B-60 Tamper

The Matisa B-60 Tamper; Circa 1960

The picture above shows a Matisa B-60 Tamper in the workshop of the Matisa agents in South Africa, E C Lenning. I believe that this machine, and others, were built by Lenning and modified slightly to suit their local conditions.

Weight 16 tons approx.
Wheelbase 10ft 6ins
Engine Diesel 100hp at 1800 rpm.
Travelling speed 50 mph in each direction
Max. output 15 sleepers per minute

At the rear of the machine was a heavy casing holding an oil-damped pendulum and control linkages to sample the level of the track. The reading was transferred to the front of the machine by a stiff tubular beam, which can be seen above the machine in the photo.


In the front of the machine above there can be seen a box as shown here. This is a control box that allowed one experienced person to take the place of a levelling gang. The dial shows the amount of superelevation (cant) of the track and buttons control the degree of lift and cant. In practice the operator walked alongside the machine and adjusted the track parameters 'on the fly' using the buttons The machine could also be controlled remotely by sighting through a telescope and using a similar box.

This is a detail of the tamping tool holders and drive. The 8 tools, 4 each side. are not fitted. They were of forged steel, reinforced on the working faced with manganese applied using electro welding The tools fitted into the holders by a ground tapered cylinder in a similar way to the Morse taper of a rotary drill bit. A locking screw was added for additional security.

When travelling to site the two large hydraulic rams at each side of the machine were raised as shown. Before commencing work they were lowered and moved outwards by an ingenious linkage hydraulically to the working position. With clamps holding the rail, the rams pressed down on the ballast at each side of the track to raise the track an amount dictated by the control circuits.

"Functions of the machine"

Traction was orthodox for this type of machine, using a hydraulically operated gearbox with foot clutch and, I believe, six gear ratios in each direction. It took a little time to master as the clutch was rather heavy. It had pneumatic brakes on all four wheels and handbrake on the two front wheels for parking.

Tamping functions were powered hydraulically and supplied with oil by multiple pumps that were driven, through a gear box, from the Diesel power unit. The hydraulics valves were operated by pilot pressure from a separate low pressure pump.

Opening and closing of the tamping tools was by screw thread and vibration was induced by mechanical means. This gave a satisfying 'hard' feel to the operation. Both functions were driven by hydraulic motor.

The automatic systems of the B-60 were taken care of through pneumatic and electronic circuits. 1, 2 or 3 insertions of the tools could be set, also the depth of insertion. Movement from tie to tie was either manual or semi-automatic.

When used simply as a maintenance tamper, output of 15 sleepers per minute was easy to achieve. For lifting and tamping this would come down according to the lift cycle and the number of tool insertions per sleeper (tie). When the machine was tamping it was impossible to stand in the cab without holding on, because the acceleration and deceleration forces were so severe.

With a running speed of 50mph in both directions and short setup and breakdown times, much useful work could be done between trains. For work on long lengths of track with no convenient sidings, off-track equipment could be supplied on which the machine could be parked safely at the side of the track.

"Semi-automatic operation"

The operator would position the machine over the first sleeper to be tamped and select a 1, 2 or 3 insertion cycle by means of a switch at his right hand side. He would choose 1 insertion for standard maintenance. He would then start the tamping cycle.

Whilst the first sleeper was being tamped (about 4 seconds) he would centre a transverse sight ing bar over the next sleeper to be tamped by means of a long lever in front of him. The machine would automatically move to the next sleeper and start a new tamping cycle, while the operator selected the next sleeper and so on.

This cut out problems connected with misplaced sleepers and kept the operators concentration on the job. At any time the machine could be stopped immediately.

"Using the machine for general maintenance"

Before using the machine the length of track would have been checked and assessed. In most cases, for level track, all that would be needed would be a single insertion tamping action. The machine would be used automatically on semi-automatic at about 15 sleepers a minute or maybe a little faster with an experienced operator.

For curves with superelevation the track would be marked out by chalk on the tie ends by experienced personnel. Transitions on bends would be noted with a figure 1, 2, 3 etc. on the outside of the curve.

With the meter set on zero the machine would level track accurately, a one-person operation, but on bends with superelevation the services of a second operator would be needed. This operator would walk alongside the machine pressing the + or - buttons on the control box to correspond with the figures on the track, to move the pointer on the meter and thus the superelevation of the track.

"Using the machine for track needing more attention"

The machine could also be used by using a levelling telescope. The 'scope' would be clamped to the rail a set distance above the rail, 50 yards in front of the machine. It would be focussed on a target at the front of the machine. With the box was a control box with 'UP and 'DOWN' buttons connected to the machine by a trailing cable.

As the machine progressed towards the telescope the operator on the telescope would press the + or - button to raise or lower the jacking rams during the part of a cycle when the machine was stationary. It wasn't necessary or advisable to do a correction at each sleeper, but rather to correct the general trend. This took experience but could be learned in a reasonable time.

When using the telescope it was imperative that an experienced lookout be employed. Using the telescope took great concentration, and many times I was shocked as a train passed by within a few feet.

The B-60 tamper was demonstrated extensively to British Rail around 1960, by a multinational crew including me but although the machine was acclaimed around the world, and beat the opposition by a mile, BR didn't buy. The tamper, manned by our own crew, was hired to BR and did excellent work.

During the demonstrations, that lasted several weeks, I was able to learn a lot about using the machine. It was often very hard work, as track maintenance is demanding, but enjoyable.

This time was well spent as a short while after this I spent some time in Renens, at the Matisa factory, learning about maintenance of the machine and studying technical details before taking one out to Australia for work on the Perth to Sydney line. There I taught operators and fitters about operation of the machine; even got myself on Aussie TV demonstrating the machine.