In October 2016, Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) Commissioner James P. Redeker unveiled the mammoth Track Construction Machine (TCM) that is being used to double-track portions of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) passenger rail line, which is now being branded as the CTrail Hartford Line. Building a second track parallel to the existing single track, which is currently used by Amtrak trains, will allow more frequent train service and more efficient train movements when the CTrail Hartford Line, which will allow frequent, commuter rail service between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield, begins operations in May 2018.
As part of the NHHS Rail Program, the 250-ton TCM constructed nearly nine miles of track between North Haven and Meriden. The effort took approximately three weeks to complete and safely and efficiently constructed new track without interfering with the operation of train traffic on the adjacent existing mainline track. The primary benefits of using a TCM over other methods of track construction are its production capability and the fact that it can lay track without disrupting train operations on adjacent tracks. This marks the first time a TCM will be used to lay this significant length of track in Connecticut.
The TCM is the main component of a moving assembly line designed to install rails and ties in one efficient operation. Prior to start of the operation, train cars carrying fifty, 1,600-foot long rails were off-loaded and the rail was deposited on either side of the rail bed. Fifteen tie cars, each carrying 176 concrete railroad ties weighing over 800 pounds each, are towed behind the TCM and feed it with concrete ties via a conveyor system. While pulled along the rail bed by a bulldozer, the TCM uniformly lays the ties onto the ballast (rail bed) at predetermined spacing and simultaneously threads the rails onto the ties. A clipping machine attaches the rail clips to hold the completed track assembly together.
The machine can assemble up to 1,000 feet of track per hour (500 ties) in ideal conditions, at over one mile of track per day. Prior to the use of the TCM, it would have taken months to complete this work using either track panels, which require offsite assembly and transportation to the site, or manual installation through the use of other, more traditional track construction equipment.
The TCM returned to Connecticut in July 2017 to add another ten miles of track between Meriden and Newington. By the time the expanded service begins in May 2018, about 32 miles of the 62-mile corridor between New Haven and Springfield will be double-tracked.
TCMs have been used successfully around the world on some of the largest track construction projects over the last ten years, including in Italy, Northern Ireland, Brazil, India, and Saudi Arabia, among others. Only a handful of these machines exist in the United States.