Sunday December 9, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE -- Hurricane Sandy not only destroyed New Jersey’s coastline. It devastated that state’s public transportation system as well.

A Stockbridge-based company has played a major role in helping to bring NJ TRANSIT’s rail system back to normal.

Last summer, RTR Technologies Inc., which designs and manufactures freeze protection and deicing systems for the rail and mass transit industries, finalized a $2.1 million contract to provide NJ TRANSIT with new energy-efficient switch point heaters, devices that melt snow and ice from the mechanisms that allow trains to change tracks.

But the storm damage to the rail system was so severe, RTR has had to expedite the manufacturing of those devices to NJ TRANSIT.

In order to fill those orders quicker, RTR has leased space in a 5,000-square-foot former tire warehouse near its manufacturing facility in Canaan, Conn. and begun hiring more personnel. RTR currently has 32 employees, but company president Rosalie Berger said that total is expected to climb to 40 in the near future. The firm could more than double in size within the next two years as the demand for its technologies grows.

"We’re busy," Berger said. "We have to immediately expedite the first full order. Both purchase orders need to be installed by October 2013."

RTR is also completing the delivery of third-rail heating systems and switch point heaters for a major rail extension to Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia, part of a $7.4 million contract that the company was awarded in August 2011.

The Virginia system didn’t receive any damage from Hurricane Sandy.

But in New Jersey, the storm downed trees and overhead wires on NJ TRANSIT’s 11 rail lines, washed-out track, especially along the coast, and flooded several stations, including the rail system’s operations center. The damage was so severe that modified service on the entire system wasn’t restored until Dec. 3.

"The tracks lifted and pulled everything out," Berger said.

NJ TRANSIT had been using manually operated tubular switch point heaters that remained in service from fall through the spring, regardless of the temperatures. But when NJ TRANSIT began seeking more efficient solutions, RTR was awarded the bid to produce temperature sensing switch point heaters, which produce heat only when there are freezing conditions.

This is the kind of technology that RTR develops.

RTR was founded in 1994, but Rosalie’s husband, Craig Berger, the company’s director of business development, originally developed third-rail heating systems in 1977 by adapting the technology for the rail industry. RTR’s current rail deicing system was developed in 2005. The third rail on a railroad track distributes power to rolling stock through a pickup shoe that is attached to the rail car. A slight buildup of ice or snow on the third rail can interrupt that power connection.

"As little as a 32nd of an inch of ice on the third rail can prevent contact with the pickup shoe and the rail," Craig Berger said. "Therefore, the car will stop because the electrical continuity will be broken. It’s a very serious situation for the ridership and the service itself."

RTR had already provided 750,000 feet of linear cable for third-rail heating systems for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, before the Dulles Airport Extension project came along. The $6.8 billion, 23-mile Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, also known as the "Silver Line," is the Washington Metro’s largest mileage expansion since the Metro first opened in 1976.

RTR produced 125,000 feet of third-rail heaters for the recently completed first phase of the project, and is completing work included in another $500,000 contract to deliver switch point heaters for that phase through its agreement with French transit company, Alstom. The second phase is scheduled to begin next year. The entire rail expansion project is expected to be completed by 2017.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:

TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com

(413) 496-6224.