Amtrak-Funded Helicopter Tree Trimming Operation Wrapped Up in Vermont…

Beginning in July 2020, the South Carolina-based company, Rotor Blade LLC, began a 190-mile project along the New England Central Railroad (NECR) mainline at East Northfield, MA, that will reduce the number of overhanging trees on the railroad right-of-way.

Amtrak has spent $1.2 million for the work that includes the aerial cutting by Rotor Blade LLC, ground cutting and debris removal services by Greis Trucking and Excavating and employee-in-charge contractor National Rail Safety Services, Inc.

The tree trimming process is aimed at reducing the number of potential train vs. tree strikes that have caused damage to more than a half-dozen Amtrak locomotives in recent years.  Rotor Blade LLC is using a 1981 Hughes 369D airframe that is also referred to as an MD-500, with the cutting being controlled by the pilot with GPS and ground assistance from a spotter.  The helicopter uses a powerful gas-powered 29-horsepower 10-bladed saw suspended below the helicopter.  It is attached to an aluminum pipe that is secured by universal joints, allowing the pilot to maneuver the blades to the desired trajectory for trimming tree limbs along the right-of-way.  Work was completed on 1.October, well ahead of the proposed schedule and encompassed 25-feet from center line clearing from East Northfield, MA to Saint Albans, VT on the Palmer and Roxbury Subdivisions.  In addition to the aircraft, a rail-wheeled excavator was employed and cleared the downed debris from the right-of-way, while other ground personnel chainsaw some trees from the ground level also.

Initially the debris was not chipped or mulched, however since the project was completed well ahead of schedule, there was leftover money that was budgeted for the project.  That remaining funding is now being used for a chipper/mulcher project over the entire portion.

The overall cost per mile was below $4500 for the entire line, which was reportedly a large cost and safety savings over a ground personnel option.