Author Archives: Patrick Brown

Landscape of rail tracks in fal
Sustainability in the Rail Industry | Custom Truck

Few industries are as tied to the industrial revolution as rail. In 1847, over a quarter of a million people worked on railways to fuel the economy. Since its conception, the railway has continually been evolving. As a result, the railway industry now boasts several contributions to greener living and better sustainability.

So, in this article, we’re discussing rail sustainability in 2021. Let’s dive in!

Low Carbon Emissions

If you think the railway harms the environment due to its emissions, you might be in for a surprise. The rail industry actually produces the lowest carbon emissions out of all transport industries.

It’s no secret that anyone that uses public transport helps reduce carbon emissions. So regardless of how many people railways carry across the country, the environmental impact remains low.

This is even more significant for freight. For example, goods transported by rail can cut down carbon emissions by 76% compared to goods hauled on the road! Trains can also transport much more freight than individual vehicles. As a result, they take several HGV vehicles off the road. This has the further effect of reducing traffic build-up.

The rail industry is already one of the most sustainable forms of transport in the world. But greener trends are emerging with every year.

Automation in the Rail Industry

One of the biggest sustainability trends impacting many industries revolves around automation. Automation cuts down on time spent on repeatable work, making operations more efficient. This, in turn, reduces the waste of resources and fuel.

The rail industry uses the Internet of Things to predict maintenance needs. This demonstrates where their operations aren’t as optimized as they could be. Many railroads also use trip optimizers. These make the best use of brakes and throttles during the journey.

There’s a wide range of automated tools in use for better rail sustainability. Other examples include Meet Pass Planners, which manage traffic. Or precision scheduled railroading (PSR), which helps reduce congestion at stations.

Conservation Remains a Priority in the Rail Industry

Sustainability continues to be an essential talking point for all nations and industries. The railway industry also maintains its efforts with conservation. This includes lessening the impact where new railway lines continue to be built.

Railways need vegetation to be cut down and wildlife to be disrupted. Because of this, several railways are making efforts to invest in projects to conserve wildlife.

For example, new construction projects undertake environmental project screenings to minimize the impact on local wildlife. This aims to cut down on threats like erosion, interruptions of nesting seasons, and more.

For instance, Transport for Wales recently launched a new biodiversity action plan to ensure work is organized to protect and enhance wildlife and local ecosystems.

Technology to Revolutionize Rail Sustainability

And finally, it is worth talking about trends that might revolutionize rail travel as we know it. Over three-quarters of passenger rail transport is already facilitated by electric trains.

Moreover, the rail sector continues to be the only means of transport that is already widely electrified to cut down on fuel emissions. As demand for freight and passenger transport grows, many railways will likely become electric in bigger countries.

It’s also possible that the railway will be better integrated with other means of public transport. This will encourage wider use of trains in the future. Innovations continue to push rail sustainability ever further.

Exciting projects in this field include Alstom’s first hydrogen fuel cell passenger train in Poland. This presents a considerable potential for sustainable transport.

The Future of Railway is Green

Many railways around the world continue to set higher and better sustainability targets for the future. As a result, the future of the rail industry is looking green. These days, many corporations support biodiversity, decarbonization, automation, and sustainable innovations for better rail services.

Custom Truck supports the rail industry on its path to greener pastures. We provide the vehicles and equipment needed to keep rails functioning at their best.  If this is something you’re interested in, contact us today for more info about that!


black and white photo of old railroaders in front of a handcar
Evolution of the Personnel Carrier – Custom Truck One Source

The American Railway system is almost as old as the country itself.

As early as 1809, a surveyor named John Tomson had drafted a layout for a “Tramroad” for his customer Thomas Leiper Esq. The survey was titled “Draft Exhibiting . . . the Railroad as Contemplated by Thomas Leiper Esq. From His Stone Saw-Mill and Quarries on Crum Creek to His Landing on Ridley Creek.”, and was the blueprint for, what many consider to be, the first American Railroad.

This is how the railroads began. Business owners created their own independent lines, connecting commodity hubs, like quarries and lumberyards, to job sites. This expedited their supply chains. During this period, “surveying and mapping activities flourished in the United States as people began moving inland over the inadequately mapped continent.” Once enough entrepreneurs had proven the effectiveness of their railways, the concept gained mainstream interest, and the maps mentioned above began featuring rail routes in their keys.

