had no ballast; the rails were long wooden stringers, upon the top of which was laid a thin, narrow strip of iron; the stringers rested on heavy blocks of granite, set in the earth of the roadbed; the center of the track was a path for the horses which drew the cars.
This kind of track soon proved to be entirely unsatisfactory for steam trains. The granite blocks would shift when it rained, and crack in freezing weather, making it dillicult to keep the track level and in line. When the track became uneven the unyielding granite blocks had a pounding effect upon locomotives and cars, causing them to wear out quickly. One of the early improvements which American railroad builders made in our railroads was to substitute wooden crossties , set in rock or gravel ballast, for granite blocks. The wooden rails, surfaced with metal plates, or straprails , as they were called, were used longer than granite blocks, but they, too, were not satisfactory. The iron straps wore away quickly, and came loose from the wooden stringers too readily.
When the end of one of the iron straps came loose, it would curl upward under the wheels of passing trains, until finally it would rise so high that a wheel would pass under it. When this happened, the strap would rip loose from the wooden rail, and shoot up through the floor of a car. Such loose straps were called "snake-heads," and they were a constant source of danger to the passengers of our early railroad trains.
During the later part of the eighteenth century, long before the steam locomotive was invented, English engineers began to experiment with rails made entirely of iron, first cast iron and then rolled iron. Because the wheels of the cars ran upon the narrow surface of these early iron rails, they were called "edge rails." Several different forms of edge rails were designed, some of them closely resembling the modern 1 -rail. But an American engineer seems to have been the first to design a rail which was given this name. Robert L. Stevens, who built the Camden and Amboy Railroad, the first railroad in New Jersey, now a part of the Pennsylvania Railroad system , early in his career as a railroad builder, saw the need of a better, heavier, more durable rail than the rails of wood fitted with straps of iron. In 1830 he made a voyage to England, to buy a steam locomotive for his railroad, and also to learn what he could about English railroad practice. While on the sailing ship which took him across the Atlantic he whittled the design of his first T-rail out of a block of wood, and after reaching England he contracted with a few ironmasters there to roll some rails according to his design. The rails were made, shipped across the ocean to this country, and laid in the Camden and Amboy railroad. They were a great improvement on the strap-rails, and rails of the same design soon came into general use, though because of their expense, a few American railroads continued with strap-rails for many years. Until after the Civil War, all the rails in both European and American railroads were made of iron. These rails were much softer than the steel rails we now have. Though
the heaviest locomotives and cars of 1865 were only about a fifth as large as the ordinary locomotives and cars of today, yet they were heavy enough to cause the iron rails to wear out very rapidly. The iron rails also broke too easily under the impact of heavy trains, and every once in a while a broken rail caused a train wreck, with great loss of life and property. Iron manufacturers of those days knew about steel; they knew how to make steel, but under the methods they were familiar with, it could be made only in small quantities and at an expense so great that steel was used only in making razors, knives and other cutlery, and fine tools. Nobody dreamed that steel could ever be used in making rails for railroads.
But during the decade before 1860 two ironmasters, William Kelly, an American, and Henry Bessemer, an Englishman , developed a process of making steel in large quantities, and at a comparatively small cost. Though their methods of steel-making were similar, the English inventor's name was given to the process, the product of which is still known as Bessemer steel. Bessemer steel is still produced in considerable quantities, but by far the larger amount of the steel now manufactured is made by the open-hearth process. Nearly all railroad rails are rolled from open-hearth steel. The discovery of how to make cheap steel was of importance to all industry, but perhaps more important to railroad transportation than to any other business enterprise. Steel rails could bear a load which iron rails could not support, and they would last ever so much longer than iron rails. The first steel rails that were tried in the United States lasted fifteen times as long as iron rails in the same track. Steel rails were used in the United States for the first time about 1863. The first ones came from England. In 1865 a rolling mill in Chicago turned out the first American steel rails from an ingot of steel made by Kelly's process. Before many years had passed dozens of American mills were making steel rails in large quantities. All new railroads were being laid with steel rails, and the iron rails in the older roads were taken up and replaced with rails of steel.
