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Railyards Union Pacific

High Mast helps Union Pacific
eliminate maintenance, downtime

A steady reduction in its maintenance staff during the past 10 years prompted Union Pacific Railroad officials to consider other options for illuminating its new intermodal and auto unloading facilities. The railroad operates a number of automobile unloading facilities and rail yard centers from the Mississippi River westward to the Pacific Ocean.

In the past, these facilities were illuminated with a virtual forest of wooden poles strung across the yard areas. Each 40-foot pole supported one or two lighting fixtures.

According to John Thornton, manager, electrical maintenance, Union Pacific Railroad Company, maintenance crews were constantly on-site to change lamps or fix downed wires resulting from forklifts and other vehicles hitting the poles. Making the repairs often required closing one or more railroad tracks because of the poles’ inaccessibility.

Since the maintenance staff reduction, Union Pacific has designed all new facilities with high mast lighting from Holophane mounted on 100-foot poles. Existing facilities are being changed over as budgets permit, with two high mast systems with 12 luminaires per pole replacing up to 30 wooden poles.

Some of the Union Pacific facilities are narrow and up to two miles long. At these locations, the high mast poles were installed every 600 feet, with nine high mast systems replacing up to 130 wooden poles. Luminaires with an asymmetric distribution pattern were used to light long, narrow areas, and luminaires with a symmetrical distribution pattern were used for wide, open spaces.

The railroad used three different high mast systems to illuminate the rail yards—depending upon the location. The HMST® system from Holophane was used to provide general area lighting, with the HMSC® system with cutoff optics installed in areas needing less fixture brightness. Facilities bordered by residential and industrial neighborhoods were illuminated with the Dark Skies system from Holophane to eliminate light trespass. All of the luminaires use 1,000-watt high-pressure sodium lamps.

Illumination levels vary according to the functions performed. In areas where automobiles are unloaded, levels range from 2 to 3 footcandles. Light levels in areas where locomotives are fueled may reach as high as five footcandles or as low as 1 footcandle at switch points.

“The high mast system has provided us with a lot of flexibility,” said Thornton. “We have significantly reduced our maintenance costs and virtually eliminated downtime. The yards look cleaner overall and vehicles can move around more freely because there are fewer obstacles.”

The high mast systems are installed on elevated concrete bases to prevent vehicles from hitting the poles. Each system includes a lowering device with an internal motor and winch assembly that brings the luminaires to ground level for servicing. The high mast systems are maintained on an as-needed basis, with the railroad allowing two or three lamps to burn out before replacing them.

“The system was over-designed so maintenance personnel would not have to go to the site every time a single lamp burned out,” said Thornton. “Because of the system design, we can provide the light levels required with nine or 10 luminaires.”

Recently, the railroad installed an intermodal trailer tracking system to track semi trailers after they are unloaded from the trains. System antennas were mounted on top of the high mast poles on the lowering ring. A special coaxial cable runs up the center of the poles in the same jacket as the power cable that operates the lighting fixtures and the lowering device. Because the antennas are mounted on the lowering device, they can be brought to ground level for servicing.

“Having the capability to mount the antennas on the high mast towers meant that we did not have to install the 45-foot wooden poles that are typically used to hold the antennas,” Thornton said. “This saved us time and dollars, and helped us keep the yard areas clear.”

According to Thornton, Union Pacific plans to install high mast systems with a sports package that allows all luminaires to be aimed in the same direction. Having this capability will allow the company to light the yard area from towers installed on the property perimeter. This capability is especially important for facilities that do not have the space for towers within the yard area.

“The high mast lighting system has been well accepted by all railroad personnel—from operations to management,” said Thornton. “Light levels have increased significantly, which has lead to a much safer environment. Higher light levels have also helped deter theft and vandalism.”


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