The Chinese fast electric trains might be continuing the tradition.
Stephen Chen, in the South China Morning Post, writes this past week that there are “Judgment Day” Fears for Chinese High-Speed Rail:Milwaukee was able to keep the trains rolling by installing heavy rail and employing lots of track walkers. China is still notionally a socialist country, and keeping comrades employed as track walkers with shovels and lining bars is in that tradition.
“Construction of the mainland’s massive high-speed rail network is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. The breakneck speed at which track is being laid means engineers are likely to have to sacrifice quality for quantity on the lines’ foundations which could ultimately halve their lifespan. The problem lies in the use of high-quality fly ash, a fine powder chemically identical to volcanic ash, collected from the chimneys of coal-fired power plants. When mixed with cement and gravel, it can give the tracks’ concrete base a lifespan of 100 years.
According to a study by the First Survey and Design Institute of China Railways in 2008, coal-fired power plants on the mainland could produce enough high-quality fly ash for the construction of 100 kilometers of high-speed railway tracks a year. But more than 1,500 kilometers of track have been laid annually for the past five years. This year 4,500 kilometers of track will be laid with the completion of the world’s longest high-speed railway line, between Beijing and Shanghai. Fly ash required for that 1,318-kilometre line would be more than that produced by all the coal-fired power plants in the world.”