Construction job sites can present workers with a number of safety hazards, including slips and falls, exposure to harmful substances, falling objects, and extreme weather. When a project takes place in the middle of an active railroad yard, however, the safety challenges increase substantially. Faith Technologies, an electrical and specialty systems contractor headquartered in Menasha, Wis., with 15 additional locations throughout the United States, experienced this challenge firsthand while performing the electrical installation at a newly constructed wheel truing facility in Kansas City, Kan.
Located in the Argentine Rail Yard, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) wheel truing facility helps restore locomotive engines' wheels to their true roundness in an effort to decrease fuel consumption, noise, and vibration as well as improve safety.
“The braking process and normal operation cause flat spots to develop on an engine's wheels,” explains Jim Berard, Faith Technologies' industrial group manager. “This building houses a state-of-the art German-manufactured machine that returns them to their original state. I believe the machine may be the only model of its kind in the United States.”
Constructed to be slightly larger than a locomotive engine, the wheel truing facility features a 480V service installed by Faith Technologies. The electrical contractor also installed PLC and automation cabinets, controls for the wheel truing machine, and remote sensors/actuators that are involved in the positioning of the engines.
“In addition, we put in exhaust fans and air intake louvers that we interlocked for both fume control and operator comfort,” says Berard. “We also added the lighting as well as high-speed rollup rail doors that are interlocked with the wheel truing PLC equipment.”
Despite the relatively small size of the project, it was not without obstacles. For example, the size of the main service to the building had to be increased from 200A to a 300A after it was installed.
“Luckily, the raceways were sized so that we were able to do that replacement without having to redo any of the underground work we had already performed,” notes Berard.
Other difficulties included coordinating with Hegenscheidt-MFD (manufacturer of the wheel truing equipment located overseas), delivering materials to the site, and shutting down portions of the rail site and sections of the track. The biggest challenge, however, was ensuring worker safety.
According to Faith Technologies' project manager Scott Witherall, employees involved with the wheel truing facility project had to undergo special training before they could even step foot on the job site.
“In order to be allowed access to the rail yard, each worker first had to complete the e-RAILSAFE Workforce Safety and Security Management Program for Class 1 Railroads as well as a BNSF orientation program,” he says. “Working in the middle of an open rail yard, you wouldn't think a locomotive could sneak up on you, but with the amount of noise and distractions going on, it's not impossible.”
After just eight months, the project was completed on time and within budget. In recognition of this one-of-a-kind undertaking, Faith Technologies received an Excellence in Construction Awards from the Associated Builders & Contractors Heart of America Chapter.
“The BNSF Wheel Truing Facility project was award worthy because of the safety aspects involved, the extensive planning and coordination between the various parties that took place, and working with such a fascinating piece of equipment,” remarks Berard. “There might not be two of these machines built in my lifetime.”