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How do you maintain railway tracks?

Railway engineer maintaining railway tracks

Railway track maintenance is an essential aspect of keeping our trains running here in New Zealand. There are many elements involved in the successful maintenance of railway tracks – from proactive assessments to reactive repair work that can be necessary at short notice.

Whilst keeping trains running is one of the key reasons for railway track maintenance, safety is at the forefront of all maintenance work. Trains travel at high speeds and it is crucial that the track condition is maintained at all times. It’s not just the tracks, however. It is important that every aspect of the railway system is maintained, especially the overhead line equipment (OLE) and also the signalling systems.

Regular maintenance will extent the service life of the railway tracks, with proactive maintenance reducing the need for damage repair which can be costly, both in terms of the cost of the repair but also train delays or cancellations.

Why do railway tracks need regular maintenance?

Railway tracks are put under immense pressure from the movement and weight of the dynamic railway vehicles that travel on them as well as being exposed to the elements.

Here in New Zealand, the majority of our rail network outside of Auckland is dominated by freight and this leads to a lot of strain being placed on the railway tracks around the country. In other countries around the world, heavy passenger use coupled with freight means that tracks are constantly under pressure, with some tracks receiving very little downtime during the course of a day.

All this pressure and strain can lead to abrasion, deformity, damage to relevant parts as well as contraction and expansion in varying weather conditions. Whilst technology is helping to improve the overall monitoring and maintenance on track conditions, physical inspections are still an essential aspect of railway track maintenance.

Periodic maintenance schedules are a necessary part of railway maintenance, and these will include a variety of tasks from inspection to comprehensive maintenance.

Railway track engineer taking a photo of the line

Alpha Rail maintenance services

At Alpha Rail, our construction team have a broad knowledge base and experience in the management and supervision of rail and track maintenance on traction and OLE assets.

Our maintenance expertise includes:

  • OLE Height and Stagger assessments and adjustments for maintenance tamping and minor works
  • Material failure analysis
  • Condition and asset assessments and reports
  • Dilapidation surveys and reports
  • Pantograph performance reviews and monitoring
  • Asset database production
  • Technical analysis for support of temporary speed restrictions or emergency works
  • Installation and acceptance documentation for new materials assets
  • Electrical clearance and access safety assessments against specifications and requirements
  • Preventive maintenance
  • Fault response
  • Frequency based asset analysis
  • Asset recommendations

Our focus is on safety, removing the risk wherever possible and maintenance is a key element in helping to ensure the safety of our rail network here in New Zealand.

Types of railway maintenance

Depending on the type of railway track, there are a number of preventative and ongoing maintenance actions that can help to prolong the service life of a railway track and ensure the lasting safety of our rail network. These maintenance activities can include:

Rail replacement

Sometimes it is necessary to replace certain sections of a railway track due to defects, wear, or derailment damage. All sections of a track are regularly monitored, and potential issues identified and more closely monitored until replacement is the only option.


Sometimes tack tamping is necessary when certain sections have become misaligned. Tamping typically involves lifting a series of railway sleepers and vibrating tamping lines are inserted into the ballast to help to correct the level.

Track stabilisation

Track stabilisers vibrate the track in a lateral direction, applying a vertical load to provide controlled settlement. This will often be carried out in conjunction with tamping to help to reduce the lateral resistance of the track.

Sleeper replacement

Typically, sleeper maintenance and repair are not possible. When sleepers are damaged, they will usually need to be replaced. Defective sleepers can lead to a number of issues including the rail losing the correct gauge that can lead to derailments.


Railway maintenance is essential to ensure the long term safety and security of rail transport here in New Zealand. At Alpha Rail, we are one of New Zealand’s leading providers of railway design, construction and maintenance. Talk to the team today.

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