The Rail Stressor: Taking the Stress out of Track Maintenance

rail stressor positioned on a railway trackj

A rail stressor, also known as a rail puller, or a rail tensor, is a vital piece of equipment used by railway maintenance engineers for carrying out rail stressing, welding, failure repairs, and servicing.

They work by clamping around the rail track and use hydraulic cylinders to pull sections closer together. Although regarded as a specialized piece of equipment, there are different rail stressors available from several manufacturers throughout the world.

If you’re looking to buy a hydraulic rail stressor, what are the considerations? And what features should you look out for?

Let’s take a look at six key considerations.

Carrying the rail stressor to the trackside

In most instances, access can be difficult. Even if a road runs alongside a track, the likelihood is you will not be able to get a truck-mounted crane exactly where you need it.

lifting rail stressor into position
Above: Access may not allow a crane to lift the rail stressor into position. If it has a modular construction this will allow for easier positioning and set up.

An assembled rail stressor can weigh well over 200kg (441lb). So, getting a fully or partially assembled unit to the track can be a struggle. This usually means a group of people will be needed to lift and assemble the unit with and several trips up or down the railway embankment.

Manual handling guidelines specify that a man should not carry weights exceeding 25kg – and that’s when holding the load close to the body at elbow height. Below or above the elbows or further away from the body, the recommended weight limit is less.

So before committing to buy a rail stressor, take a look at how it can be assembled and check the weights of each module. The weight should be clearly marked on each module and state whether a single or 2-person lift is needed. Lift Handles finished in a different color to the rest of the product are an added bonus.

Durability

The very nature of rail maintenance work means you’re most likely to be working outdoors. So, products will be put through their paces – both when in use and during transportation. Welding splatter is inevitable, but damage to key components such as the hydraulic cylinders can be minimized by tough surface finishes and protective sleeves.

Rail Stressor Assembly

assembling a rail stressor

As already mentioned, it is likely that the rail stressor will be too heavy to carry in one piece, so trackside assembly will be needed. Time is money, so consider a puller designed for easy and quick assembly. As an example, the Enerpac RP70A Rail Stressor can be assembled in as little as 2 minutes.

Clearance

When assembled, your chosen product may do a great job at closing gaps between the rails, but is there enough clearance for the other tools you will be using? These may include welding gear, shears, and grinders.

Powering the Rail Stressor

hydraulic pump for rail stressor or rail puller

If you already own a hydraulic pump, is it compatible with the stressor and up to the job? When selecting the right pump, as well as output, consider weight, convenience, enclosed places such as tunnels and the environment. Low noise battery-powered pumps are available that operate below 80dBA max noise level with zero emissions.

Storage and Transportation

If you are investing in a new rail stressor, you will want to protect your asset and keep all components together so nothing goes astray. A wooden crate is unlikely to stand the test of time, but a galvanized metal storage crate is ideal and will help extend its lifespan.

storage trolley for a rail stressor

The example above shows a stackable transport frame with a box underneath to store hydraulic hoses. Wheels also help to move the equipment when a forklift is not available.

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