From reactive to proactive: enhancing rail asset performance

Planned preventative rail maintenance is at the centre of the Swietelsky Rail Australia approach


As one of the only ballast cleaning specialists in the country, Swietelsky Rail Australia (SRA) has significant runs on the board to demonstrate that their proactive approach to ballast rehabilitation has stood their clients in good stead.

Managing Director, Anne Modderno, says that their methodology is not only more cost effective in the long run, it is less resource intensive, extends the life of the asset, as well as harnessing sustainable practices and being environmentally friendly.

“When we first established ourselves in Australia, we leveraged our decades long international experience to secure mechanised maintenance plant and equipment specifically for the Australian rail industry,” Anne said. “From there we have quickly become known as ballast cleaning specialists, due to our performance, equipment and approach.”

SRA is the only rail maintenance company in Australia with ballast cleaning as its core activity.

Coupled with SRA’s innovative approach to mechanised maintenance, this makes them one of the few companies with ballast cleaning capabilities, a point of difference that drew Director Technical and Risk Gary Holden to join the team over six years ago.

“I’ve worked in the rail industry for over 40 years, with a focus on the safety, compliance and risk management aspects,” Gary said. “The SRA approach to ballast cleaning continues to meet and exceed in all aspects of safety and quality of finished work.”

“Our RM80 ballast cleaning machine has set the bar here in NSW in the length of track cleaned to the highest standards. It is a workhorse of our fleet, and a reliable and efficient machine,” Gary continued.

In more recent years SRA has also invested in a fully refurbished RM95, a two-section high-capacity ballast cleaning machine, which can be used for plain track, as well as switches and crossings with an extendable cutting bar. It also has the capability to install geofabric as it operates, providing improved rail asset performance benefits for clients. 

It is fully compliant with the narrow non-electric rolling stock outline, allowing it to work and travel within more networks across Australia.

 "The RM95 employs a swivelling main distribution conveyor belt so that the cleaned ballast is returned across the entire cross section of the track. This combined with a secondary lifting unit allows the rail to be ‘copied’ or improved, through 3-dimensional measurement," Gary said.

"This leaves the cleaned track in condition similar to having had a first tamping pass performed, leaving the track close to design superelevation and line. Our commitment to great outcomes like this and our continuous improvement ethos is one of the reasons that ARTC has recently extended our well-established partnership, for another two years.”

ARTC and SRA first established their partnership in 2014 and since then have delivered over 300 kilometres of ballast cleaning, with work locations on the Ulan and Main North lines and the rail corridor between Sandgate and Singleton.

This ongoing contract has benefited the local coal transport network by improving infrastructure reliability without putting in place track speed restrictions. This has enabled ARTC to maximise the operating efficiency within their network, securing increased value for their customers.

“We understand that being a reliable industry partner is central to our success. This is achieved through our dedicated team and state-of-the-art equipment, which form the cornerstone of delivering the results our clients and their customers can rely on,” Gary concluded.

Sustainability as a forethought, not an afterthought

SRA’s ballast cleaning machines are supported by two fleets of material handling wagons (an 8xMFC wagon consist and an 8xMFS consist). Utilising spoil wagons during ballast cleaning allows SRA to mitigate any resulting environmental impacts. Spoil material is unloaded at designated safe locations and the material is then used to upgrade access roads or stockpiled for alternative reuse options.

The Australian arm of the business has instilled Swietelsky’s long established culture of sustainable and recycling practices. SRA’s MFC wagons were fabricated by employing stock wagons originally used by the Hungarian Army freight wagon fleet. They were capable of transporting T-72 army tanks across rail networks, and outside the military, the wagons were used for various special transport tasks including rail materials and sleepers.

Full scope rail services 

In alignment with their ballast cleaning, the SRA team also deliver a range of resurfacing services with their fleet of 09-3X Dynamic Tamping Machine, 09-3X Tamping Machine and Unimat 08-275/3S Tamping Machine. These units are supported by two SSP303 and one SSP302 Ballast Regulators. 

“Just like our approach to ballast cleaning, within our resurfacing services we are focused on delivering a result that provides better than expected outcomes,” Anne said.

In line with their best practice approach to service delivery, SRA also have proven flash butt welding capability. They have three flash butt welding units, two mobile units (Holland DX170RW) and one static unit (Holland H-1000).

The units are designed with the ability to drag and position long lengths of rail, while being able to weld strings up to 400 metres. The welding heads are designed specifically for closure welding and have the capability to shear the upset and flash while maintaining a constant tension on the rails.

“Importantly, we have designed and fabricated a tri-gauge trolley for our static unit, giving us the flexibility to use this piece of equipment throughout Australia’s rail network,” Anne said.

“We’re focused on continuing be a reliable, dependable and preferred contractor within the rail industry, and have developed our fleet and team capabilities to ensure we continue to provide the equipment and expertise our clients need, no matter their complex requirements.”

People first, always

SRA have had a presence in Australia for over a decade and as a result have continued to expand their team.

“As we have maintained our growth in Australia, we know that investment in our people is key. SRA employees are amongst the most skilled and experienced staff within the Australian rail industry.”

“We are driven to deliver value outcomes for our existing and new clients, which we achieve through exceptional performance utilising sustainable practices,” Anne concluded.

The SRA team have a number of long-term strategic plans in the works, to ensure their specialist role in the rail industry continues to evolve to meet and exceed the needs of the market.