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Lock and dam tow rail systems get upgrades

Published March 18, 2020
New "mule" on for the tow rail at Lock and Dam 6

The new mule and tow rail is installed at Lock and Dam 6 in Trempealeau, Wis., is used March 17, 2020 to pull the barges out of the lock chamber. This was the first operational use of the new system, which is a vital piece of equipment which assists tows locking through lock and dams when traveling upriver.

Tow rail installation

The new tow rail is installed at Lock and Dam 6 in Trempealeau, Wis., February 2020. As opposed to the previous towrail system, the new rail is a continuous 555 foot-long segment where the sections were thermite welded together prior to installation. The resulting piece results in a smooth run for the travel along when pulling barges upriver out of the lock chamber.

Tow rail rehabilitation at Lock and Dam 6

Contractors remove old concrete on the upstream guidewall at Lock and Dam 6 in Trempealeau, Wis., Jan. 9, 2020, as part of the tow rail rehabilitation project. The system is a vital piece of equipment which assists tows locking through lock and dams when traveling upriver.

Lock guidewall void

St. Paul District engineers Jake Fall and Wade Carr and project manager Kim Warshaw use a remote camera to inspect a void in the upstream guidewall at Lock and Dam 8 near Genoa, Wis., Jan. 8, 2020. The team was on site reviewing progress of the tow rail rehabilitation project. The the tow rail is a vital piece of equipment which assists tows locking through lock and dams when traveling upriver.

The St. Paul District is investing more than $18 million in the tow rail system, vital pieces of equipment which assists tows locking through lock and dams when traveling upriver.

Locks and Dams 6, 8 and 9 are the first locks benefiting from this upgrade, which have been completed in time for the 2020 navigation season. Locks and Dams 4, 5, 5A and 7 receiving similar upgrades in upcoming winters.

“Overall, these much needed upgrades will make the locks more efficient for the tows which are locking upriver, and improve the safety for the navigation industry as well as our lock and dam staff,” said Kim Warshaw, project manager.

Locks and Dams 2 through 10 tow rail systems have been deteriorating over the past several years. Two failures at Lock and Dam 7 identified the need for a project to address serviceability and safety issues. Interim repairs at that lock were completed in 2014; however, the current project aims to repair each lock’s tow rail system with a design life expectancy of 50 years. Repairing the system will be completed during the non-navigation season from 2019 to 2022 the sites.

The repair work includes removing the existing rail system and making necessary repairs to the concrete before installing a new system. Replacing the concrete was necessary to provide sound material to anchor the new rail.

Working in the elements provides its own set of challenges, as St. Paul District Mechanical Engineer Wade Carr explained.

"Precision alignment of the new tow rail on the guidewalls during the winter months, combined with a condensed construction period, posed one of the greatest challenges the team faced," Carr said.

Lock and Dam 6 was designed in-house and awarded for construction in 2018. Locks and Dams 4, 5, 5A, 7, 8 and 9 are a design-build contract where the contractor completes the plans and specifications and constructs the project. It was decided to do the Lock and Dam 6 design in-house to prove the new continuous rail concept, as well as the new traveling mooring bitt design prior to the additional sites design work.

Work at Locks and Dams 5 and 5A are planned for the 2020-2021 non-navigation season with Locks and Dams 4 and 7 planned for the 2021-2022 non-navigation season.