Sharp & Fellows welcomes Wayne Penn

Penn’s background in rail safety was honed during his time in San Diego County, where he crafted the district’s first safety program. Penn will bring that knowledge to improve upon Sharp & Fellows’ safety, health, and environmental programs while also bringing a veteran’s eye to assist with project-specific safety guidelines.

David Swift, general manager of Sharp & Fellows, says Penn’s expertise is a natural fit for the company. “Wayne has broad experience and a proven track record in the rail industry,” said Swift. “We value his vast safety knowledge, and also know his presence will help us explore growth opportunities in the immediate future.”

“The stimulating work done by Sharp & Fellows is exactly what I want to be doing at this stage in my career,” said Penn. “Safety is obviously a huge focus in the rail industry, and I look forward to helping make Sharp & Fellows even more of an advocate and leader on that front.”

Penn is a California native who has been based in the state for his entire career, giving him a deep understanding of the region and its rail needs. His hiring is part of a wave of personnel additions expected as the company sets its sights on adding market share.

Full article feature here.

Dangerous Railways

4 Most Dangerous Railways | Sharp & Fellows Inc. Blog

Traveling by train definitely has its advantages: trains travel faster and don’t have to worry about traffic, they are also more efficient than cars, and they are more cost-effective than taking a trip with an airplane. Many people also perceive train travel to be relatively safe. However, there are certain railways that never fail to evoke fear in their commuters’ hearts. These railways are notorious for being extremely dangerous to ride for a number of different reasons: they are the highest, most unstable, and most weather-beaten railways. Ever. These railways are the ultimate in risky travel.

The Pamban Bridge – This bridge; built in 1914, connects the town of Rameswaram (on Pambam Island) to Chennai, in India. For many years, it was India’s longest sea bridge; spanning a length of 1.25 miles. What makes it so dangerous? It crosses one of the most corrosive areas of the planet: an area that is often visited by cyclones and high winds; necessitating constant bridge maintenance. In 1964, a huge storm struck Pambam Island, overturning the train that was crossing the bridge at the time and killing almost all of the 200 passengers on board. Today, you can still see the battered rails and debris of that tragedy strewn along the area.

Tren a las Nubes – With a name that literally translates to “Train to the Clouds” in English; this Argentinean railway crosses no fewer than 29 bridges and 13 viaducts on the way to the Chilean border. The dangerous part of this railway is a viaduct; called La Polvorilla, which stands 207 feet above the ground and curves around 735 feet in length. Aside from the thin air and high altitude, some of the sections of the viaduct are truly vertigo-and-acrophobia-inducing to say the least.

The Napier-Gisborne Railway – This railway is normal-looking for the most part: that is, until you reach Gisborne Airport, which is where this railway intersects with the airport’s main tarmac strip. This can be dangerous if both the airport and the railway were unsupervised. Fortunately, both are under constant supervision to prevent nasty collisions. Still pretty nerve-wracking when both the plane and the train have to carefully manage a single strip of land.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway – Known as the highest railway in the world, it connects Xining, in Qinghai, to Lhasa, in Tibet. It is notoriously known for the Tanggula Pass which is a section of rail that reaches up 16,640 feet above sea level. Because of its sheer height; it is the highest point on Earth where a train can travel. Also because of its sheer height; passengers are required to use a personal Oxygen supply if they want to keep themselves breathing. There are even special oxygen masks and a supply of oxygen in each sleeping berth; as well as a doctor for each train.

Are you scared yet? There are still a few other dangerous railways out there. But with proper maintenance and repair; these railways can become much safer: at least; safe enough to ride.

Of course, when it comes to railway maintenance, Sharp and Fellows have you covered. We are a full-service railroad contractor, and we specialize in Track Construction, Track Maintenance, Track Inspection, Crane Rail Maintenance, Track Design, and Track Removal (Demolition). We also stock rail sections and Other Track Materials (OTM) as well. Call us up at 310-323-7784, send us a fax at 310-327-1664, or contact us online for all of your questions and for more information about our services.

Debunking Common Myths About Railway Crossings

Debunking Common Myths About Railway Crossings | Sharp & Fellows Inc

No matter where you drive, you’ll see them: intersections of roads and railway lines. Some of these lines have gates that descend whenever trains are about to cross the road. Some do not, requiring drivers to be extra careful. After all, a train with its immensely heavy loads cannot stop on a dime and will collide with whatever – or whoever – is on the track. At Sharp and Fellows, we want you to stay safe where trains operate. Here are the truths behind three common myths about railroad crossings you can use to protect yourself.

