Tractors are useful pieces of kit – ask any farmer. They are strong and reliable, they can go almost anywhere, and the range of attachments that can be fastened to them is huge.

Of course, some of those attachments are industry-specific. Ploughs and harrows are useful in agriculture, but wouldn’t be much use in a railway environment. However others, such as the chippers and mulchers used in forestry and land management, can carry over into rail applications.

As in most other areas of plant and equipment, there are several major manufacturers of tractors. However one of them, Valtra of Finland, has a neat trick that makes their tractors particularly interesting to railway users. They can be driven equally quickly in either direction.

Two way street

One of the options available for the cab of Valtra’s T-series tractors is a ‘reverse drive’ system. The seat can be rotated through 180° and then faces a second set of controls, a steering wheel and foot pedals. This allows the tractor to be driven backwards, and makes it easier for the operator to use rear- mounted implements.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to decide that this will then make an ideal platform to be turned into a road-rail vehicle. Add a pair of flanged wheels front and back, some extra controls and there you are.

Specialist rail plant hire company TRAC Engineering has two of these tractors, both 160hpVatra T121s. They were added to the fleet in summer 2010.

Chipping and Mulching

A 16×14 Vandaele chipper can be mounted to the front power take-off (PTO). This processes timber using three multi- tooth blades mounted on a flywheel. Each blade has eight individual carbide-tipped teeth to give long life and good cutting performance. This can reduce bushes, dead wood and even sizeable trees to wood chips in no time at all, spraying the resultant chippings out of an adjustable nozzle.

At the rear, a PTO driven Noremat mulcher with eighteen double sided cutting hammers and a seven metre reach has been fitted. The cutting drum can rotate in both directions enabling mulching operations to be carried out when driving in either forward or reverse. This tool is ideal for clearing all types of vegetation including brambles, young growth and saplings from embankments and other areas.

As an alternative, the chipper on the front can be replaced by a weed spraying unit. This has a 1500 litre clean water tank and a separate 90 litre chemical tank. In operation, the water and chemical are mixed in a separate chamber as required, ensuring that the water tank will never be contaminated with chemical.

Spraying is carried out using four forward- facing ‘Radi-Arc’ vibrating nozzles. They are positioned so they can spray both the track bed area and the banking area if required. When all four ‘Radi-Arcs’ are operating at the same time, the coverage is out to seven metres from the centre of the 4-foot, either side of the track. Alternatively they can be switched on individually to accommodate differing track configurations. With all 4 heads in operation, it will treat 6 miles of track.

And there’s more…

The two tractors worked throughout the UK during the winter of 2010, and have been busy ever since. Since August this year, one has been working in North Wales out of the Shrewsbury delivery unit. It is set to be there for another six months with TRAC’s specially trained operatives. The other tractor is predominantly working in the Yorkshire area, completing de-vegetation works.

With demand growing and both machines booked out solidly for the foreseeable future, TRAC has just taken delivery of two more of these tractors. These are updated Valtra T133 machines and they have arrived just in time to handle the workload over the winter. They already have customers waiting.

So the versatility of the humble tractor makes it a vehicle of choice for the railway industry as well as agriculture. With a bit of time (if they ever get it) and two new tractors to play with, it will be interesting to see what attachments TRAC Engineering comes up with next.