The steel rail made it possible for the railroads to have heavier locomotives and larger, heavier cars. It was not only the railroad track, however, which steel improved. Steel was used in the building of cars and locomotives. Most of our railroad freight cars are now made entirely of steel. The box cars with wooden sides and tops have under frames and ends of steel. Passenger cars too are made entirely of steel or of some lighter metal which has the strength and toughness of steel. Passenger cars made of metal are more desirable than wooden cars because their strength and fire-resistant qualities offer passengers greater protection against injury when train accidents occur.
Steel is used in place of iron and other materials not only in building railroads and railroad cars, but in constructing equipment and buildings in all other industries. The machines on our farms and the machines in our factories are nearly all made partly or wholly of steel. Many of our large buildings have a framework of steel, our industrial buildings, our giant skyscrapers, our large apartment houses, many of our stores and public buildings. Our hand tools, our kitchenware , much of our furniture, our automobiles, are made of steel. The tanks, the guns. the ships, and dozens of other things essential to war effort are made largely of steel. So completely does steel enter into our life that it is frequently said that we are living in the "age of steel." During the Second World War nearly all the steel produced
in the United States, amounting to almost 100,000,000 tons a year, was used for making implements of war. No effort could be made to satisfy demands for steel for ordinary civilian use. When the war ended, the country found that many of its automobiles, trucks, freight cars, tractors, and other kinds of steel equipment were worn out. The demand for steel for the replacement of what had been worn out, and for the construction of new buildings, pipe lines, refrigerators, receptacles such as cans, drums and barrels, and hundreds of other things requiring steel for their construction, was much greater than our steel mills, running at full capacity, could supply. We still have a shortage of many articles because the supply of steel has not caught up with our needs. A very necessary part of our railroad track is the switch, which is used to make trains pass from one track to another. Movable switch points divert trains from track to track. The
switch points are joined together by a steel rod extending across the track from one point to the other, and by another rod they are connected with a switch stand at the side of the track. You have seen a trainman throw a switch by moving the lever of the switch stand. Some switches are operated by compressed air, or by electricity, and their movements controlled by an operator in a switch tower.
When a train is switched from one track to another, the wheels on one side of the train must all cross one of the rails of a track. If a train turns out from the main track to a sidetrack lying on the right all the wheels on the left side of the train must cross the main track rail on the right. The rail crossing, found wherever there is a switch, is shaped like the letter X, and it is called a frog. The frog has grooves or narrow channels through which the flanges of the car wheels pass as they cross the rail. Where one railroad track crosses another, the crossing likewise has grooves for the flanges of the car wheels.
The strip of land upon which the main tracks of a railroad lie is known as the railroad's right of way. In rural districts the railroad company carefully fences the right of way, in
order to keep people, and horses, cows and other farm animals, off the track. Even in cities, the right of way is fenced or walled off, if it is at all possible.
Where streets and roads cross directly over railroad tracks, heavy boards, or pavements of brick or concrete are laid on each side of the rails, even with their tops, space enough being left for the wheel flanges to pass. This makes it possible for wagons, carriages and motor vehicles to pass over the rails. Such railroad crossings are dangerous places, and many accidents happen because people try to walk or drive across the tracks without looking first to see if a train is coming. In the city you often see crossing gates at railroad crossings—long bars which are let down across the roadway while a train is passing. At some crossings there are flagmen or watchmen to keep people away from the tracks when trains are approaching. At crossings where there are no gates or watchmen, there may be crossing signs, crossing lights and crossing bells to warn people of danger. Many crossing signs bear in large letters the words, "Stop, Look and Listen," or "Look Out for the Trains." Some warning signs swing back and forth like a pendulum, as a train draws near; in recent years many grade crossings have been equipped with red crossing lights which flash on and off to warn highway travelers of danger.
So many people have been killed and injured in crossing accidents that for several years we have had in this country an energetic campaign for ihe removal of all erade crossings.
