Location Profile: Working in California

Location Profile: Working in California

California weather is a beautiful thing. The climate is one of the many factors that led Operations Manager Joe Gallegos to settle down at our Sacramento Valley Railroad (SAV) after stops in much colder climate states like Idaho, Oregon, and Utah. Eight months of summer is very appealing, but it does create some unique challenges for the railroad and the men who work on it.

When temperatures climb over 90 degrees nearly every day for two-thirds of the year, there is a lot our team has to consider from a safety perspective. The first is basic health and well-being. Hydration is one of the biggest things on Joe’s mind as he works with his team throughout the day. Even though everyone has grown accustomed to the heat, it is impossible to remain focused on the job at hand if they are not taking care of themselves.

Another safety issue the heat presents relates to the cars the team is continually switching. Most of the cars are painted black. The sun beats down and heats them to the point that a simple touch is uncomfortable, but sustained contact will cause burns. In addition to standard personal protective equipment, the SAV crew must wear gloves to keep their hands safe and prevent this from occurring.

Taking The Weather Into Consideration

Weather can cause multiple problems for the track too. The metal on the track is sensitive to extreme temperatures. If the team is not vigilant, metal expansion can lead to significant issues.

Joe Gallegos explains. “In late April and early May, we start making a serious weather transition. It will get down to 40 or 45 degrees at night, but during the day, it can get all the way up into the high 90s. Those big temperature swings throughout the night and day cause the track to shrink and repeatedly expand, causing things like rail kinks and pull-aparts. So we’re always on the lookout for those types of things, especially as spring turns to summer.”

A rail kink results from extreme heat, causing a section of the track to expand more extensively and rapidly than usual. When this happens, the cross ties and ballasts that normally hold the rail in place cannot do their job, causing a section or sections of the track to bow out. Conversely, a pull-apart occurs when extreme cold causes the rail to contract. When the contraction pressure gets too severe, the rail will separate at its weakest point, usually the joint.

At their worst, either can cause a derailment. Joe and his team inspect the track regularly, looking for these issues. If they find them, they have the expertise, tools, and knowledge to repair them before a major problem occurs.

Considering Every Possibility

Rail kinks typically require the damaged section of the track to be removed and replaced with a new section. Traditionally, pull-aparts were repaired using a diesel-soaked rope laid by the track and lit on fire. The fire would cause the track to reheat and expand back to its correct size to be rejoined. Now, a specialized tool is placed on either side of the pull apart with a twisted crank until the two sections of track rejoin to be bolted back together. Regardless of the issue or size of the repair, our versatile and skilled team at the SAV is up for the challenge.

California’s climate is great to live in, but it does create an unmatched series of challenges for our SAV crew. They must remain focused on taking care of themselves, one another, and their tracks. By ensuring that protocols and procedures are closely followed, the SAV crew can keep both themselves and our customers’ freight safe. It’s a tough job, but there are worse places to do it.

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