Machinery improvements can make the job easier, but crews working on the railroad still have to put in an honest day’s effort.
On Wednesday, crews replaced 17-year-old railroad ties on the trestle crossing the Savannah River from downtown Augusta into Aiken County in a project expected to last at least four weeks.
Foreman Charles Hutson, of Norfolk Southern Corp., which operates the line under construction, said he remembers much harder labor when the ties were last replaced in 1994.
“I remember doing a lot of it by hand,” Hutson said.
Now, large machines remove old ties, carry them back to the bridge’s end and pick up a new replacement tie.
Two weeks ago, a 15-person crew prepared for the new ties by removing an inner guard rail and removing railroad spikes that hold the ties in place, Hutson said.
The railroad trestle, built in 1899 to connect commerce in South Carolina and Georgia, remains an active line, with several trains crossing each day.
To keep the line open during the project, Hutson removes construction machines when trains are about to pass over the bridge.
Working on the bridge requires extra safety precautions, such as the harnesses worn by each worker.
The harness attaches to the rail and slides easily back and forth as workers move, earning its nickname the “puppy dog.”
“It follows you around like a little puppy dog. It just pulls with you,” said Eddie Heller, who worked
on the rails and ties as a light drizzle fell Wednesday.
The century-old bridge receives inspections every year by
Norfolk Southern. Heller, who accompanies the main inspector, knows it well.
“It’s in very good condition. It’ll be better when we finish these ties,” he said.
Working on the railroad is hard labor that Hutson, a 23-year veteran railroad worker, and Heller know well.
“We work early in the morning until dark,” Hutson said. “We work in the rain, too.”