The Continuous Welded Rail Plant – Smiths Falls

The C.W.R. plant at Smiths Falls, Ontario was located in the eastern rail yard, just west of Lorne Rd. The photo below, from Google Maps, February 19, 2018, shows the foot print where the welding plant was located. This article describes the C.W.R. rail plant’s operation in the late 1970’s but does not go into the details of the actual welding process.

Nothing remains of the rail plant today.

The Rail Plant
The rail plant in Smiths Falls consisted of four, 1948 Erie-built, Fairbanks-Morse B series locomotive shells. The polishing station, welder and stripper, and pusher motor, were housed in three of these Erie shells. The fourth shell was the power car. A baggage car housed the Pre-Inspection and Welding Inspection stations. The rail plant was located on a single track at the north side of the eastern yard.

Early photo of rail plant – photo courtesy of Bruce Chapman

Other Equipment
A baggage car and a box car stored spare parts and plant consumables such as filters, gloves, masks, etc. Scrap metal and waste from the welding and stripping process was dumped into a gondola for recycling. These cars sat on the adjacent track as did the power car. A third track serviced the area where rails were stockpiled for the rail plant. In 1977, a spur was built off of this track to service a second area for rail storage. In previous years, additional rails were stored off site in another part of the rail yard. Six flat cars were used to deliver rails to the table. There was a tool shed on site for performing repairs and maintenance. A prefab building housed the plant office, a small eating area, showers, wash rooms and lockers. The rail plant used two cranes. One crane was located permanently at the table, another worked in the rail storage area. A cherry picker handled small jobs in the yard including moving and spotting cars. A pickup truck was used for trips to the far end and for picking up supplies at the CP stores.

The following is a description of the process:

Loading the table
A crane loads rails from a flat car onto the “table”. The table is basically two moving tracks that hold about 12 rails. When another rail is required in the welding process, the table is activated and the next rail is dropped onto rollers. Rails are fed this way, one rail at a time, to the start of the assembly line: the polishing station.

The Polishing Station
At this station, a grinding operator “polishes” the head, web and the base of the rail to expose the bare metal for the welder. Polishing is performed using an air powered, manual grinder. Another grinder, mounted on a moving table, is used to polish the base.

Also, at this station, the last rail of the string, and the first rail of the next string are joined using fish plates (joint bars) to facilitate the separation of the completed string from the next string in the process. A finished string is approximately 1440 feet long.

The Welder
The rail then moves to the welder where the rail is welded to the existing string of rails while another rail moves to the polisher. The welding process causes a large ridge of red-hot metal or burr to be formed where the weld occurred. Huge traction motors called pushers move the rail, now part of a larger string. The next station is the stripper.

The Stripper
The stripper is a shearing machine that removes the burr still red hot from the welder.

The Pre-Inspection Station
The string then moves to the pre-inspection station where a single grinding operator polishes the rough edges left by the stripper to prepare it for the welding inspection station.

The Welding Inspection Station
The final station is the welding inspection station. The weld is inspected visually for defects or uneven welds. Two welding inspectors work at this station. More grinding is performed and the weld undergoes a magnetic particle inspection test. If a defect is detected, it’s marked, the string is backed up to the welding station and it’s re-welded. In a worst-case scenario such as a HRK (Hooked Rail Kink), the rail is cut and re-welded.

The Rail Train
As the string is manufactured, it is pushed out on the rail train. The rail train consists of approximately 34 modified gondola cars which carry four rows of 10 rails and two flat cars at each end of the train. Every gondola, except one, is equipped with two roller stands or racks. Each rack contains the slots that the string moves along. Each slot uses rollers to allow the string to move easily down the train. The gondola without the roller stands, located mid train, contains the tie down area. It is here the string is anchored or tied down to keep it from getting loose during transit. The rail plant also provides air to the rail train for charging the brakes and air for the impact wrench at the tie down.

The Rail Train – Photo courtesy of Fred Clark.

Point Men
Two point men manage the breaking of the string and monitor the movement of the string down the rail train. A “point” is attached to the beginning of the string. Called a point because of its shape, it’s attached to two holes located at the end of the rail using track bolts and threaded nuts. A third point man works with the crane at the table to ensure the table is supplied with rails.

When a string is completed, the point man at the far end, the end of the rail train, removes the point. The point is brought back to the near end, the beginning of the rail train, where the string is broken. First the joint bars are removed. The new string is then positioned to travel down the next slot on the rack and the point is installed using track bolts and threaded nuts. The new string is ready to travel down the train. All of this happens quickly as the next weld will be pushed out shortly.

The far end point man then proceeds to the tie down point. The string is tied down and secured. Rail anchors are also added to each string as an extra precaution to keep the rail from moving during transport.

The Rail Gang
The rail gang, consists of two to four men. Gondola’s filled with rails enter the yard, are unloaded by a crane and stored in rail piles. The rail gang also supplies the plant with rails. Rails are loaded onto flat cars and delivered to the table area.

That’s pretty much the process as recalled by the author, a former point man and rail handler at the C.W.R. plant at Smiths Falls, Ontario, 1976-1977.

Gene Kirkham
June 24, 2019