Streets and roads having a large vehicular traffic now pass above or below the railroad tracks. In many states the expense of grade crossing removal is shared by the railroads and the government. Though many dangerous crossings have been done away with, the expense of removal is heavy, and it will be a long time before they are all gone. Until that day comes a program for greater national safety must still include the warning "Cross Crossings Carefully." In many rural regions, especially in the western part of the United States, where roads cross railroad tracks, there are
cattle guards, to keep live stock, which may get on the crossing, from wandering off on the railroad track and right of way. Between the rails a cattle guard is made of steel bars, with sharp corners turned upward, upon which farm animals will not walk. On each side of the track a fence is built out to the fence along the edge of the right of way. Many persons have never seen a cattle guard. Few are to be found in the eastern part of the United States, and even farther west they are not so numerous as they were when farms were not fenced so well as they are now, and live stock was permitted to roam more freely on public highways. The growth of motor vehicle traffic has made it necessary to keep horses and cattle off the roads.
and as a result the railroads do not need cattle guards as much as they once needed them. The building of railroads is often difficult and costly work. It is not hard to build railroads in level, open country, but they must be built in cities, they must cross high mountain ranges, and wide, deep rivers. Whoever has ridden through mountains in a passenger train has noticed how the railroad winds and curves through valleys, seeking a path over which the climb across the range will be as gentle as possible. To avoid steep grades, deep cuts are made through hills, huge fills are made in ravines and valleys, and over some depressions the trains pass on high trestles. Sometimes the railroad builder carries his track beneath a mountain range by means of long tunnels bored and blasted through rocks and earth.
One of the oldest long railroad tunnels in America is the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachusetts. It was opened in 1873. It is nearly five miles long and took many years to build. The Pennsylvania Railroad's Gallitzin tunnel under the Allegheny Mountains, 3,600 feet long, was opened in 1854. The longest railroad tunnel in the United States is the Great Northern Railroad's Cascade Tunnel, in Washington, nearly eight miles in length. It was opened in 1929. The great Moffat Tunnel in Colorado, more than six miles long, completed in 1929, when joined with a short stretch of railroad known as the Dotsero cut-off in 1934, shortened the railroad distance between Denver and Salt Lake City by 175 miles. The eastern portal of this tunnel is 9,918 feet above sea level.
Some of the most interesting mountain railroad tunnels in America are the spiral tunnels which help the Canadian Pacific Railroad cross the mountains in British Columbia. Since the mountains here were so steep that there was no room for hair-pin turns on their rocky slopes, the railroad engineers drove two spiral tunnels through the heart of the mountains. It is an interesting sight to watch a train enter one of these spiral tunnels, and see the engine emerge from one portal just as the caboose is disappearing from view at the other.
There are many long railroad tunnels in Europe, the longest being in Switzerland, France and Italy, beneath the snow-covered Alps and the Apennines. The St. Gothard, the Simplon and the Mont Cenis tunnels are some of the bestknown railroad tunnels in the world. It is said that George Westinghouse got the idea of using compressed air for operat
ing train brakes from reading about the use of pneumatic drills in the construction of the Mont Cenis Tunnel. Just as fascinating as mountain tunnels are the great steel bridges by which railroads cross wide rivers. Some of our
bridges rest on stone or concrete piers rising from the bed of the river; some are built as huge arches stretching from one bank of the river to the other: some are suspended from great steel cables swung between tall towers built on each side of the stream.
In many places railroads cross rivers or lakes or arms of the sea by means of boats. Trains are run across floatbridges on to large steam flatboats, and these boats ferry the trains across the water. There are several car ferry lines across Lake Michigan , and there was a car ferry or "seatrain" line from Hoboken, New Jersey, to Havana, Cuba. At most of our large seaports the railroads have numerous car floats, on which cars can be conveyed to the piers about the harbor. The cars are run on to a car float, and it is moved through the water by a powerful tugboat. It is an interesting sight, in a large port, such as New York or Philadelphia, to see a puffing tugboat pushing along two great car floats filled with loaded freight cars.
Instead of building bridges or using ferries to cross rivers, railroad builders may bore tunnels beneath the river bed, through which trains may pass from one side of the river to the other. The Pennsylvania Railroad built a tunnel reaching from New Jersey beneath the Hudson River to New York City, and on beneath the city and beneath East River to Long Island. This is one of the great railroad tunnels of the world. There are several similar tunnels about New York City, through which electric subway trains pass beneath the East River and the Hudson River to Long Island and New Jersey. There are two vehicular tunnels beneath the Hudson River through which motor vehicles pass between New Jersey and New York City. A third vehicular tunnel under the East River has come to the aid of the bridges which span the river, and the construction of yet another tunnel from the Battery, on the southern tip of Manhattan Island, to Brooklyn, is in the process of construction. There are many other vehicular tunnels, both in America and in Europe. There has been some talk of building a great railroad tunnel beneath the sea from England to France, a distance of more than forty miles.
