Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Wreck Repair

AGCX 10050 was involved in a derailment on CN at St. Tite, Quebec back in November 2009, after a broken rail caused several cars - including this one - to fall off a bridge at 38 mph. Given the age and potential cost of repairs, the car was decided to be beyond repair after evaluation at home shop. The car is seen here at London, ON on 10/16/2010, heading for Zubick's scrap yard. See the TSB report HERE.
I've been meaning to write this blog entry for a while, but it always seemed that one thing or another seems to get in the way. Anyway, I finally managed to put pen to paper (or whatever the digital equivalent is), so here we go…

What happens after a train derailment? From the car owner’s perspective, much as with the railroad, a lot of paperwork. Assuming that all the fires have been put out the main line is back in service, the exciting part is over, as far as the news media is concerned. But the process is really just beginning; one of my main tasks while working at a railcar lessor was that of handling the paperwork associated with cars that were involved in derailments or accidents (accountants love paperwork!). It turns out that the process is usually quite drawn out, usually lasting several months or years even.

When a derailment occurs, the railroad will notify the equipment car owners using an electronic communication system known as the Damage and Defective Car Tracking System (DDCTS; I like acronyms…), which is operated by Railinc, the digital information subsidiary of the AAR. This system is also used to coordinate shoppings for cars that are defective (bad ordered) but which the handling road cannot repair on a conventional RIP track (truck hunting is a common defect reported in DDCTS). When a new derailment event is created, it gives the handling line access to basic information about a car, including owner, owner contact information, and depreciated value (DV) – what the car is worth at the time of the accident. An email is sent to the car owner to describe the damages, as well as facilitate further handling of the wreck. The handling line has three basic choices – a) repair the car and return to service (at handling line’s expense), b) send car to home shop (one designated or owned by car owner), or c) consider the car destroyed in the wreck and settle with the car owner for DV. The DV route isn’t favourable, but there are many cases where a car is too badly damaged to make economic sense to repair.

If pursuing the first option, the car will usually be routed to the railroad’s nearest RIP track, usually at the nearest large yard. There, minor repairs such as bent hand grabs or damaged wheelsets can be replaced. The car owner will get a repair bill showing the repairs made, and that they were the handling line’s responsibility ($0 bill).

The option to send a car to home shop means that repairs are beyond the skill of the handling line (for example, almost anything to do with tank cars or specialty components on other cars such as pneumatic hopper car gates). Sometimes the car is in sufficient mechanical condition to move on its’ own wheels to shop (common if car was only sideswiped), but usually if one or both trucks separated from the car in a wreck, this means a ride on a ‘hospital’ car to shop (flatcar). These days many railroads consider it safer to load the damaged car onto a flatcar (at not insignificant expense) than to attempt to repair the brake gear or trucks if damaged. This usually extends the process considerably, from sourcing a spare flatcar, arranging a crane for load-up, and checking clearances along the route. Usually a mechanical carman will determine whether a car is salvageable or whether it is too badly damaged to repair. If the car is considered destroyed, the railroad can keep the salvage (scrap) value of the car, whereas sending it to shop involves finding a flatcar, paying for a crane, a crew to secure the car, freight to shop, and once actually there, the repairs to the car. Thus, if a wrecked car tends to be old, or major items on the car are damaged, the damaging line will often choose to write off the car instead of attempting repairs. Relatively-new cars tend to be less expensive to repair than to scrap, as they have higher DV’s. One measure of a car’s repairability is the trucks – if the trucks were significantly damaged or lost, replacing or repairing them might not make financial sense. Including new bolsters, sideframes, wheelsets, springs, friction wedges, and miscellaneous components, a new set of trucks for a car can easily run $18-$20,000+.

UTLX 49270 was involved in a minor derailment which sheared off one or more pneumatic hopper outlets and allowed the commodity of plastic pellets to partially escape. After temporary repairs to cap the leak, the car will likely be allowed to move for offloading before going to home shop for repairs. London, ON 11/3/2015.

Other than providing shop disposition to the damaging line, the car owner can’t do much until the car shows up at the repair shop. Once there, a repair inspector will look over the car and make a detailed list of defective or missing items, known as a joint inspection certificate (JIC); often writing the JIC is harder when parts are missing from the car, since there isn’t a reminder that a part should be on the car! Some items, like ladders or couplers are pretty obvious when they’re missing though… The car owner will send the JIC to the damaging road for endorsement; if/when endorsed (agreed upon by owner and damaging line), that is authority for the car owner to bill the damaging line for repairs made using the AAR Car Repair Billing Price Master, which contains job codes and billing rates for most possible repairs to be made to the car. The price master provides a fair method for car owners and railroads to bill each other, and factors in material condition (new or reconditioned), inspection, material, and labour costs associated with the repair. Items not specified in the price master, such as tank car valves or pneumatic hopper car gates, are billed at cost plus the labour to repair the components.

I picked up CSXT 7818, an Atlas C40-8W, at a local recent train show for about $40. Despite several defects, and looking like it was in a 1:87 wreck, I think with a few detail parts and a little bit of elbow grease, the unit can be brought back to life. 

The unit in the above photo I bought at a local train show, knowing it was already damaged. I think I paid $40 for it (it has sound, and runs decent), and on inspection found a number of repairable defects including bent/broken handrails, broken snowplow, missing cab sunshade and couplers, broken horn and bad weathering. I don’t know what caused the engine to be in this condition, but to me it looks like it could have been in a minor HO wreck; given the low purchase price, availability and cost of replacement parts, I think this engine can be repaired fairly easily, and will make a nice addition to the run-through power roster. I have a spare plow in stock, possibly the handrails as well (or can be ordered from Atlas), along with horn, sun shades, and couplers, and hopefully the weathering won’t be too difficult to remove – I think that may be the most difficult part of the project, removing the weathering material without damaging the underlying paint. Stay tuned for a future blog article showing progress that the repair crew has made on the unit…

Hope you found this interesting,

Til Next Time,


  1. I found this *very* interesting! I had no idea how complex the paperwork behind car repairs is.