Things are starting to get green again – and that includes the weeds. Anyone who’s tended a garden can attest to how persistent these little plants can be. But what if your garden stretched along for hundreds of miles?
Even the railroads aren’t immune to weed control. While it might seem as though the little weeds couldn’t pose any threat to a train, the danger is there. The stone ballast which supports the railroad track is also designed as a drainage system. Weeds, dirt and trash can all clog this filter. If water can not drain away from the track, much more serious structural problems can occur.
Consequently, every spring and summer the weed spraying train makes its rounds. These trains usually include one or more tank cars loaded with herbicide. Either the tank cars themselves, or another converted car, are equipped with spray nozzles to distribute the chemicals along the track. An old boxcar is usually included to carry tools and the pumping equipment. Some railroads own the whole train, others contract with outside firms to supply the train, pulling it with one of their own locomotives. Since these trains aren’t very large, nor do they operate at high speeds or expedited schedules, older power, usually whatever is available, is typically assigned to trains like this.
Weed spraying, like most maintenance of way work, must be done while working around the rest of the regular trains on the schedule. On multiple track lines, several passes may be necessary to cover the full width of the right of way. The weed sprayer usually ties down for the night in a nearby yard and may spend several days working out of the same base before moving on to the next territory. Trackage through protected lands may not be treated at all. Weeds along these no-spray rights of way will be generally taken care of when the ballast itself is cleaned and/or replaced on a regular maintenance schedule. There are other trains to handle these dirty jobs.
Lionel has made several weed spraying cars over the years. A maintenance extra with an old locomotive, a few tank cars, an old boxcar and a caboose would be a fun and prototypical change of pace on any layout – much more fun than pulling the real weeds growing in your flower bed!