Myth: Railroad crossing collisions are rare.

Reality: They’re not.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration (or FRA), in 2016 there were approximately 2,025 collisions accounting for 265 fatalities and 798 injuries sustained. This number could be higher as the FRA admits that reporting on these numbers nationwide can be difficult. While this is down sharply from previous decades as technology like automatic gates have been introduced, not a day goes by without a news report of someone’s vehicle being on the tracks as a train speeds through.

Myth: Drivers will always know a train is coming.

Reality: Not always.

While it is law in most areas that railway crossings must have an open view, some intersection can still have trees, fencing, or structures blocking the view of the tracks. Where more than a single track is present, a parked train and its cargo could hide an oncoming train. This leads into our final myth.

Myth: Collisions between vehicles and trains always occur because the driver broke the law and tried the beat the train.

Reality: Not true.

As stated before, it is law that railroad companies and their conductors do everything in their power to warn people of incoming trains. Courts have recognized that must have a reasonable opportunity to learn of a train’s approach to help them act accordingly. A crossing can be labeled extra-hazardous if either permanent or temporary obstacles obstruct the view of drivers, and railroads must include everything from signal lights and bells to employees waving flags to signal drivers to stay off the rails.

Of course, you should always do everything in your own power to keep yourself safe on railroad crossings, even if it means rolling down the window and listening for the telltale horn blowing or engine chugging. From design and engineering to maintenance and construction, Sharp and Fellows is dedicated to keeping the railroad a safe and efficient mode of transportation.

Three Industries Reliant on Railway Transport

Three Industries Reliant on Railway Transport | Sharp & Fellows

The railroad industry has been in battle with the trucking industry for years now as roads have become more plentiful and accessible while rails age. Fortunately for Sharp & Fellows (and the rest of the railroad), there are industries which rely on the power of train transport to get their materials to their destinations safely, quickly, and reliably. Here are just a few of the industries that rely on steel wheels instead of rubber.


The original power source for the steam engines that powered trains back in the day, coal is still a vital part of America’s total energy plan due to its availability and low cost. As the coal industry has become mechanized in the modern era, so too has the need for reliable transport been essential in getting coal to the power plants where its needed to generate electricity. Of course, due to competition with natural gas and increased government regulations on existing coal plants, the coal industry has essentially plateaued. And in its place has come…

Oil and Natural Gas

When laying pipelines becomes too costly or dangerous to the environment, an alternative is needed to get crude oil and natural gas to the refineries. Railway transportation has stepped up to the plate in recent years due to developments in large tank capacities and investments in terminal stations. In recent years, business in this sector of transportation has been valuable for railroad companies across the country. Should the price of oil ever fall to levels where railroads can’t afford to continue shipping it, there’s always one industry railroads will always support…

Agriculture and Intermodal

When a farmer needs to get his harvest to the factories and markets fast, there’s nothing better than a train for the large volume and reliable transport. Popular commodities include wheat and corn, oats and beans, and sugar and coffee. Double-stacked intermodal transport, in turn, can replace large trailer trucks from off the freeway by shipping more over longer distances.

At Sharp & Fellows, we see a great future for railway transport. We do our utmost to support the railway industry by providing professional inspection, engineering, and repair services on tracks, cranes, and much more. Call on us any day of the week through our contact page. We’d love to answer your questions and help you today.

The Future of Railway Travel in America

The Future of Railway Travel in America | Sharp & Fellows

While the railroad heralded the unity between East and West in 1869 and railroad companies continued to grow into the 1900s as an economic powerhouse, the world changed when the automobile took to the road. Government control and regulation of the railroads during wartime up until 1980 strangled the industry, and only recently have we seen a resurgence of railroad travel for both passengers and freight across the country. So, what is next for the railroad? Does it have a future in a modern highway-covered America? From your friends at Sharp & Fellows, here are some future projects that have and will bring the train into the future.

An Upgrade for Freight

In 1984, a technique of train shipping known as double-stack rail transport was invented. Basically, it is a form of transport that utilizes intermodal containers (20 to 40-foot shipping containers) and places them on top of each other for double capacity in each train car. Weight limits set restrictions, but even stacks of three are possible with the right load balance. Accounting for nearly 70% of US intermodal shipments, it has enabled rail shipments to compete with trucking companies.

One major project for enabling double-stack rail transport across the states was the Heartland Corridor project. Begun in 2007, its other goals were to increase capacity on rail lines, shorten journeys, and reduce overall traffic between Norfolk, Virginia; Columbus, Ohio; and Chicago, Illinois. The railway was opened for double-stack service on September 9, 2010. It has since expanded to Cincinnati, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan, with $290 million having been poured into the project from the public and private sources.