In many of our cities the railroads have been built above or below the level of the streets, to make the streets safe, and to save time, both for the railroads and for those using the streets. In Chicago, Indianapolis, New York, Philadelphia, in nearly every large city in the country, our railroad companies have spent millions of dollars elevating railroad tracks above, or depressing them below the street level. In a few cities, railroad tracks, instead of being depressed in open cuts, over which the streets pass on high viaducts, have been buried in tunnels far below the surface of the earth. Both of the great passenger stations in New York City, the Grand Central and the Pennsylvania, are approached by tunnels, and passengers get on and off the trains underground, passing to and from the train platform by stairways, ramps, escalators and elevators.
In Baltimore both the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad built tunnel approaches to their main passenger stations many years ago. These tunnels are now electrified. The Baltimore and Ohio tunnel was the first steam railroad tunnel in the United States to be electrified, in 1895. When steam trains were operated through the tunnels, the trainmen always closed car doors and windows as tightly as possible, but even with this precaution, the smoke and gas of the locomotive would enter, and the ride through the tunnels was anything but pleasant and comfortable. It can easily be understood, from what has been said, why railroad building may be an expensive and difficult process. Sometimes it may take several years to build just a few miles of track.
The methods of railroad building have changed greatly in recent years, and the track has been much improved. More care is taken to have adequate drainage, sharp curves have been eliminated in many places, ballast in main line tracks is deeper, ties are longer, some ties being laid now which are nine feet in length, rails are larger and heavier, and rail joints are stiffer. The greatest change, however, has been the mechanization and motorization of the work of construction, particularly of clearing and grading the land over which the track is to be laid. Where picks and shovels, wielded by hand, and
scoop shovels drawn by horses, once were used, we now have powerful crawler tractors, which push and pull ditching machines , scrapers and bulldozers, to clear the path for the railway track. Power shovels, motor cranes, huge motor trucks move stones and earth as the subgrade is smoothed, and lift and transport the materials for the track. Internal combustion engines, both gasoline and oil, provide the power for modern methods of railway construction. All is different from the days
when the Union Pacific was built, and thousands of oxen and horses did the pulling and hauling, and thousands of sweating laborers worked long hours with pick and shovel, crow-bar and drill, singing the U. P. construction song: It's work all day Without sugar in your tay Drill, ye tarriers, drill. Once built, the tracks of a railroad need a great deal of care. Rails wear out, ties rot away, weeds grow in the ballast, and along the right of way, wind, rain and frost do their work of destruction. The fast moving heavy trains, pounding along at full speed, cause the track to sink a little here and a little there, and as they sway from side to side, they push the track out of line little by little. If the track were not properly
repaired and maintained it would soon become so uneven and rough that it would be dangerous for trains to run upon it. Every railroad has a large force of men at work throughout the year maintaining the track. A railroad is divided into sections, usually from four to six miles in length, and each section is looked after by a section gang. The section foreman, or section boss, as he is usually called, is the lowest ranking official on a railroad. But some section bosses have worked up to become railroad presidents.
It was formerly customary for the section gangs to do virtually all the work of maintaining the railroad. But in recent years, with the increasing mechanization of railroad work, many railroads have adopted a plan of having large special gangs do certain parts of maintenance work for the entire track. Such roads keep the section gangs, but they are small, and have less to do than the section gangs commonly employed a quarter of a century ago. Many railroads, however, still rely upon the section gang for all track maintenance. In the winter the section workers do not have much to do, and the gangs are small. They tighten the nuts on the bolts of the rail joints, sweep the snow from crossings and switches, and make what repairs the weather permits them to make.
