NASA uses former shuttle facilities for railroad duties

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Despite the loss of the Space Shuttle Program, the Kennedy Space Center facilities that once served it have taken on new life, this time helping NASA’s 38-mile short line in Central Florida.

Late last month, the NASA Railroad used a set of cranes originally created to offload solid rocket motor segments that arrived via flatcar to instead perform a truck swap between two of its three ex-Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway EMD SW1500s. No. 3, rebuilt and repainted in-house a few years ago, handles most of the work today but No. 2 had fresher trucks. The task, which took place Nov. 28, marked the first time Kennedy’s Rotation, Processing, and Surge Facility had been used for something other than shuttle-related chores.

“Normally, to do this kind of work, we'd have to go outside of NASA and rent mobile cranes to do the lift,” said NASA Railroad Manager Mike Theirs. “My thought was, ‘Why use rented cranes when we have a facility that has overhead cranes and a railroad track already running into it?’”

The job, which involved lifting No. 2 off its trucks, then placing No. 3 atop them, didn’t tax the 400-ton cranes, since the switchers only weigh 124 tons. Because it went quickly, the units, along with No. 1, made it back on the line the same day. The biggest challenge was the months of planning, since the use of the RPSF had to be approved by the staff of Kennedy’s Ground Systems Development and Operations Program.

“They were all for it because it would show other uses for that building, and it worked out great for us,” said Mike Stephens, the railroad lead for contractor Yang Enterprises. “Now locomotive No. 3 is in it for the long haul. It's good for 25 years at the blink of an eye.”

In an effort that will greatly impact the future of the railroad, NASA hopes to change Kennedy from a site focused mainly on the shuttle to a multi-user launch complex for both NASA and commercial programs.
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