Future of Passenger Travel

It has been a dream for many to have access to high-speed rail transit in the US; already popular in Europe and Japan (with some traveling at speeds well over 300 mph), America has fallen behind in this mode of transportation. One project now underway in California, however, hopes to give passengers access from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just over two-and-a-half hours. The California High-Speed Rail (or CAHSR) began construction in Fresno in 2015, and expects to be in full service by 2029, with further extensions to San Diego and Sacramento being added later. The requirements of the travel speed are legislated as are the costs to the rider, so with any luck this new rail line will serve as a valuable part of California’s future economy.

We’re excited about the future of rail transportation. Trains and railways are the lifeblood of Sharp & Fellows, after all. For the best maintenance and repair service in the industry, choose the professionals that always get the job done right. Contact us today for more information.

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad – How Technology Has Improved Railroad Maintenance and Safety

How Technology Has Improved Railroad Maintenance and Safety

Keeping your tracks properly maintained is paramount to overall safety and we’ve come a long way in the world of tech since 1860, when the first railroad system was built. It might not seem that way to look at what appear to be the same old tracks you’ve always seen, but beneath the surface, there have been leaps and bounds in the tools used to maintain our railroads.

Wayside Detectors: These sensors are put in place to identify problems areas including overheated bearings, damaged wills, dragging hoses, cracked wheels, excessive loads, and other issues presented by railcars as they ride past.

Acoustic Detector Systems: Using infrared technology and acoustic monitoring devices, these systems evaluate the sounds being made by internal bearings to detect potential failure. A faulty wheel bearing gives off a noisy rubbing sound, alerting railroads to early signs of stress.

Ground Penetrating Radar: Railroads are built on a foundation of track ballast to help balance the incredible weight of passing trains. This technology helps identify problems like excessive water penetration and overgrowth of vegetation that may lead to deteriorated ballasts, hindering track stability.

Track Geometry Rail Cars: These cars used electronic and optical instruments to inspect track alignment, gauge, curvature, and other track conditions. These cars have on-board computer systems that provide a sophisticated analysis to detect deviations and determine when a track needs maintenance.

Positive Train Control: In the unfortunate case that preventative measures were not enough, railroad companies have implemented the PTC system. This complex, cutting-edge technology is designed to stop a train automatically in the case an impending accident.

As the years have come and gone, transportation by railroad moves more freight than any other mode. Thanks to the development and investment in technology, railroads are here to stay, continuing their long-standing tradition securely and safely.

Don’t Miss Your Regular Track Inspection

Operating a railroad is no small task. With that much machinery moving such distances, and on tight schedules, the stress can be intense. The last thing you need while dealing with that is to hear about a problem with your tracks. There are legislated requirements for maintenance and inspection of railroads on a regular basis, but they are designed around “minimum” requirements, which doesn’t necessarily ensure optimum performance. Here at Sharp & Fellows, Inc., we want you to have peace of mind about your operations, and to help we have a couple of important reminders about managing your tracks.


Inspect Regularly, Inspect Often

Regulation will ensure that most operations make regular inspections, however their required frequency is not always up to the demands that many tracks endure. As a result, we recommend making those regular inspections more regular; at least twice a year. An inspection every six months will give you peace of mind about compliance, and the condition of your tracks


Be Thorough

Don’t undermine your efforts with an incomplete inspection. You want to get the most out of your investment, so take a full accounting of it each time you get an inspection. That should include:

  • Routine Track Inspection
  • Baseline Track Inspection
  • Scheduled Maintenance
  • Track Geometry Testing
  • Track Rehabilitation and Construction (as needed)
  • Emergency Response


Sharp & Fellows have been railroad contractors in the Orange County, California area since 1877. We have all the skills and expertise you need to keep your tracks running as smoothly as possible, and handle any track repair or improvements. For help planning future construction, scheduling inspections, or more information on our services, contact us today.

Budgeting for Railroad Track Repairs and Improvements

Budgeting can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to making a budget for an entire company or a large corporate project. It’s reassuring, though, to remember that when working on a corporate budget, a lot of the same principals used in making a personal budget apply.


Whether it’s your first time budgeting for a corporate project or you haven’t done it for a while, here are some budgeting tips to help you get started in planning and budgeting for any necessary railroad track repairs and improvements.


