Nebraska: Rotary Rail Snow Plow Returns

Rotary Snow Plow - in the Sun

Rotary Snow Plow - in the Sun

Original Image

And what one looks like playing in the snow:

Rotary Snow Plow - in the Snow

Rotary Snow Plow - in the Snow

Original Image

Why do these matter? Because we’re needing them again…

Heard on The Weather Channel – Rotary Plow Returns to Nebraska

On The Weather Channel they had film of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train plowing snow in Nebraska. The kind of rotary plow they were using has most often been seen in the mountains lately, rather than the flats. They stated it was brought in, after several years of not needing one, to handle the deep snow.

If you would like to have an honest measure of how cold it is, just watch how much rail is being plowed, and where! Has it gotten colder? Just ask the guys dispatching snow plows to Nebraska…

There is a nice picture of an actual BNS rotary plough that is like the one brought to Nebraska at this site:

Given that the English rail system just came to a halt from a very minor snow depth, folks in Europe might want to see how we handle it “out West” in Real Snow! Story here:

What was it like in the Blizzard of 1949? Pretty bad!

This page: does a great job of presenting a picture story of what it was like in that brutal ’49 winter. They had to resort to dynamite to clear the snow! It has some nice pictures of folks plowing rails in “The Winter of ’49” when it was very cold and snowy.

And I particularly like the train in a snow chute in the picture here:

One hopes we are not headed back to that era. Many of the old “rotary plows” have been scrapped or retired. The present inventory may be too low for a reprise of those conditions…

Wonder how long it takes to recreate one of these from scratch… I find it fascinating that so many of the plows in that list have very old build dates and “converted from steam” in their descriptions. There are 60 year and 180 year (roughly) cyclical processes in weather, and it looks like this equipment was from about 60 years ago…

I really hope that “connection” does not hold up… I don’t want to be hearing about the need to take museum pieces out to plough the rails to Iowa. (Though at least one on the list says it is at a museum ‘in runnable condition’.)

This page: has a nice collection of pictures too. Some of them look fairly new, but that might just be fresh paint ;-)

As a child, I got to watch the one they show in Donner Pass plough some very deep snow. I’ve seen it since then, working the rails near I-80 in the Sierra Nevada mountains. But not in quite as deep a snow. Now, much of the track has “snow shed” built over it, so the plough has not been needed as much. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of years. Conditions now “feel” to me a lot like they did in those “1950s” when the snow was much deeper in the mountains. I know, not scientific. But there are those immersive memories where you are back ‘in the moment’… and while this isn’t quite identical, there is a lot in common.

It is impressive equipment to watch. If you get the chance to see it, by all means do!

About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in AGW and Weather News Events, Emergency Preparation and Risks, Human Interest and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Nebraska: Rotary Rail Snow Plow Returns

  1. dearieme says:

    “Given that the English rail system just came to a halt from a very minor snow depth”: not where we are – it’s been unaffected. The French Eurostar trains were in the metaphorical soup, though.

    REPLY: [ See the wattsupwiththat link in the story. It was more than just Eurostar. There is a great picture of a steam engine being used to rescue the electric system that “had issues” with snow on the third rail. Not the whole of the UK, but a significant part of the system. The UK electric system has a third rail that is upward facing and snow accumulation on it causes arcing to the “shoe” and can break it or weld it in place. Not good. So even light snow can shut it down while they clean the rails. If they used a ‘bottom shoe’ they would not have the problem, but it costs more to suspend the rail in mid air. Basically, they chose a ‘no snow’ design. Hope it doesn’t snow a lot in coming decades… If you are on a non-electric route in the UK, or one of the older ones with an overhead catenary, no problem. Eurostar was even worse from the ‘silly design’ point of view. Fine snow particles were sucked in the air intake and got into the electronics. Guess they never heard of filters ;-) But Eurostar will have an easier fix, just fit a snow catcher filter on the air intakes of the trains. -E.M.Smith ]

  2. pyromancer76 says:

    Let’s hope that, if we are in a Maunder-type minimum and the need for such equipment is of 50-years duration, American ingenuity, factories, and skilled workers would be able to produce them. Or has everything “manufacturing” — mind, talent, resources — been outsourced to China?

    REPLY: [ I think we still make rolling stock here (not metric! and shipping is expensive, also it’s all custom work, so no economies of scale and customer contact is vital). RAIL is one of the tickers (FreightCar America) with 10 P/E and 1.x% dividend. Looks like it’s on a stable bottom, but would not expect a big run in it. -E.M.Smith ]

  3. Roger Sowell says:

    Here’s a youtube of a train snowplow getting stuck in deep snow.