Old-Fashioned Handcars

The photo below features an old-fashioned handcar, also known as a pumper. It’s unlikely to surprise many a reader; it’s one of the many images that resonates with us as a symbol of the Westward Expansion, of Americana, of our past, but what may surprise you is their criticality in creating the Transcontinental Railroad.

drawing of an old-fashioned handcar

The track was divided into “sections. ” These were typically about 6 to 10 miles long. Section Crews or Gangs maintained these sections. Each section typically had a section house, which stored a crew’s tools and, of course, their handcarts. An estimated 130,000 miles of track spanned America by 1900. With one handcar allocated per section, at minimum, an estimated 13,000 handcars would have been in operation, in the United States, at the time. This estimate obviously does not include spare carts, or the carts that comprised the telegraph fleets of companies like Western Union.

Engines Move Railway Car Innovation Forward

In tandem with time, innovation marched forward and brought us the internal combustion engine. Coupling engine power with the handcar birthed the early personnel carriers, which would come to be known as Motorcars. Railroaders called them “Speeders” because their speed surpassed the 10-15mph an industrious crew could generate pumping a handcar.

From the early 1900s to the 1980s, multiple companies like Beaver, Buda, Fairbanks-Morse, Kalamazoo, Tamper, Woodings, and Fairmont Railway Motors, Inc manufactured these speeders. Fairmont, acquired by Harsco Rail in 1979, was the undisputed king of the motorcars. The company initially manufactured cars with single-cylinder flywheel engines, A.K.A hit-and-miss engines. These cars were known as poppers, or putt-putts, due to the distinct cadence of their engine fire.

Fairmoutn Railway Motor Car Instructions and Parts List from the 1970s

Soon, the modest 2-seater poppers were accompanied by larger gang cars, which, depending on how creative crews could get with their seating arrangements, could transport 6-8 men. Eventually, the single-stroke engine was swapped for a 16HP Onan CCKB Gas engine on the M-Series Cars, and Ford Diesels on the larger A-Series Gang Cars.

NARCOA, a national Speeder enthusiast group, has championed the restoration of these speeders. Most members try to stick with original parts, which are luckily available from Merchants like Phil Hopper. Supervised by railway personnel, NARCOA Members take these Speeders on Motorcar Runs. Keep an eye when traveling beside a railroad track; you may just catch a piece of history traveling beside you.


restored speeders on railroad tracks

Hi-Rail Gear

Around the ’70s, companies like Harsco Rail  popularized Hi-Rail Gear – the age of the hi-rail truck was born. Today, companies like RAFNADMFLoad King, & Continental Railworks have joined Harsco as Railgear OEMs.

Hi-Rail vehicles come in many different builds. Standard builds include pickup trucks, inspection vehicles, signal maintainers, service trucks, material handlers, welder vehicles, section trucks, and rotary dumps. These standardized builds will often have unique design features at the request of their end-user.

row of hi-rail vehicles parked on rail tracks


It is truly amazing to think of how far we’ve come and how far we’ll go – as an industry and as a people. Like our equipment, we are but the latest iteration of something greater. The newest face to a spirit that has existed for generations. We maintain the roads that bind us to our history, and we build paths to new horizons. We are railroaders.


close up of railroad tracks turning, which rail fleets help maintain
Non-Rail Vehicles For Rail Fleets – Custom Truck One Source

There is plenty of equipment that is made specifically for the railroad industry. It’s a unique segment with unique requirements. However, railroad work often encompasses the use of more standard vocational vehicles as well. Listed below are some less specialized units that still play a crucial role in rail fleets.


If a Maintenance of Way (M.O.W.) field tech often works on equipment parked at depots or on the Right of Way (R.O.W.) near a crossing, they may opt for the added payload of a non-rail Service Truck, like Load King’s Voyager 1. The Voyager® I service truck boasts an 11’ H.D. galvannealed steel crane body with a master lock system and rear crane rated for 7,000 lbs. Lightweight, high-quality CTEC tool drawer sets come standard, as do unparalleled levels of coating coverage in the bed space. Load King’s inventive lighting and compartment designs offer superior compartment storage capacity and unmatched work area visibility. These features make it a great addition to a rail fleet.