  1. Consult. When it comes to budgeting for a special project like railroad track repair, consulting with the company or contractor who will be providing the service(s) is extremely important. Aside from getting quotes so you know how much to budget for a specific project, consultants can help you plan ahead for maintenance and improvement costs based on the typical life-cycle of a track.


  1. Determine the length of your budget cycle. The length of your budget cycle will largely depend on your situation. If your company is budgeting for the future, you’ll be able to take the numbers discussed with the consultant and begin setting money aside for those costs. If you find yourself with a surprise expense or emergency, though, you won’t have the luxury of budgeting costs for later down the road. You may have to ask for more money in your budget or shift your current budget around to account for the unexpected expense(s).


  1. Make a plan. Once you’ve determined how long you have to plan for any railroad track repairs and improvements whether they be a surprise or expected, you can make an execution plan. If you need to ask for additional money, begin drafting a proposal. If you need to shift your budget around, start looking for ways that you can save or reallocate any available funds.


  1. Execute. After it’s all been planned out on paper, it’s time to put it into practice. Keep in mind that it’s typically easier said than done, but budgeting and sticking to a budget can make a big difference whether it be on a corporate or personal level.

Railroad contractors in the Orange County, California area since 1877, we have the skills and expertise you need to help you budget and take care of any track repair or improvements. If you need help planning for emergency or upcoming railroad track repairs and improvements, contact us today.


As the owner of a railroad, it’s important for you to keep tracks in proper working order to be able to deliver payloads on time. Although railroads are built to last, they’re not unaffected by the weather, erosion, and wear and tear.


Has one of your trains been derailed? The reason might not be what you think. Here are some of the reasons that trains will get derailed.


  • Defective wheels. Whether with time or because of faulty wheelsets, trucks, and suspension, the wheels may be the reason a train derails and stalls delivery.


  • Rough handling. If the driver needs to apply the brakes suddenly, the front of the train may brake first and cause issues with the couplings on the cars near the back which can, in turn, cause the train to derail. Also, if the driver takes sharp turns at speeds that are too high, it will be much easier for the train to go off track.


  • Unusual track connections. If there is irregular contact at intersections or where tracks connect, it may cause a train to derail after slightly lifting it off the track.


  • Collision. If a train has collided with a large object, it’s likely that it will become derailed. Anything from vehicles to cattle or even smaller objects can cause a train to get off track.


  • Broken rails. It goes without saying that a break in the rail can cause major problems and extensive damage to the train and the payload after causing the train to get off track.


  • Extreme heat. When temperatures rise, the heat can cause the steel on the tracks to bend and wave. Regular speeds combined with heat waves and bends can result in a train going off track.


Regular track inspections are a good way to prevent some of these and other issues from derailing or damaging your trains and payloads. Contact us for more information about our track inspection and maintenance programs. With over 130 years’ experience in the California railroad industry, nobody else is more qualified than Sharp & Fellows, Inc.

The Great Train Wreck of 1918

In July 9, 1918, Nashville, TN, experienced a very tragic train crash. Commonly referred to as the Great Train Wreck of 1918, some consider it to be the worst train wreck in the United States—although many argue the 1887 Great Chatsworth train wreck is worse by far. So, what makes the Great Train Wreck of 1918 such an important historical incident? Consider the following factors:


Conditions of the Wreck

The two trains (the No.4 and the No. 1) were operating on the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway. They collided head-on on a single track with one train going 50 mph and the other traveling at 60 mph. Upon impact, they derailed and several wooden cars were destroyed.


Deaths and Injuries

While the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) listed the death toll as 101, some reports claimed that there were as many as 121 deaths. In addition, 171 (at minimum) were injured in the crash. Nearly 50,000 people gathered at the site of the wreckage to help with the rescue, search for loved ones, or simply to view the tragedy of the crash.


The Cause

After investigating the crash, the ICC found the railroad’s negligence was a major factor in the crash, claiming that a mixture of operating practices, human error, and lax enforcement led to the terrible tragedy. While the No. 1 train was running half an hour late, the crew failed to note their presence on the track in the following ways:

  • The conductor thought he heard the No. 1 pass but never had visual confirmation.
  • The tower operator had a clear signal from the tower’s train order signals when the No. 4 approached, but after noticing he never had the No. 1 in his logs, he sounded the emergency whistle too late for the No. 4 train to hear.
  • The engineman and the conductor failed to inspect the train register at Shops Junction to determine if No. 1 had arrived yet.


At Sharp & Fellows, we understand how important it is to follow proper procedures and to learn from history how to avoid future incidents. While not a factor in this crash, maintenance and inspections are just as important to consider for a railroad line.