In the spring more work can be done, and more men are added to the section gangs. They clean out the ditches along the right-of-way, mend fences, scatter new ties along the track where they will be needed, and get ready for the heavy work of approaching summer. The summer finds them surfacing the track. They jack up the rails where they are low, and where the track is out of line, straining at crowbars and working in unison at the "heave-ho" of the foremen, they pry it back into place, and tamp the ballast firmly under the ties to hold the track where it belongs. They put in new ties and rails where needed, and clean weeds and dirt from the ballast. Near the end of the summer all the weeds on the right-of-way are mowed, and the old ties are piled up and burned. By the time cold weather comes the track is in good condition for the winter. The weeds are gone, the track is level and in line, the ballast is dressed neatly along the sides of the track, and from end to end the railroad looks spic and span, its steel rails gleaming in the sunlight like long silvery ribbons.
On many railroads prizes are given to the section gangs which do the best work in getting the track in proper condition . Shortly after the heavy summer work is over the officers of the railroad take an inspection trip over the entire line and decide which section is best. They have many interesting ways of telling what condition the track is in besides just looking at it. A simple way of learning something about the smoothness of the track is by setting a glass filled with water on a table in the inspection car and seeing how often the water spills out of the glass and how much spills out. The officials also have instruments which measure the force of the shocks which the train receives as it passes over the track. Each section gang has a tool house where its shovels, crowbars , wrenches, picks, hammers, jacks, scythes, track gauges, and other tools are kept. There is also a car upon which the men ride to and from their work at different places on their section. A few years ago these cars were all hand cars, for which the men themselves furnished motive power, pumping up and down on a bar to turn the wheels. Now nearly all railroad section gangs have cars driven by light gasoline engines. It is much more pleasant, after a hard day's work in the hot sun, to ride home on a motor car, than to have to pump a hand car.
Some railroads, in order to cut down maintenance expenses, and also to keep their tracks in condition to withstand all year around the impact of fast heavy trains, strengthen their tracks by "grouting." Almost any railroad is likely to have a few weak spots which cause much trouble. Water gathers in the subgrade, just below the ballast, and the ballast sinks into the softened earth, permitting the track to sag below the grade level. Usually the trouble comes in the rainy season, and the track may be weakened so much that all trains have to reduce speed until a spell of drying weather permits the maintenance forces to restore the track to a safe condition. Grouting effects a permanent correction.
A thin, soupy mixture of cement, sand and water—sometimes asphalt is added—is forced through pipes, driven at an angle to the proper depth, in the space just below the ballast. When the grout hardens, it seals off the subgrade from the ballast. Water and mud can no longer work up into the ballast, or, to put it another way, the ballast can no longer sink into the wet subgrade. Though grouting a section of track may be expensive , the saving in the annual cost of track maintenance, as well as the prevention of the delay of trains, more than makes up for the cost. The force which drives the grout through the pipes is compressed air, from a compressor driven either by a gasoline or by an electric motor.
Just as railway construction has been mechanized in the last quarter of a century, so has much of the work of railway maintenance. It is said that during these years more than 125 power tools and other mechanized units for maintenance of way have been introduced on American railroads. The chugging motor car, which has replaced the hand car, is a symbol of a general change from the labor of the hand to the work of the machine. Many of the new tools are operated by compressed air, and many by electricity, especially on electrified roads, though on some roads still operated by steam locomotives , portable electric generators are employed to provide
current to operate power tools, just as portable air compressors are used elsewhere. When rails are to be removed from the track a mechanical spikepuller extracts cut spikes, or a power wrench takes out screw spikes. A motor crane lifts the old rail out of the track, and lifts a new one into its place. Mechanical spike drivers, or power wrenches, fasten the new rail to the ties. When old ties are replaced by new, or the track is relined or brought to a proper level, tie tampers operated by
compressed air, much like the riveting hammer one sees in the construction of ships or in the erection of the steel framework of a skyscraper, tamp the ballast firmly into place, more quickly and more compactly than any track laborer was ever able to do the same work with pick or shovel. Rails with battered ends, which once were removed from the track, now have the ends built up with welding devices. which weld in new metal where the old was broken off or worn away. Grinding machines make the welded surfaces smooth, and grind away other inequalities on rail surfaces. Rail anchors and anti-creeping devices hold rails in place against the impact of heavy trains. Ballast is cleaned now by several types of ballast cleaning "moles" or other devices; on some railroads vacuum track
sweepers remove the cinders and ashes left by speeding locomotives ; weeds are no longer mowed by scythes swung by the brawny arms of sunburned laborers, but are cut by mowing machines with a cutter bar extending as much as thirty feet from the edge of the track, or are destroyed by chemicals sprayed from a vehicle that looks very much like the water truck seen on city streets, except that it has a much longer reach. Crawler tractors are employed in ditching, grading, and snow removal. The internal combustion motor helps the railroad do much of its housekeeping. In no other place can one see a better illustration of the mechanization of industry than on our railroads. The machine has lightened the burden of the working man; it has made it possible for the railroad to do many things with greater speed and at a lower cost.