Dump trucks are crucial to surfacing gangs. They have a unique rotary function. This allows the operator to rotate the body and dump ballast on specific sections of the tie bed. While the 760 Hi-Rail Rotary Dump is crucial to surfacing gangs, many contractors will often have standard dump trucks, as well. Whether ferrying material from quarry or jobsite or working on a road-centric project, non-rail dumps are critical asset rail outfits.


Often, Signal Maintainers are required in a rail fleet to traverse multiple track miles to reach a particular signal on the R.O.W. Still, many Signalmen specifically focus on crossings and, as such, don’t require rail-bound functionality in their truck. Whether on or off the track, you can rest assured that these men and women are keeping our railroad signals in check.


Although not a vehicle in the proper sense, trailers are worth mentioning on this list. It’s common to see a tag, gooseneck, or rail trailer parked in a rail outfit’s equipment yard, and for a good reason. M.O.W. & Construction equipment has to get to the jobsite somehow.


thermite welding rail together
Thermite Welding Rail

Methods for Joining Rail

Railroad operations employ welding crews to join sticks of rail together. In the past, workers would fasten metal fish plates to corresponding sides of two sticks of rail. Thus, they would bridge the two pieces together at their joint. Rail of this configuration became known as jointed rail.

Detailed close up of a joint of an old railway track, with large rusty bolts and a large nail securing it to the wooden brace

Most railroads have shifted from Jointed Rail to Continuous Welded Rail (CWR). When welders join multiple sticks of rail into one, it is called CWR, as the name implies. CWR features improved structural integrity and reduced maintenance costs over its jointed counterparts.

Thermite Welding

Thermite Welding is the most popular welding practice Railroad Welding Crews utilize to create CWR. Before welding, they must grind each end of the facing rails clean. Once ground clean, the joint, which should feature a gap of approximately 1”, is encased in a hollow form and preheated with an oxy or propane torch. Suppose the corresponding rails’ opposite joints are already welded to other rails, as they typically are. In that case, a Rail Puller, powered hydraulically, whether by a power pack or a Welding Truck’s Tool Circuit,  is used to accomplish the 1” gap.  Next, a crucible is set above the form and filled with thermite, a pyrotechnic composition of metal powder and metal oxide.

Once ignited, the thermite rapidly morphs into molten metal. It pours into the form below and fills the gap between the rails. It then cools, consequently welding two sticks of rail into one. Crucible and form removed; workers may address excess metal. Although metal may be beaten or chiseled away, sometimes welding crews use Weld Sheers, which utilize two sheer blades that are compressed together, by means of a hydraulic cylinder, to sheer excess metal protruding from the joint’s kerf.

Equipment Used in Welding

Welding Crews require Hi-Rail Vehicles that:

  • Adequately House And Haul Material, Tools, And Equipment
  • Allows The Operator To Handle Material Efficiently
  • Provides Hydraulic Supply For Specialty Tools
  • Features Railroad & Welding Focused Safety Features.

Custom Truck’s Welding Series (438T, 538T, 538C) manages to offer all of this and more.

Custom Truck’s 438T is a medium-duty option that features a platform body specifically designed to house thermite welding kits and related equipment. The body rests on an F-550 chassis and features an overhead material rack, oxy/acetylene bottle storage, a fire suppression system, a 370-degree radio remote-controlled telescopic crane with an 11,500  ft/lb rating, a fold-down tool tray, a rail puller rack, and a 5/10 GPM hydraulic tool circuit.

The big brother to our 438T, the 538T features a heavy-duty  F-750 chassis, a 29,500 ft/lbs remote control 21’ telescopic crane, specialized thermite kit welding storage, fire suppression, a fold-down tool tray, a puller rack, and an overhead rail rack.

The 538C features all the trappings of the 538T but upgrades the chassis to a Freightliner 108SD. It also features a saddle between the chassis and the body, which acts as a mount for an AirPak welder.

To learn more about these vehicles, please call today!

a rotary dump, often used for ballast work, using it's rotary mechanisms
Got Ballast Work? A Hi-Rail Rotary Dump Is What You Need!

