Keeping Russian Railways rolling

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Keeping Russian Railways rolling

Russian Railways (RZD) is one of the biggest railway companies in the world with 1.3 million employees. They keep over a billion customers and over a billion tonnes of freight moving across their 85,500 kilometres of track each year.
This huge task uses tens of thousands of wagons, carriages and locomotives and all that it takes to keep them moving. During our journey we were taken to see some examples of just how this is done.
In the new coach cleaning plant in Yekaterinburg we saw how water and cleaning compounds were recycled, saving energy and reducing the amount of waste water going to the the sewers to almost nothing. The dirty soapy water was filtered and could be used again and again. They clean over 20,000 wagons per years, all gleaming and steaming after their wash and brush-up.

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Clean train emerging after an automated wash and brush up

Also in Yekatinerinburg we saw wheels and brakes being assembled onto axles. The axles last far longer than the wheels so new or re-furbished wheels are added many times over the lifetime of the axles. I was struck by how highly machined the components were and how precisely they were aligned. The wheels were as truly aligned as any racing bicycle wheel.

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checking wheel assembly
checking wheel assembly
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wheel assembly
ready to roll

Later in Nizny we saw how 25 meter sections of track are welded together to make sections many hundreds of meters long. In a modern factory the lengths were fused in a tightly controlled welding chamber. The joints passed by us, glowing a dull red as they cooled.

Tracks awaiting use
Credit: Ivan Shapovalov, RZD

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Hand finishing the welded joint
hand finishing weld
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quality checking rail
quality checking rail weld on outside
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checking inside of weld
checking interior weld on rail

The cooled joints were hand finished and then checked both inside and out. The lady checking for internal flaws coated the steels with liquid before sliding her probe along the track-join, using a technology and technique similar to that used to examine the unborn child.
Throughout we were impressed by the quiet pride and professionalism of the railway men and women we met.