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Edition #56, June 15, 2007


Photographer: Kevin N. Tomasic

                                                        Photo by Kevin N. Tomasic


 As you stand along the track watching a big mainline freight go by you may be tempted to forget about the fundamental parts that make up the railroad: rail, axles, track, etc… The whole is greater than the sum of the parts for most of us.

I work in the industrial furnace field and as such get to go into many different facilities. Most of these facilities heat or heat treat steel that ends up in steel mills or railroad equipment. A big local business is to be had in making axles for freight cars and locomotives.

The axle plants are fascinating places, they start from an 8” square bloom a few feet long and transform it into a shiny ten foot long axle. The sequence is as follows: take the bloom, set it in a heating furnace, bring it to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit, extract it and feed it into a GFM rotary forge machine. Once the rough axle is forged, it is cooled down and made ready for heat treatment. The heat treatment is done in three furnaces: a normalize, reheat and temper furnace. After heat treatment the axle is machined and either sent out as is or has wheels pressed onto it.

The photo you see here is the axle as it exits the normalize furnace at 1650 Fahrenheit ready to cool to 1200 before it goes back into the reheat furnace.

So, the next time that you see that train coming your way, don’t just look at the whole. Take a minute to think of the fundamentals.

Kevin N. Tomasic

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