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Maintenance of way is an aspect of railway maintenance which is designed to ensure that the railway remains clear, safe, and navigable. The term “maintenance of way” may also be used to describe similar procedures performed by highway crews and other transportation professionals who maintain right of way. Crews which engage in maintenance of way tasks work in all weather and all conditions, ranging from sunny days when routine checks of the tracks may be performed to howling storms in which debris needs to be cleared from the tracks.
There are a number of components of this maintenance. A big part involves maintaining the tracks themselves. Tracks must be regularly checked for signs of problems which can include missing or damaged ties, damage to the rails, and obstructions such as fallen trees or disabled trains. Maintenance of way includes routinely checking, clearing, and repairing the tracks, with the use of a variety of specialized equipment.
Maintenance of way also involves the area immediately adjacent to the tracks. Workers must keep this area clear for safety. Their work can include removing debris, clearing drainage trenches, installing drainage systems, trimming back trees and shrubs, reapplying gravel, and other activities. Keeping this area clear promotes visibility so that train drivers can clearly see what is ahead of them, reduces track obstructions by keeping the area around the track clear of potential obstructions, and reduces fire hazards.
The same type of work can be performed by road crews around roads, highways, and freeways. In both cases, crews deal with the roadway or track in addition to the surrounding area, which is owned by the government or the railway. Maintenance of way protects communities in addition to the interests of the people using the rail or track, as it can prevent accidents and fatalities by keeping the area around the road or track clear, making passing trains and cars highly visible.
In many regions, the track or road and surrounding area are known as the right of way, and right of way maintenance is mandated by law in addition to being an industry-wide practice. People with historical interests may be intrigued to know that railroads were once granted very large rights of way by the government, especially in the United States, and a number of railroads established settlements along their tracks which later turned into thriving communities. Railroads also used the lands granted as right of way to generate profit by growing crops, subdividing and selling the land, or utilizing the land to house railway employees and equipment.