ALUMINOTHERMIC RAIL WELDING

HOW THEY IRONED  OUT THE TRACK RATTLE IN MODERN RAILWAY TRAVEL

steam train.jpg

As kids we used to mimic the clickety-click of a train in the days when long length sections  of rail were embedded on wooden sleepers and held together and in place  by jack pins and fish plates hence as the iron wheels crossed the join the rattling sound. That had implications for not only the speed at which trains could  go but  also meant engineers had to make regular inspections of track , for example ,to ensure the bolts on fish plates were tightly secure and unbroken. These days rails are joined in a continuous weld so there is no gap and hence that familiar sound is now a ghost from the past and rail travel is now faster and more comfortable but how do they do that ?

steam locomotive image from my transport stock images archives

steam locomotive image from my transport stock images archives . Clcik to see enlarged view

I saw track  renewing  near my home , grabbed my high-viz jacket and camera and went to find out first hand. A few miles of railway, right on my doorstep, were being replaced. Although there was no danger in terms of the likelihood of any train coming through in either direction (as the section of line was closed and in bits ) and the engineers were happy to have me record the process and take pictures of them, I had only a time frame of some thirty minutes before the only guy in a suit under his high viz jacket and hard hat suddenly appeared, approached and challenged me.  It turns out that under the railway’s  stringent health and safety procedures  a visitor or anyone else can only venture on the track if they have some sort of official licence /qualification . So I asked how can I get one and learned that would require me to spend several hundred pounds to gain I politely thanked the chap and left but fortunately  having already detailed the whole process without endangering myself or anyone else)

mould in place reading to go

mould in place ready to go

I was fascinated by the process which I later learned was called ALUMINOTHERMIC WELDING  – it was like something out of the Dark Ages and involved what looked like an alchemy kit , a controlled on site fierce chemical reaction with red hot dramtic flashes of light but a hiss more than a bang.

Close  up of the clay mould

Close up of the clay mould

Armed with a pot of powdered   heavy metal oxides ( aluminium and iron oxide)the mix is  poured into a Heath-Robinson  contraption with a  clay  mould joined to a primitive looking kettle carefully positioned so the mould is over the slight gap between the rail section.

Metal oxide power mix going into the kettle

Metal oxide power mix going into the kettle

The cocktail is ignited and the aluminium triggers intense heat and the resulting molten metal finds and fills the gap whilst the slag spills over and is collected in slag cups. When it has cooled the mould is broken away and rail mounted precision  grinder is rolled over the fresh joint to make it seamless and smooth.

Kettle - slag cups to the bottom right of  image

Kettle – slag cups to the bottom right of image

compound of oxides ignited and quickly reaching melting point

compound of oxides ignited and quickly reaching melting point

clay mould and slaag broken away

clay mould and slaag broken away

 

Rail mounted grinder

Rail mounted grinder

 

rail weld smoothe after grinding

rail weld smoothe after grinding

smoothe finished rail weld

smooth finished rail weld ready for the train to rumble.

More images of the process can be found here on my Flickr account  here ALUMINOTHERMIC  RAIL WELDING 

To contact me to hire my services or for more examples of what I can do for you follow one of these addtional links or use my contact details.

Business Website : johncoxonphotography.com

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Alternative E mail : johne.coxon@ntlworld.com

Mobile Phone or text  24/7  365 :  + 44 (0) 7989 300 104

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Business Address : 14 Pott Street, Salford, (G.M.) M27 6FR

CRB enhanced disclosure) August 2010

 

FOOTNOTES – NOTICING THINGS.

Being a photographer for me is a way of life not just subject or topic specific for , as well as working to brief for clients,  it is a means through which I express myself and help others express themselves. I work hard to keep my mind open and fresh and my eyes peeled in a wonderful world full of diversity and  joy. I notice stuff – so many things capture my interest, stuff that  might be overlooked by others  and for me worth recording and sharing and you never know when stuff in your archives is going to be needed or found a use for. Images are great for helping understanding in a direct way and a fantastic aid  for explaining and sharing and promoting things. I always wake up with enthusiasm for the  day with a world out there to learn and see new things if you can stay tuned in to life.  As I get older my enthusiasm for my work hasn’t waned, it has only increased because I can now devote all my time to photography and meeting  the vairous needs of my clients. So when I am out there and noticing things even in between working for clients I am also looking for things to add to my archives of images and track welding was just one of those things I actually stumbled upon and just had to photograph.John Coxon Photographer

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