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Monday, 17 June 2013


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I guess you forgot to take your camera(s) ? ? ?

Mind numbingly obvious observation here ... but... You didn't grab a camera? :)

What, no photo?? :)

I believe the technically correct term is "an INFERNAL racket"...

1) NSA out airing equipment bought from Stasi
2) A UFO
3) Track maintenance
4) One or more of the above

Mike, search for "track grinding" in Google Images and see if what you saw was in there. It sounds as though RR maintenance was grinding the railroad track. I saw several images of what you described.

Just a guess: they are grinding the rails back to their original shape, because over time they deform from the weight of trains.

Q: What were they doing?
A: Practice run for obstructing traffic at a major crossing during rush hour.

Clearly, the well-known nocturnovirus has struck once again. Trestleitis is the outward manifestation as is occular sparkism and aural screechosis. Treatments include high-carb diet of brats and beer as well as a round of golf at Whistling Straits. BTW, Spa at Kohler is certified for these treatments. Here's to a quick recovery. Cheers!

I would guess they were either grinding the track flat at the joints or welding it.

Was it this?

Pretty sure it's rail grinding, to keep the rail surface in good shape. See http://www.loram.com/services/default.aspx?id=242
When I saw such a thing, they were hosing it down pretty aggressively, but I guess that's the difference between Texas in the hot dry summer and Wisconsin.

I asked a friend of mine and he sent me this pointer to a picture his father made of one in action.


It's called a rail grinder and is used to remove irregularities that build up over time in the rails.

More important question: where are the photographs??

Sounds like a work train restoring the rail profile by grinding a new one in. Likely something made by Plasser: http://www.plasseramerican.com

The design of the rail and railroad wheel seems simple, but it's actually pretty complex and performances take a hit when either wears beyond a precisely engineered profile.

It is a rail grinder, most likely. Uneven wear of the rails can be ground down at least a few times before rail has to be replaced. Lots of sparks, lots of noise, lots of smell of burning metal is involved.

It is possible to make a spectacular photo or two of the process if one is so inclined.

It sounds like a rail grinder, used to get
rails into better shape (remove burrs, etc).
Yes, they are a fire hazard.


That was most likely a rail grinder. It's job is to regrind the proper crown to the top of the track so the trains will center themselves on the rail properly. The crown is also what enables a train with solid axles to negotiate a curve. Interesting engineering. Do a search on Loram Rail Grinder to confirm what you saw.

You were most likely watching the maintenance crews grinding the tracks. Some one will probably know the reason for this. In eastern Washington, this is the cause of a lot of grass/brush fires.

welding track. but my question is more pointed: Why the heck did you not have your camera with you? That would've made for good pics.

Probably a rail grinder. Reprofiling the tracks. Did it look like this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pAfMlr4Pko

Hello Mike
You probably saw a rail grinding train that brings rails back in their original form and makes them smoother, which counteracts excessive wear. Look at this explanation (in dutch..) by dutch firm ProRail - with video including sparks. Recognise this?

And the photos????

Sounds like rail grinding, see http://www.loram.com/services/default.aspx?id=242

Possibly a rail grinder? A German company building machines for that purpose (among many other special rail building and maintenance machines):


Rail grinding removes small irregularities and rough places from the top of the rails.



These are track maintenance machinery equipment. They can replace ties, level the rails and various other things to keep the track in shape. The cutting and grinding of steel probably makes all the sparks.

I'm fairly sure it was Rail Grinding to flatten & smooth sections of rails that have gone out of spec. --most commonly where sections of rail meet. Some joints are welded, some are not. --don't know why ( perhaps expansion space is needed)
I've seen it too, but have no real knowledge of the process.

What-no pictures?

I presume that Wikipedia can explain
- but where are the exciting sparky photos Mike?

Probably a rail grinder, which corrects the profile of the railhead. LORAM is the company that does most of that for US railroads:


...and where's the picture(s), Mike?

Sounds like a rail grinder. This can be a single machine or a whole "maintenance of way" train that grinds the rails it passes over, to restore the proper profile to the rail as part of track maintenance. The MoW trains carry crews to, among other things, watch for fires caused by sparks.

Railfans often like videoing them because the sparks can be like a little fireworks display.

rail grinder

restores proper railhead profile after heavy wear

google speno rail

More than likely welding track together.

Dear Mike,

That frightening contraption is a rail grinder.
See: http://www.loram.com/services/default.aspx?id=242
And in action on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUWiumS4Ww0

Kind regards,


I had that experience many years ago. It was track maintenance in my case. A suitably equipped carriage took the weight of a section of track while vibrators compacted the gravel bed. Attending crews ensured enough grave was available to ensure satisfactory setting.

Train rails, for a variety of reasons, develop low and high spots. What you saw was a grinder, smoothing the rails so future trains will roll more quietly and easily. And yes, it does make a lot of noise.


Grinding the railhead would be my guess, if they do that in the US. To remove uneven wear and avoid "gauge corner cracking" (which was the cause of a major rail crash here in the UK, in part because of a lax grinding regime).

Sounds like a rail grinder. Wikipedia says "A railgrinder (or rail grinder) is a maintenance of way vehicle or train used to restore the profile and remove irregularities from worn rail track to extend its life and to improve the ride of trains using the track."

Have a look for "rail grinder" on images.google.com -- some of the photos look like what you described.

When you talk of sparks flying everywhere, I assume this is a rail-grinding operation. It contours the heads of the rails, which get deformed under heavy use. Here's a web site of a rail grinding company: http://www.loram.com/services/default.aspx?id=242
I seem to recall a good article in Trains Magazine a while back, where a correspondent rode on a rail grinding train along the Canadian Pacific (formerly Milwaukee Road) through Brookfield, near your home. Couldn't find the story online, however. A highlight of the story was that an automobile driver got impatient at a grade crossing and went around the gates and got hit by the grinding train. (Grinding trains move very slowly.) The driver claimed the gates weren't down, but credible witnesses (the correspondent and the train's operators) assured law enforcement that the gates were indeed down.