Ballast, and the sub-ballast, below, is comprised of crushed stone. Ballast functions as the foundation, or trackbed, upon which crossties rest. It serves to bear tie loads, stabilize track structure, expedite water drainage, and hamper invasive track vegetation. Therefore, ballast work is an important part of railroad operations.

Railroaders primarily use Hi-Rail Dump Trucks for ballast work. They allow them to easily transport and lay ballast that will eventually be graded and/or tamped by ballast regulators or tampers.

Custom Truck’s Spec 760 Rotary Dump features a 14’ 12 cubic yard Elliptical Dump Body that utilizes a 180° Rotating Turntable and a Telescopic Hoist Cylinder to achieve its Rotary Dump Function.

The Elliptical Dump body’s design is great for ballast work. For example, radial walls reduce the impact force of discharged material, alleviate material stagnation, and facilitate post-job cleaning. Adjustable Spreader Chutes permit the operator to manipulate the dispersal volume of deposited material.

There is a slight risk of vehicle tipping associated with ballast dumping. This is due to the rotary function and the associated load shifts. However, raildogs are an effective preventative measure against load tipping. The raildog apparatus binds the Roto Dump to the rail by means of a clamp affixed to the railhead while the opposite side of the clamp is mounted to the 760’s frame.




30-Ton Pintle Hitch is useful for towing heavy loads to and from job sites.

Heavy-Duty Railgear allows Road-to-Rail travel. The 760’s gear accommodates 20 tons per guide wheel axle at 20 mph.

We also outfit each truck with our standard LED Railroad Lighting Package:

  • 4-Corner Flashing LED Amber Strobes
  • Amber Strobe (Dump Body Mount)
  • Front & Rear Railgear LED Lighting.

If selected as an option, the operator may operate the dump bed via Radio Remote Control, which effectively streamlines the operation of the 760 while optimizing the operator’s track-time.

Going beyond our standard spec, we may provide Customized Variants tailored to accommodate the Unique Needs of Your Operation.


The Workhorse X2 railcar mover
Railcar Feature: The Workhorse X2 – Custom Truck One Source

The Workhorse X2, the latest iteration of our prized railcar mover, has a streamlined design that optimizes the cost of ownership and performance of its predecessor. Here are some of our favorite features of this unit:


  • A hydraulically focused design lowers overall system shock, lessening the transmission wear typically found with railcar mover designs.
  • It has a Rotobec Elite 915 MT26 Telescopic Grapple Crane. This boasts an overall reach of 26’4”, a 4650 lb lifting capacity, and a rotating railroad grapple.
  • MAXISTAB hydraulic out-and-down stabilizers ensure a safe environment for material handling.
  • In conjunction with a split-shaft gearbox and a pump drive, the Western Star 4900SB’s Cummins X15 565hp Engine powers on-rail hydraulics.
  • A single behind-cab 195-gallon diesel fuel tank consolidates the X1’s multiple fuel reservoirs into one thus accommodating 35 additional gallons.
  • A triple wall frame rail provides improved structural integrity.
  • A robust camera system provides visibility of the area behind the truck, rail wheels, and the train air coupler.
  • The train-air coupler, and 120-gallon air storage, allow the X2 to power the pneumatic braking systems of train cars.
  • A Bogie System, consisting of (2) hydrostatic drive units, with (2) axles per drive, allows for 90-degree rotation, clockwise or counterclockwise. Also, an on-board automatic sanding system maximizes traction.

If you’re interested in or have more questions about this top-of-the-line railcar mover, don’t hesitate to contact us!


760 Hi-Rail Rotary Dump Truck
760 Hi-Rail Rotary Dump Specs – Custom Truck One Source

One of our most popular Hi-Rail vehicles is the 760 Rotary Dump.

The 760 features a 14’ 12 cubic yard Elliptical Dump Body that utilizes a 180° Rotating Turntable and a Telescopic Hoist Cylinder to achieve its Rotary Dump Function.

A Drop-Down Streetside Ladder ensures safe passage to the dump body’s bed. Important items may be housed in the 760’s 36”x18”x18” Underbody Toolbox. A 30-Ton Tow Package provides the operator with the capacity needed to haul heavy loads to and from job sites. Adjustable Spreader Chutes permit the operator to manipulate the dispersal volume of deposited material.

