No 8 Innovation On The Rail
22 April 2002
New Zealand's No 8 wire ingenuity is alive and well in Tranz Rail, with Line Inspector Tim Moore converting an ATV four-wheel farm bike for use inspecting rail lines.
Based in Palmerston North, Mr Moore has worked for Tranz Rail for 13 years, eight of them as a line inspector performing engineering inspections on the company's network of rails, sleepers, bridges, tunnels, yards and private sidings.
Tired of having to walk into difficult terrain with heavy equipment to do his job, he sought to find a way he could work more productively and save on hiking.
"I've walked from Palmerston North to Gisborne to New Plymouth and Taumarunui in the job - but when you walk you have to walk back, so there's a lot of dead time."
>From walking, Mr Moore began using a red trolley, known as a jigger, and while he could cover greater distances it was difficult to manoeuvre. Following the trolley, the lighter and easier to handle Alumni-cart was introduced, but it couldn't reverse and had maintenance problems.
"One of my hobbies was riding motorbikes and I had a sport ATV and thought it would be great if we could adapt one to work on the rails."
But he had difficulty finding an ATV with the right specifications to fit Tranz Rail's 1068mm wide tracks, until he came across the United States-made Polaris.
"I immediately saw the possibilities and raised the idea to a couple of key people in Tranz Rail who got behind the project. It's really only through their support that the Hi Rail ATV came to fruition. They agreed to buy the quad bike and I found someone who could do the adaptations."
Tranz Rail National Manager Infrastructure Phil McQueen says the company was keen to support the idea and invest about $12,000 in the project as it offered safety, functional and cost advantages.
Mr McQueen says the company encourages staff to come forward with ideas and, where possible, will assist with those ideas. Tranz Rail's mechanical, engineering and design office in Wellington helped in the project, checking and providing details on how to adapt the ATV for rail.
"It's very much at a trial stage to see how it will go. I don't think it's been around long enough to make any further decisions like building more Hi Rail ATVs.
"We'll certainly keep using it and see how it stands up to conditions as it has a lot of advantages in terms of movability, safety, comfort and productivity," he says.
Mr Moore says he worked with Tim Day Racing at Palmerston North to modify the Polaris Magnum 325cc ATV and began trialling the prototype in December last year.
"The bike's performed above our expectations and is proving to be a valuable and flexible tool for use on and off the rail tracks.
"It has so many advantages. With the motorbike you can physically drive it up to the rail, lower the wheels and then away you go. It's got good lights, a comfortable seat, space for carrying equipment and provides shelter from the weather," Mr Moore says.
"I can't believe someone hasn't thought of it before. The irony of it is it's actually significantly cheaper than buying a new version of the Alumni-cart which are now manufactured in the UK."
He says the Hi Rail ATV would have application in Japan and in parts of Australia where the rail system is similar to New Zealand. "A lot of the other railways in the world are wider than that and that in itself poses problems."
Mr Moore says none of his colleagues has ridden the Hi Rail ATV and its future within Tranz Rail is uncertain as the company moves to outsource its maintenance work to Transfield. Mr Moore, himself, is in the process of transferring to Transfield.
"The same sort of inspections will be done by Transfield and it will be up to them how they propose to do it, but I think the Hi Rail ATV is certainly the most cost-effective and efficient tool for the job."