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Big Tools for big jobs

Mike Waits, analyst with Vehicle Fleet Administration, shows off a new material handling truck with a Robotec saw attachment.

Mike Waits, analyst with NS' Vehicle Fleet Administration, looked at the huge saw and grinned mischievously. "It's on the cutting edge," he said.

No pun intended. On exhibit at the safety expo, the Robotec saw was attached to a long-armed grapple on a brand new material handling truck. It might become one of the latest "cool tools" added to the arsenal of NS' track maintenance gangs. Waits said the saw attachment could be particularly useful to clear downed trees after major storms, such as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

Currently, NS has nothing like it. Now, employees use chain saws to cut fallen trees, which can be dangerous, especially when limbs snap back like loaded springs, Waits said.

"The Robotec keeps guys from having to go in and cut trees. You hit a button on the Robotec and it goes through a tree like a hot knife on butter," Waits said.

The saw, which NS continues to evaluate, was one of several pieces of heavy equipment on display at the expo. Nearby was a new NS 138Y reduced-size welder truck, used for rail line maintenance work. At 18,000 pounds, the truck is about 8,000 pounds lighter, more versatile, and less costly to operate than the typical welder truck in NS' fleet, said Joel Shipp, manager Vehicle Fleet Administration. The truck is based on a design developed by the NS Engineering Department's vehicle design committee, Shipp said.

"It's caught on big - everybody wants one," he said, adding, "We're constantly on the search for new and innovative products."

NS formed the Atlanta-based fleet administration group about a year ago to centralize oversight of NS' engineering and mechanical fleet, a task once handled by each division. The move has reduced costs and helped the railroad better oversee maintenance and compliance issues, such as vehicle weights and driver-licensing requirements, Waits said.