Our team has just arrived back from Sweden, where we worked with the ballast cleaner for a few weeks. Here in the Netherlands, they call it a ‘kettinghormachine’ (‘chain scraper’) because it uses a chain to dig up the worn ballast. And that makes a lot of noise!
I personally work a lot on the track renewal train, which replaces sleepers: it takes out the old sleepers and puts in new concrete ties. Our track maintenance machines were produced by the Swiss firm Matisa, the leading manufacturer of this sort of equipment. A new machine like this costs 4 to 5 million euro.
“I’ve got engine oil running through my veins”
It has to be in your blood: a love for machines of this size. You might say I’ve got engine oil running through my veins. These track maintenance machines exert tremendous forces; you can’t imagine the kind of power involved. And once you’re aware of what a machine like that is capable of, it really comes to life. I’ve got all kinds of technical degrees, but handling this equipment was something I had to learn in the field. Pay close attention; keep your eyes peeled – that’s how you pick it up. And this applies to everyone in our team: with each new challenge, we determine who has the most experience in that particular area.
One big adventure
We mainly work in Norway, Sweden and Denmark – and occasionally in Germany and the Netherlands. It’s one big adventure for me – different every time round. Next year, we’ll be working in the area around Gothenburg. We’ve worked there before, so we’ll be staying in the same place. Usually, we’ll team up in pairs to rent a cottage near the work site.
A pleasant workplace is a safe workplace
I do my best to make everything run smoothly within the team. When we hold work meetings, the lads need to know exactly what I’m talking about. For me, keeping the team motivated comes first. If you enjoy working together, you watch out for each other, and indeed take care of each other. This means we can all go home in one piece. Because of course, working with one of these huge machines – at night and under time pressure – is not without its risks.
No inspection paths
Safety levels are slightly higher in the Netherlands, but generally speaking, safety conditions are more or less the same everywhere in Europe. What makes working in Scandinavia riskier than usual is the absence of inspection paths along the track, meaning that you need to walk on a sloped embankment, along the ballast bed or through the woods. However, long stretches of single track like this are safer when the line has been closed for work. The most dangerous sites to work on are double track lines where one track has been closed off – like you often get in the Netherlands.
We’re often gone for 6 to 8 weeks at a time. My wife is used to it by now. You’re either in this line of work for the money or out of passion. If you have young children, the folks back home really miss you. But when your children are off studying, the money comes in quite handy. We’re often scheduled to work on public holidays like Easter, Pentecost and Ascension Thursday. But thankfully not Christmas. And in January, I always take time off for my other big passion: the Dakar Rally. All through the year, you can find me tinkering with our racing truck, to get it in tip-top order. And I do a lot of exercise throughout the year – including in Sweden – to stay in shape for the rally.