Heavy-Duty Railgear promotes Road-to-Rail travel.

Each truck is outfitted with our standard LED Railroad Lighting Package:

  • 4-Corner Flashing LED Amber Strobes
  • Amber Strobe (Dump Body Mount)
  • Front & Rear Railgear LED Lighting.

If selected as an option, the operator may operate the dump bed via Radio Remote Control, which effectively streamlines the operation of the 760 and optimizes the operator’s track-time.

Going beyond our standard spec, we may provide Customized Variants tailored to accommodate the Unique Needs of Your Operation.

Call or email today for more details regarding our Spec 760 Rotary Dump Truck.


Fort Worth rail parts warehouse
Inside Our Rail Parts Warehouse

Standing just within the NE 820 Loop, in Fort Worth, TX, Custom Truck’s Rail Parts Warehouse carries over $1M in on-hand inventory and is staffed with knowledgeable and diligent personnel. For some additional insight into what exactly goes in inside the rail parts warehouse, we had a brief interview with the people who keep things running.


How long has the rail parts building been open? Why did it open?

Our warehouse opened back in 2015 to meet a demand that was present for Rail-centric parts. We’d just started a Rail Division in Kansas City, and the Parts Warehouse was the natural next step.

What types of parts do you carry?

We carry mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic, and electrical components for both work-truck and hi-rail applications. We stock and handle most replacement parts for a myriad of railgear, crane, body, and electrical manufacturers.

Whether it be a hose reel, work lights, gear parts, or a weld wheel, we got you covered.

If we don’t have it, we can certainly source it & have it shipped same-day in most cases.

How much inventory do you typically have on hand?

We carry north of $1 million of parts at any given time.  We’ve got a large customer base… we require a large stock to support their needs. Parts on hand ship same-day.

Where are the parts from?

We act as a distributor for many OEMs. Some of them include:

  • Diversified Metal Fabricators
  • Continental Railworks
  • IMT
  • Stellar
  • National

Our relationship goes beyond supplier and distributor, though. Close relationships with OEM product managers grants us insights and knowledge unseen in other parts houses. Our ties with such managers allow us to provide answers to the toughest questions our customers can think of… and if we don’t know the answer, we certainly know the folks that do.

Do you only sell parts, or does your team do any manufacturing?

We, at the Rail Warehouse, do not – but the Rail team at the Kansas City headquarters may be able to. Obviously, it depends on what the customer is wanting to do, but they’d be the guys to talk to.

What types of companies are your customers?

We sell to them all. Our customers range from Class 1s, Shortlines, Contractors, and, occasionally, commuters/transit authorities.

What, if any, has the impact of COVID been on your business?

Honestly, we’ve been lucky enough to stay pretty strong throughout the pandemic. The country’s infrastructure relies on the efforts of many of our customers – their essential status has kept us in a safe position throughout the pandemic’s uncertainties.

Is there any other important information people should know about what you in the Rail Parts Warehouse?

I’d just say that we’re appreciative of each of our customers. Not only have you helped to make us one of the most successful Rail Part retailers in the country, but you’ve kept our infrastructure afloat. Everything we do here is because of and for you.


Hi-rail Track Inspectors spec 315 on F-350 extended cab
Hi-Rail Track Inspectors: Spec 315

Railways require constant supervision and maintenance. Track inspectors, as the title implies, inspect railways for issues and errors that require correction. These people often hold a certification from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and many years of experience with railroad operations. The responsibilities of these inspectors may include, but are not limited to:

  • Maintaining detailed records regarding track conditions
  • Supervising functionality of signal crossing equipment
  • Submission of maintenance requests
  • Management of equipment and repair personnel associated with repairs.

Often, they will come across an issue that they can diagnose and handle themselves – assuming they are equipped with the right tools. It is for this reason that Custom Truck One Source (CTOS) includes the Spec 315 in our lineup of Hi-Rail vehicles.

Spec 315

Our 315s are light-duty Hi-Rail track inspectors that pack a punch. The standard build utilizes an extended cab F-350 as its chassis. Aluminum wheel modifications provide optimized ride stability. Upon customer request, we may offer crew cab variants.