    REPLY: [ What a Hoot! A momentum plough. They need a rotary plough for that depth of snow, but man, watching that snow fly when they first hit the “deep doo” at speed is really something. -E.M.Smith ]

  4. j ferguson says:

    At the risk of exposing a faulty memory, the third rail systems I used to be familiar with here in the US use top running shoes. The rail itself has a cover to prevent snow accumulation, or at least that’s how the Washington Metro and New York MTA systems work, Chicago, too.

    I don’t know about English practice, but Irish Rail does not have sanding equipment on their traction equipment – because, they say, they don’t need it.

    Trains over there do slide a bit on wet leaves.

    And yes, there continues to be an active and innovative railcar design and fabrication industry in North America.

  5. Viv Evans says:

    Oh, Network Rail (isn’t ‘British Rail’ any longer, got de-nationalised, not that that made any difference to the taxpayers!) can cope with snow – provided its the ‘right’ type of snow.
    When trains are delayed, it wasn’t …

    But since they can’t cope with the wrong type of wet leaves on the rails either, one tends to just laugh at what excuses for their failures they come up with next.

    Mind – as there are more sheep than people in Wales, ‘sheep on the line’ is a valid excuse here.

  6. j ferguson says:

    One of the highlights of the project I worked on for Irish Rail was hearing that they had gotten rid of their Right of Way weed burners after discovering that the General Motors (US) Locomotives they’d purchased for the Dublin-Cork line threw so much oil that no other means were needed to keep the weeds down.

  7. pyromancer76 says:

    E.M. Smith, thats for your generosity with knowledge and information. I am delighted to hear that we still make “rolling stock” here. Railroads were the first large corporations in the U.S., about which I have taught students over many years (the railroad corporation being the first “business person, too”). I had thought they had declined significantly during the first half of the 20th C, but was delighted to be told (before the current economic troubles) that more freight is carried on rails than ever before and more than by any other means. I have always loved trains; some distant relatives worked for the railroads; I have inclucated young ones, male and female, with Awdry and son’s Thomas stories and purchased lots of excellent wooden railroad toys. There are snow plows in the texts; I will have to look for a replica.

  8. Pingback: Nebraska: Rotary Rail Snow Plow Returns « Musings from the Chiefio Fennec Firefox

  9. tallbloke says:

    Viv Evans

    Mind – as there are more sheep than people in Wales, ’sheep on the line’ is a valid excuse here.

    The preserved steam line from Goathland across the North Yorks Moors had a problem with a local farmer dumping dead sheep on the line, and then demanding compensation when the train hit them.

    They got early warning one day from a linesman and took the local vet to the scene who pronounced the sheep two days dead.

  10. j ferguson says:

    Hauling super-annuated equipment out of a museum to solve present problems harks back to a wonderful movie “The Titsfield Thunderbolt.”

  11. Murray says:

    I remember a train being forced to stop on the prairie south of Winnipeg by drifted snow, and then getting completely drifted in, except for the smoke stack. They kept up steam overnight to keep passengers from freezing, and then if memory serves they got the passengers out by sled before the big plough could get there. could well have been 1949.

  12. mitchel44 says:

    Rotary plows seem to be a Canadian invention, Some good stuff here also,

    But this has to be my favourite rail related item.

    “Mr. Lightfoot has won 15 Juno Awards and been nominated for 5 Grammy Awards. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2001. In May 2003, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada; he is also a member of the Order of Ontario, and in 2004 was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.”

    I just can’t figure out how a folk icon in Canada can be celebrated when he sings in praise of the industrial revolution that helped shape this country, while the green NGO’s and our government are planning on cap and trading us into the poor house for the supposed damage done by said industrial expansion.

    Must be some “higher plane” of thought involved.

  13. kuhnkat says:

    Thanks for the post. Great links from all!!

    Interesting that California still has 3. 2 in Roseville, think rail lines over the Sierras through Tahoe to Reno, and one in Sacramento!!

    60 years is about a full ENSO!!!!

  14. The man puts it on the line no matter what weight

  15. Well, it is important to remember re:Eurostar that the services have only been reduced not cancelled, which seems to be common sense for people’s safety. I’ve just got back (today) from Aachen so I wasn’t stuck in the tunnel, but I think people should check the Ebbsfleet, and indeed the other station websites as they do give out all the info.

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