Tips from a power washing consultant for getting started in the rail industry

In this troubled economy, it may come as a surprise to hear that washing railcars and locomotives under pressure is a lucrative market. Railway companies used to do the work in-house, now most companies outsource the work to a car wash company. According to Paul Horsley, a professional power laundry consultant and president of Scotts Pressure Wash in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, this is a market that pressure wash companies should seriously consider:

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

From removing graffiti from tankers to dry sweepers to degreasing locomotives, the industry has plenty of options for any car wash company willing to put in extra efforts to build a customer base and secure contracts.

While adding the rail industry to your service list might sound intimidating, most of what you know about pressure washers can be applied to railcars. With a little additional research and some advice from a pressure washing advisor, working on the railroad is a perfectly attainable and profitable goal.

Here are some things you need to know before you prepare a bid:

The type of railcar you need to clean. Ask your customer if there are any industry or company specific regulations that you should be aware of. For example, when washing locomotives, pressure washing the disc brakes can cause corrosion, resulting in brake failure. This is a significant safety risk, and the American Association of Railroads has written guidelines that require waterproof tarpaulins to cover the brakes before washing begins.

Place. Where is the job done? Who does the land belong to? Is there a source of water available? What are the environmental requirements and where is the wastewater disposed of? Wastewater recovery requires careful planning: trucking in the water, access to an elevator to work on railcars, ensuring that all pressure washers are functional and equipped with the appropriate chemicals, and most importantly, adequate safety equipment to protect workers from chemical overspray and risk of falling.

Timeline. Horsley expects the rail industry to have tight deadlines on contracts as they need to get their railcars back into service as soon as possible. It is not unusual to have to clean an entire unit train consisting of 125 multiple units in three days. Horsley also explains the importance of visiting the website in advance:

“Although I did my due diligence and visited the rural site in advance, I never thought about how different this site would be after a period of heavy rainfall. We only had a short window of time to complete the work and because of the rain We had great difficulty getting equipment in and out of the job site – to say it was a challenge to get the job done on time and on budget would be an understatement! I’ve since learned that having one is a good idea to allow additional day to be built into the construction site to take unforeseen circumstances into account. “

After you’ve spoken to a pressure washing advisor and set up a system, you’re ready to begin cleaning the railcars. The chemicals most commonly used in cleaning railcars are sulfuric acid, ammonium bifluoride and hydrofluoric acid. The cleaning takes place in six steps:

1) Clean roof: dry wash and rinse

2) Clean the sides and undercarriage

3) Start wastewater recovery at the same time

4) Remove graffiti that may require manual scrubbing

5) Apply degreaser if necessary

6) Flush the entire unit from top to bottom, including the wheels and undercarriage

7) Repeat. To repeat. To repeat.

Splint-related cleaning options include:

– Freight wagons (pressure wash outside. Dry cleaning / steam inside.)

– Tanker (external pressure wash and graffiti removal)

– Grain bin (manual removal of dirt on the end decks and pressure washing)

– Locomotives (external pressure wash with special consideration of the engine compartment)

“Once you’ve got a system in place, it’s quick and easy,” says Horsley, who is also a longtime member of High Pressure Washers of North America (PWNA). For more information on train cleaning, please contact your local power cleaning advisor first. You can also register for a two-day workshop at PWNA at

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