All of the improvements that have taken place in the methods of track construction and maintenance have been the result of patient research and experiment. The artificial seasoning of ties and better ways of preserving them and lengthening their useful life have come from painstaking work in laboratories as well as observation in the field. The steel rails of today are ever so much more resistant to wear and breakage than the rails in use a few years ago because of the work of hundreds of metallurgists and engineers. During the last few years many railroad officials have given much thought and study to that interesting science known as soil mechanics, a study which treats of the physical properties of soils, of their texture, their draining qualities, their ability to bear heavy loads, and various other qualities. Soil mechanics probably requires more study in connection with the building of highways than of railroads, because highways are not ballasted. The experience of national and state highway departments and the things they have learned about the mechanical qualities of soil have, nevertheless, been of much use to railroad construction engineers. It is not an uncommon thing today, where new track is being installed, to treat soil chemically, in order to give it greater stability and resistance to the effect of water.
But the leading agency for the promotion of improvements in railroad construction is the American Railway Engineering Association. All of the leading civil engineers in railroad service belong to this important organization. The association maintains a research bureau, which each year spends thousands of dollars in scientific investigation. At annual meetings and in frequently published reports the members disclose the information they have gained by experiments in laboratories and trials in service. The association works in close co-operation with numerous university schools of engineering, seeking constantly for ways to make railroad transportation safer, more efficient, and more economical. In the northern part of our country the railroads often have much trouble because of heavy snows. Fierce blizzards cover the tracks with snow so deep that trains are stalled and for a time a railroad ceases to operate. Passenger trains are blockaded in the open country, and travelers may get hungry and cold before they are rescued. When a big snowstorm comes, it means hard, exacting labor on the railroads. The companies get all the workers they can find to help clear away I he snow, and if possible, keep the tracks open. The best help
at such a time, however, is the snowplow. Some snowplows are merely great flanges, which, set at an angle and pushed by an engine, move the snow to one side of the track. But when a deep snow comes, it takes a huge rotary snowplow, a giant, whirling, steel fan, to cut the drifts and hurl the snow aside. In open cuts, with high banks on each side, the snow may pile up for several feet over the rails, and it may take three or four locomotives, coupled together, to give enough power to break through and clear the track.
Snow in railroad yards causes even more trouble than it causes on the main line, because it gets between switch points and adjacent rails, and makes it impossible to operate switches. In many yards on a snowy day, one can see workmen armed with brooms, sweeping the snow from switch points. On many railroads, where there are numerous switches requiring frequent operation, snow melters are used to keep switch points free. Some snow melters are electric, others employ gas or oil as fuel. The melters are placed just below the surface of the track at all switches. When the snow comes, the electricity is turned on, or the oil burning melters lighted, and the snow melts as rapidly as it falls.
In railroad yards and around city railroad stations the problem of disposing of the snow after it has been cleared from the track may sometimes be as difficult as the work of clearing the rails. This is true especially when a snowfall comes before the piled up snow of a preceding storm has melted or has been taken away. Some railroads convert engine tanks into snow melters. Newly fallen snow is picked up by a machine which conveys it into the melter, where it is turned into water by heat from the steam of a locomotive.
Another trouble with which railroads in the United States are afflicted is Hoods. Heavy rains cause creeks and rivers to overflow their banks, and the swift surge of the hurrying water may be strong enough to carry away railroad bridges, and to weaken or even wash away mile after mile of railroad track. When a flood interrupts railroad transportation, the maintenance forces fairly have to fly. Trainloads of ballast, rails and ties are rushed to the flooded areas, and hardly has the water receded when busy hands have replaced the tracks. For a few days perhaps trains must be detoured around the flooded
region and dispatched to their destination by another route. But not for long. For whatever happens—blizzard, flood, or train accident—railroads must be repaired quickly. The trains must be kept rolling.