Air Compressors For Railway Applications

December 6, 2021

Train-and-MountainChoosing the right air compressor for railway applications can be a challenging task. There are many factors to consider, including the pre-existing system and components, terrain, potential contaminants, size and weight, and compressor type.

VMAC has developed compressed air solutions for several rail companies in the past, including CSX Rail, Norfolk Southern Rail, and Progress Rail. We have also worked with specialized railway equipment companies, including Trackmobile, Loram, and Nordco, and have a strong understanding of what is required for custom railway air applications.

In this article, we mention several important railway air compressor considerations and then share the best custom compressed air options on the market today.

Air Compressors Built For Mobile Applications

While there are thousands of options for stationary air compressors, very few companies specialize in air compressors that are designed to be mobile. Mobile air compressors are intentionally designed to be on-the-go and are rugged enough to handle vibrations, potential contaminants, and demanding conditions. It’s critical that any air compressor used for railway applications was designed for mobile use.

VMAC mobile air compressors are also typically smaller and lighter than stationary air compressors, providing the most power possible within compact units. As a result, mobile air compressors work well for railroad applications, as they can be fitted around existing components on most systems.

Types of Air Compressors For Railway Applications

railway-machineReciprocating air compressors are popular within many industries because they require minimal upfront cost, but they are a classic representation of “you get what you pay for.” Reciprocating air compressors tend to break down faster, requiring more frequent maintenance and replacement. Reciprocating air compressors also require a large receive tank to operate, which adds bulk and weight to railroad applications that isn’t necessary.

Scroll air compressors are another option for railway applications, which are popular because of their minimal moving parts and small size. These work well in some instances but are incompatible for others because scrolls can only rotate in one direction. Scroll air compressors are also expensive and notoriously difficult to maintain.

Rotary screw air compressors eliminate these disadvantages, serving as a reliable, durable, long-term compressed air solution for almost any railroad application. Rotary screw compressors run at 100% duty cycle without the need for bulky air receiver tank, which reduces space requirements and weight. Because of these advantages, rotary screw air compressors are often the ideal compressor type for railroad work.

Air Compressor Options For Railroad Applications

VMAC has already custom designed numerous rotary screw air compressor solutions for railroad applications through our OEM division. These options include:

Electric Drive Air Compressors


VMAC’s electric drive air compressors are used in railroad applications, combining the advantages of rotary screw air compressors with an electric power source. They are a great option for electric locomotives and rail equipment, providing 30-70 CFM at 100% duty cycle. VMAC’s electric drive air compressor  can be customized with air to oil or liquid to oil cooling, multiple voltages, modular separation, and filtration systems.

Spline Drive Air Compressors

Another excellent option for railway air compressors are spline drive systems. Spline drive air compressors are compatible with SAE A, B, and C ports, which allows the compressor to be mounted directly to the motor for power. VMAC’s spline drive air compressors are capable of producing over 70 CFM at 100% duty cycle. The spline drives weigh only 28 to 38 lbs (12.7 kg to 17.3 kg), which puts them among the lightest railroad air compressors available.

Belt Drive Air Compressors

vr150 Air CompressorBelt-drive air compressors are a versatile rotary screw option that works well in many railroad applications. Belt drive air compressors use custom-designed mounting kits to connect the air compressor to the system’s engine. Belt drive air compressors come in a variety of sizes with CFM outputs between 10-40 CFM, 30-70 CFM, and 30-130 CFM at 100% duty cycle.

Alternative Rotary Screw Air Compressors For Railway Applications

vancer rail

VMAC’s OEM team has also worked with customers to develop a range of alternative rotary screw solutions based on their specific needs. For example, VMAC developed a 24V version of its H40 hydraulic air compressor for Vancer’s railway maintenance equipment.


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