They were probably grinding the rails to smooth them out. See "railgrinder" on Wikipedia.

Rail grinder, most likely. During the recent National Train Day (didn't know we had one, did ya?) I toured a special car that's used to measure the evenness and gauge-accuracy of tracks. It was a very elaborate, and rather comfy, piece of expensive gear. I would imagine that bad numbers from that gadget might provoke a visit from a grinder.

rail grinding would be my guess.

Rail grinder.

Rail grinding.


What you were seeing is a rail grinder - rail wears unevenly and you can realign the surface of the rail by grinding it - a few times before you have to replace it. Rail especially wears on curves, literally rolling over.

I believe you have seen a rail grinder, used to make the rails level. Search for Railway track grinder to see pictures

the link below will give you your information


Grinding the track to give a the rails a uniform surface.


To remove millscale from the running surface before operation
To reduce noise by grinding off corrugation
To remove defects from the running surface or the gauge corner
To extend lifetime of infrastructure by re-profiling the rail
To reduce cost of maintenance of rolling stock
To increase passenger comfort

Do you have continuously welded track on that line? That's where I've seen it done most in the UK (where I've seen it done).

Common maintainance and often done in low traffic times at night when you can see the sparks for miles in the countryside.

One of these?
Well, probably not a Chinese one , but I couldn't find another.
It's a rail welding machine. Takes the clickity clack out of the track, or perhaps is making some other sort of repair .

Most likely a "railgrinder" used to level track wear. Google it to see if one of the ones shown looks like what you saw.

Rail grinder. Never seen one is real life.


Lots of Youtube videos.


I believe they were grinding the rails to take out any minor misalignments. You can really tell the difference between riding on unground and ground rails. Very little click/clack when ground. Just my guess.

Regrinding the track?
Buy one for yourself :-)

Oh wait a second
One of those?
It's a rail grinder

Probably a rail grinder, Mike. Here's a link explaining what they do: http://www.american-rails.com/rail-grinders.html

Sounds like they were welding the joints to make a smoother ride, like European rails.


My guess is you were watching a rail grinder in action.

Something like this?


That sounds like thermite welding, but I don't know.

You saw maintenance of way rail grinding going on. The railroads smooth out dips or damage to the rails by grinding them down.

Entire Internet rushes to be right first... :-)

Sounds like a Loram rail grinding train maintaining the surface of the rails. It puts on quite a show.

I can't believe so many people knew what that thing was !! "-)

Consider yourself lucky you were far away from it in your house. We used to live next to tram lines that got treated in the middle of the night...

Based on the plethora of speedy comments I hope you take the hint that many of your regulars might like the occasional railway related OT post.

An aside, my Dad worked for Loram,LOng RAnge Mannix, a part of the Mannix group of companies,

It seems like there is an emerging consensus that:
1) It was a track grinding machine
B) You should have brought a camera

Happy to help!


[Upon reflection, having considered the matter...well, in the immortal words of Ed McMahon, "You are correct Sir!" --Mike]

Other than old steam engines, MOW stuff is some of the more interesting stuff to watch. I've seen those a lot on the old B&O line in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Even the Sperry Rail vehicles as well.

Did this set a record for the most times you were sent the same link?

There are endless night 'trackworks' in Sydney and region. I live right next to a line. Every few months I receive a flyer advising me of the possibility of noise from, among other procedures, rail grinding. As it mostly happens sometime after midnight I can't say that I have been curious enough to get out of bed and take a look. Now, thanks to the comments above, I know lots about it, but I'll probably stay in bed.

I sent your query to my railfan son in Vancouver. His reply:
"What he saw was definitely a LORAM rail grinding outfit...when at work they look and sound like nothing so much as though the gates of Hell were having a Firemen's appreciation night....Rail grinders (which are whole trains, though the locomotive is somewhat unconventional) almost always work at night, presumably so that lineside fires ignited by the sparks are easier to see and can be quickly extinguished."

I've always wanted to see one of those working. They are complicated machines. Those trains often not only grind rail but also add, reprofile, and compact ballast and replace bad ties. That's a neat process, too. The train can pick up the rail slightly, clip the worn tie into pieces and remove it, then slide in a new one and spike it down. Mostly by machine.

Almost all mainline track uses welded rail. Long sections of rail are carried on trains with the rail laid out over a string of flatcars. The rail is either laid on a hot day or heated prior to laying, so that it is under tension at normal temperatures. Even with this, railroads in hot climates have to be very careful watching for misaligned rails (so-called heat kink) on very hot days. In very cold weather welded joints sometimes break. Welding of track is most often done by running a very high current through the joint, but it can also be done with thermite in a dramatic reaction. That's more often used now for emergency repairs.

There are standards for track that limit how fast trains are allowed to operate on a stretch. The number of bad ties and condition of the rail are key factors in these ratings. Passenger lines have to meet even higher standards that many freight lines can't meet. If you ride long-distance Amtrak trains there will be a lot of unexplained slow stretches. Those are often where the speeds have to be reduced because the railroads haven't maintained the track well enough.

They do the same sort of rail grinding with tramway tracks. At night, in the city. It truely is a fascinating, sensual experience to stand next to a fire spitting machine, and just watch these strange fireworks. Here in Austria they don't even bother to keep people away, it is not that dangerous seemingly, you can get quite close:


Never was able to get a photo that captures that experience though.

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