The other day I spotted this unusual truck parked near a grocery store in Delaware, Ohio, where I live. It belongs to Sperry Rail Service, a nationwide contractor that tests the steel rails that support railroad trains. The strength of rails is rather important when you consider the high weights of locomotives and loaded freight cars – sometimes more than 300,000 pounds apiece, spread among eight or 12 wheels.
Sperry has been around for more than 85 years and historically has used special, self-powered rail cars. These, like the newer trucks, house ultrasonic and eddy current examination equipment that peers inside the steel to look for imperfections that can lead to rail breakage and train derailments. They also measure rail gauge – the distance between rails, which in North America is 4 feet, 8.5 inches – to be sure rails are secure.
According to a recent article in Trains magazine (which I’ve read since I was in junior high school), the vehicles move along at moderate speeds, usually at about 20 mph, as underslung equipment scans the rails. Crewmen inside watch monitors that interpret the signals. They stop and rescan possible trouble spots, then report any problems to the railroad. Sperry produced this video of a crew at work inside the truck body, and there are many other videos posted on YouTube.
Large Sperry rail cars, used to inspect major railroads’ track for weeks at a time, have living quarters including kitchens. Crews seldom get home, say former employees on YouTube. And who knows what goes on in those quarters? One guy says he hopes four former co-workers (he named them but I won't) were "rotting in hell." Apparently he didn't get along with them.
Trucks with liftable “hi-rail” flanged steel wheels can travel on railroad tracks for the exam work, then on roads. This makes them highly mobile, as they can quickly move cross country between assignments involving shorter trackage.
This truck is a Ford F-750, but Sperry also uses other makes and models. So does Holland Co. and Herzog Services Inc., competitors whose vehicles are also found on YouTube. Holland, which also does rail welding, seems to operate heavier trucks. Anyway, you don’t see these rigs every day, so I thought you’d like a look.