A Power Washing Consultant’s Tips for Tapping Into the Rail Industry

In this tough economy, it may be surprising to hear that pressure washing railcars and locomotives is a lucrative market. In the past, rail companies did the work internally, but today most companies outsource the work to a power washing company. According to Paul Horsley, a professional power washing consultant and President of Scotts Pressure Wash in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, it’s a market that pressure wash companies should seriously consider tapping into:

“The rail industry in North America is much bigger than most people think and, just like other modes of transportation, railway companies need power washing services,” says Horsley. “Statistics from the Association of American Railroads show that there are more than 1.59 million freight cars and 24,143 locomotives in service throughout Canada, Mexico and the United States. You can bet a good number of those railcars travel through your state in any given day!”

From removing graffiti from tankers, to dry sweeping boxcars or degreasing locomotives, the industry offers a wellspring of opportunities for any power washing company willing to put in a little extra effort to build a client base and secure contracts.

Although adding the rail industry to your service list might sound intimidating, most of what you know from pressure washing trucks can be applied to railcars. With a little extra research, and some advice from a pressure wash consultant, working on the railroad is an entirely attainable and profitable goal.

Here’s what you need to know before preparing a bid:

The type of railcar you need to clean. Ask your client if there are industry or company-specific regulations you should know. For example, when washing locomotives, pressure washing the disk brakes may cause corrosion, resulting in brake failure. This is a significant safety hazard, and the American Association of Railroads has written guidelines dictating that waterproof tarps must cover the brakes before starting any power washing.

Location. Where the work will be done? Who owns the land? Is there an available source of water? What are the environmental constraints and where will wastewater be disposed? Wastewater recovery requires careful planning: trucking in water, having access to a lift to work on top of railcars, ensuring that all pressure wash units are in working order and equipped with the appropriate chemicals and, most importantly, supplying proper safety gear to protect workers from chemical overspray and falling hazards.

Timeline. Horsley says to expect tight deadlines in railway industry contracts since they need to get their railcars back in service as soon as possible. It’s not unusual to be asked to clean an entire unit train, consisting of 125 railcars, in three days. Horsley also explains the importance of visiting the site ahead of time:

“Although I did my due diligence and visited the rural site in advance, I never considered how different that site would be after a period of heavy rainfall. We only had a short window of opportunity to complete the work and, because of the rain, we incurred major difficulties getting equipment in and out of the site. To say it was a challenge to complete the job on time and on budget would be an understatement! I’ve since learned that it’s a good idea to build an extra day into the bid, to allow for unforeseen circumstances.”

After you’ve talked to a pressure wash consultant and have a system in place, you’re ready to start cleaning railcars. The most common chemicals used in railcar cleaning are sulfuric acid, ammonium bifluoride and hydrofluoric acid. Cleaning uses a six-step process:

1) Clean the roof: apply chemical wash and rinse

2) Clean the sides and undercarriage

3) At the same time, begin wastewater recovery

4) Remove graffiti, which might require manual scrubbing

5) Apply degreaser, if necessary

6) Rinse entire unit, from the top down, including wheels and undercarriage

7) Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Rail-related cleaning opportunities include:

– Boxcars (Pressure wash exteriors. Dry sweep/steam interiors.)

– Tankers (Exterior pressure washing and graffiti removal)

– Grain Hoppers (Manual removal of debris accumulated on ends decks and pressure washing)

– Locomotives (Exterior pressure washing with special attention to engine compartment)

“Once you get a system in place, the work goes relatively quickly,” says Horsley, who is also a longtime member of the Pressure Washers of North America (PWNA). For more information about train cleaning, start by contacting your local power washing consultant, or sign up for a two-day workshop at the PWNA, by visiting http://www.pwna.org.