Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. said it has manufactured the world’s longest weld-free rails and created a system for the tricky process of transporting the 150-meter-long products.
The company’s first shipment of the rails, produced at its Yawata Works plant in Kita-Kyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, is expected to run through the Kanmon Tunnel to the main island of Honshu.
Nippon Steel also plans to develop a method to export the rails on ships in the near future.
Until recently, 120-meter-long rails produced by European companies were the longest available. Nippon Steel had been making 150-meter-long rails, but they were cut into 25- to 50-meter-long sections for transport and later welded back together when they were being laid.
Railway companies prefer longer rails because repeated cutting and welding reduce their durability. Longer rails also have fewer joints, which reduces noise and vibration on board the trains.
The 150-meter-long rails are expected to sell at a slightly higher price compared with similar lengths of rail that need to be welded together.
To transport the rails, Nippon Steel developed a special crane to haul the rails off the production line and modified freight trains.
The rails, which require nine train cars to move, are attached to the freight trains in a way that allows them to adjust on curves.
“With this method, our rails can be transported over any track that has curves with a radius as small as 180 meters, meaning we can bring them pretty much anywhere in Japan,” a company official said.
Nippon Steel first started rail production in 1901.
Its Yawata Works plant annually produces 600,000 tons of rails, or more than 60 percent of all rails manufactured in Japan. Around 80 percent of the rails from the plant are exported.
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