Railway tracks can be maintained either conventionally by manual labour or by the application of modern methods of track maintenance such as mechanical tamping or measured shovel packing. In India, maintaining tracks has traditionally been a manual activity and the 'calendar system of maintenance' has taken deep roots. In this system, a timetable or programme that outlines the track maintenance work to be done by the gangs in the course of a year is drawn out and generally followed. As per the timetable or calendar, the 12-month cycle of maintenance consists of the following operations.
(a) Through packing
(b) Systematic overhauling
(c) Picking up slacks
Necessity and Advantages of Track Maintenance
The railway track should be maintained properly in order to enable trains to run safely at the highest permissible speeds and to provide passengers a reasonable level of comfort during the ride. Track maintenance becomes a necessity due to following reasons.
(a) Due to the constant movement of heavy and high-speed trains, the packing under the sleepers becomes loose and track geometry gets disturbed. The gauge, alignment, and longitudinal as well as cross levels of the track thus get affected adversely and the safety of the track is jeopardized.
(b) Due to the vibrations and impact of high-speed trains, the fittings of the track come undone and there is heavy wear and tear of the track and its components.
(c) The track and its components get worn out as a result of the weathering effect of rain, sun, and sand.
A well-maintained track offers a safe and comfortable journey to passengers. If the track is not maintained properly, it will cause discomfort to the passengers and in extreme cases may even give rise to hazardous conditions that can lead to derailments and a consequential loss of life and property. Track maintenance ensures that such situations do not arise. The other advantages of track maintenance are as follows.
(a) If the track is suitably maintained, the life of the track as well as that of the rolling stock increases since there is lesser wear and tear of their components.
(b) Regular track maintenance helps in reducing operating costs and fuel consumption.
(c) Small maintenance jobs done at the appropriate time such as tightening a bolt or key, hammering the dog spike, etc., helps in avoiding loss of the concerned fitting and thus saving on the associated expenditure.
(d) When track maintenance is neglected for a long time, it may render the track beyond repair, calling for heavy track renewals that entail huge expenses.