When you need an oil filter for your Chevy or Honda, the odds are high that you can pull into any neighborhood garage and get a quick replacement part – regardless if your car was made in Detroit or Tokyo. But what happens if your commuter train suddenly breaks down and the overseas manufacturer doesn’t have distributors in your country?
We’d be talking about an extremely long delay for those commuters waiting to get to work.
Or even worse, suppose that the train manufacturer has decided to discontinue the model altogether, creating a crisis to hunt down spare parts? For many public transit systems in the United States, this logistical nightmare is not just a hypothetical scenario.
Based near Denver, Colorado, Light Rail Depot has solved the problem of trying to locate original equipment manufacturer (OEM) replacement or aftermarket parts. If a component is hard to find or has been discontinued, Light Rail Depot retools the part, and in some cases, incorporates design changes and upgrades the material to improve safety and durability.
“If your maintenance department has to replace a part two or three times, then something is obviously wrong” says Lou Cripps, Director of Applications. “What you need to do is change the materials or the design or maybe a combination of both.”
Cripps says that he’s recently seen cable clamps and wiring harness mounts underneath vehicles that are still made from oak wood. This inevitably leads to rotting from moisture. Light Rail Depot makes these same parts from Delrin, a high-density polymer that will last years longer.
“We are also seeing lower door hinges constantly wearing from corrosion, so we built a customized hinge cap to keep the sand and dirt out. It seems like a simple solution in hindsight, but no one has thought of doing it before,” Cripps adds.
A former mechanic for Continental Airlines, Cripps has been fascinated by all forms of transportation since he was a child. His great-grandfather was a trolley operator in Denver in the early 1900s.
“Even though those trolleys were decommissioned before I was born, my family instilled a great fondness for rail in me,” he says. “My dad took me to model railroad clubs and whenever we went to Disney, I’d always want to keep riding the Monorail!”
As an adult, Cripps plans his vacations around train-watching opportunities. He recently enjoyed a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train in California. The tracks were originally built in the 1860s to bring wealthy vacationers to the hot spring resort town of Calistoga. The winery tour train now carries tourists in restored 1915 Pullman dining and lounge cars and 1952 Vista Dome cars.
“I admire the workmanship put into those vehicles and Light Rail Depot is trying to bring the same quality, passion and creativity back into the rail industry,” Cripps says. “The future of America depends on having great public transportation for all of us.”
Light Rail Depot counts more than a dozen metropolitan transit agencies as regular customers, including the San Diego Trolley (SDMTS), Sacramento Regional Transit (RT), Utah Transit Authority (UTA), Calgary Transit (LRT) and the Charlotte Area Transportation System (CATS).
Cripps says his engineers use DraftSight, a free 2D CAD tool from Dassault Systèmes, to redesign replacement parts and also to access DWG legacy files from old blueprints of obsolete parts. Many of their CNC programs are preformed using Mastercam X5 as well.
“Our clients often ask us, ‘We can’t get this part any more, can you make it for us?’ Using our other CAD program was discouraging. It wasn’t opening up all the old files from the transit agencies,” he says.
“I also think that DraftSight is a lot easier on the eyes. I enjoy switching back and forth between white and black backgrounds,” Cripps adds. “You don’t need to be an expert either. Between the online tutorials and just the intuitive nature of it, you can just find what you need right away.”
Helping clients find what they need is exactly what Light Rail Depot is all about.
“We can build anything at anytime for rail vehicles. We have a 30,000-square-foot machine shop on-site and we manufacture almost everything in house,” says Cripps. “I’m thrilled that I get to come in every day and play with trains for a living.”