The Track Inspector’s body features cargo space, an integral cab protector, and various compartments. Such compartments include:

  • Gas bottle compartment
  • Underbody box
  • Horizontal compartments
  • Long tool storage

The inspector may utilize hydraulic tools such as impact guns and rail drills via a 5/10 GPM tool circuit, which features a 50’ spring rewind hose reel and QD couplers.

A 12V 25-gallon spot sprayer allows the inspector to blast away debris and inspect rail conditions better or neutralize small fires.

CTOS also provides a myriad of options, such as:

  • A shunt system with in-cab switch panel, which allows the operator to raise/lower signal crossings at his/her discretion
  • A distance measuring device
  • A 2000-watt inverter that provides the operator with auxiliary power
  • A spotlight with radio remote control
  • A Robolube rail lubrication unit – a device that provides consistent grease application to the gauge face.
  • An aluminum body that maximizes payload efficiency.

CTOS consistently strives to provide its customers with streamlined products to aid them in their daily operations. We’re proud to include our 315 as one of those products. For more information, please click here.


wooden railroad ties from overhead
Our Types of Railroad Binding Ties – Custom Truck One Source

They may look insignificant to the passer-by, but railroad ties are, quite literally, the foundation upon which North America’s 200,000-mile rail network is anchored. Proper installation ensures that trains and hi-rail trucks have a solid base upon which they may transport both goods and commuters. Compromised ties can, ultimately, play a part in derailment situations. Railroads annually replace approximately 24 million wooden ties, roughly 7400 track miles. Railroad ties have been traditionally made of wood. Given consistent railroad expansion, new construction, and ongoing track maintenance, alternative tie options are conducive to satiating the market’s crosstie demand. Continue below to learn about the 4 major types of ties and their unique benefits.

# 1: Wooden Ties

Interestingly, wooden ties originally replaced those of rudimentary stone construction years ago, as the latter offered little structural flexibility. They have since remained the most popular option in railroad construction. Wooden ties are hardwood, because this material offers sturdiness and durability. Untreated hardwood rots somewhat easily when exposed to the elements. To prevent this, suppliers typically treat wooden ties with creosote. This increases their lifespan by 30 or 40 years. Wooden ties typically have lower acquisition costs.

They typically measure 8-10” thick and 8-10’ long. However, these dimensions vary in relation to differing regional requirements.

On average, an oak tree produces about four ties. Though oak is the most common lumber choice for wooden crosstie production, the American Railway Engineering Association states that 27 other varieties of wood are also used. such as chestnut, elm, and walnut. Much of the lumber utilized in crosstie production is from tree farms. Farmers maintain hundreds of acres of tree stocks by adhering to a systematic plant/grow/harvest rotation, which they have used for years, thus meeting market demands while also maintaining ecological stability.

# 2: Concrete Ties

A major benefit of concrete ties is their extended durability to adverse weather conditions. They have a lifespan of approximately 30 to 50 years, depending on product quality and environmental conditions. Precast concrete has a lower tie-per-mile ratio than its wooden counterpart; 2640 ties to wood’s 3250.  They are also non-combustible. As such, their presence reduces the chance of track fires. The sturdiness of precast concrete ties can increase overall travel speed. Many high-speed rail systems in Europe utilize concrete ties for this very reason.

# 3: Steel Ties

Steel ties typically feature a box or convex design. The steel tie’s design minimizes the amount of ballast required to create a structurally sound tie bed. The design simplifies shipping as they tend to stack easily. Steel ties, like their concrete counterparts, boast extended lifespans. Shipping ease, extended lifespan, and ballast reduction collectively reduce both maintenance and operation costs for these ties.

# 4: Plastic Ties

Plastic ties, often called composite ties, are comprised of various synthetic materials rendered from recycled waste tires and plastics. Such materials include polyurethane resin and long glass fiber. Resilient against the elements, the composite tie’s synthetic composition boasts a lifespan of approximately 50 years. Many plastic ties have dimensions matching those of wooden ties, so they can be interspersed with wooden ties.

Ultimately, each tie holds its owns benefits. The suppliers to the railroad industry understand that product variance is conducive to growing markets.

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