Painless Plate Laying

Sperling Railroad plate laying machine

Sperling Railway Services is a small family-owned company with big innovative ideas that are helping the nation's largest railroads improve railroad maintenance work.

"Customers seek us out because of our ability to engineer machines that can perform a specific function very efficiently," says Chad Sperling, vice president of the Canton, Ohio, company. Its latest innovation is the PL-4, a fourth-generation plate laying machine designed to take some of the backbreaking work out of railroad repairs.

Railroad repairs typically begin with laying ribbons of new rail and tie plates along the track, followed by a gang of maintenance of way (MOW) machines and workers who assemble the pieces together. Tie plates serve the critical function of holding the rail to the correct gauge, and about 6,400 tie plates are needed for each mile of track.

Manhandling that many tie plates can be a tough job. Workers typically retrieve plates manually and position them onto the crossties. Depending on the style of plate, each can weigh 10 or 17 kilograms (23 or 38 pounds), and crewmembers laying them often work in high heat and cold weather conditions.

Scott Lanz, Sperling Railroad design engineer, says the large three-chassis PL-4 is designed to pick up, store, and lay steel plates atop crossties at a rate of 28 plates per minute. The PL-4 requires only two to three operators who manage all functions from three air-conditioned cabs. "The plate layer provides a much safer working environment and reduces the overall costs for the railroad," says Lanz.

The little engine that could

Loaded with 800 tie plates, the PL-4 weighs about 50 metric tons (55 U.S. tons), but that's no problem for the John Deere engine and pump drive that power the machine's functions. A PowerTech™ Plus 4.5L engine and Funk™ Series 28000 pump drive hydraulically power the material handler, conveyors, vibration table, air conditioning, and the crawlers that move the massive machine down the rail.

"You’re talking 110,000 pounds (49,875 kilograms) of machine rolling down the track, and that 173-hp (129-kW) engine will pull that machine all day long," relates Sperling. "It doesn't even hesitate; it has incredible power."

You’re talking 110,000 pounds of machine rolling down the track, and that 173-hp engine will pull that machine all day long. It doesn’t even hesitate.

Chad Sperling
Vice President of Sperling Railway Services