Running Weeds Out Of Town On A Rail

Crabgrass Crises

Excess vegetation in and around railroad tracks and in rail yards can interfere with workers who inspect the rails to ensure safe conditions.

Crabgrass growing in the ballast area, the rocks and gravel between and under wooden crossties, can lead to even bigger problems.

Ballasts are designed to be porous so that water flows into the ground, allowing the wooden crossties to stay dry. But when crabgrass is present, water can become trapped between the crossties, eventually causing the wood to deteriorate. This can be costly since one mile of track may contain 3,400 crossties, each of which may cost more than $20 to replace.

Mark Hensley, an Asplundh Railroad Division employee with 30 years in the railroad vegetation management industry, also has seen crabgrass blocking track switches. “Track switches sit low to the ground and must be visible for the safe movement of cars and locomotives between tracks,” said Hensley. “Engineers, conductors and brakemen must be able to see the track switches to make safe moves.”

Finding the Right Solution

As a Quality Vegetation Management™ (QVM) Certified Applicator, Asplundh Railroad Division follows a defined process for ensuring expert vegetation management — they use a QVM approach. Applicators discuss specific goals with railroad managers and study the problems. Information gathered from these discussions helps determine which herbicide combinations may work best for a given geographic area and type of vegetation.

In 2003, with the help of BASF Professional Vegetation Management (BetterVM) railroad vegetation specialist Mike Standish, Asplundh began testing herbicide programs to determine a long-term, cost-effective plan to control crabgrass in one of its customer's rail yards in Georgia. “Mike helped us create the right vegetation management program to improve control of crabgrass for our customer,” said Hensley.

Standish and Asplundh chose Pendulum® AquaCap™ herbicide to control crabgrass in the Georgia rail yards. The herbicide provides outstanding preemergent control of troublesome grasses and broadleaf weeds, including crabgrass. The low volatility and slow decomposition allow for long-term control.

Hensley and his crew also liked Pendulum AquaCap's water-based formulation and low odor, which make it easy to handle and tank-mix.

Hensley demonstrated Pendulum AquaCap to employees at a rail yard in Georgia. His tank mix for the yard included 8 pints of Pendulum AquaCap, 2 pints of Accord® XRT and 4 ounces of Oust® Extra in 25 gallons of water.

Setting a Standard for QVM

Before any herbicide could be applied to the rail yard, approval by the customer's internal environmental department was required. The department reviews all herbicides before use to ensure environmental safety. Although getting the go-ahead can take time, Standish said it is important that people understand the benefits of responsible herbicide use to gain support for projects like this.

“BASF advocates QVM, which means following set principles that create and sustain healthy habitats for plants, animals and humans,” Standish said. Being a QVM Certified Applicator also means that Asplundh Railroad Division is committed to applying herbicides responsibly, using the appropriate amount to achieve the desired results.

“Pendulum AquaCap is EPA-approved and not hazardous when applied according to the label directions,” Hensley said. “I meet a lot of resistance in certain parts of the country where people don't realize how many advances have been made in herbicide formulations. It all goes back to education – if people understand that herbicides aren't going to hurt them or the environment, they're more comfortable.

With Mike's help, we presented Pendulum AquaCap to the company's environmental group and it went right through the approval process,” Hensley continued. “We want to make sure that any product we use is effective, while complying with all environmental safety policies.”


Asplundh Railroad Division, which works with customers operating railways throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada, works hard to combat misconceptions about herbicides. Together with the National Railroad Contractors Association, they offer training for railroad operators on benefits of herbicides, as well as the proper and safe use of the products.

Hensley requires his employees to wear hard hats, safety glasses, reflective vests and safety-toe boots at all times. And he makes sure they are compliant with all federal, state and local requirements.

“Along with the training classes, advances in herbicides like Pendulum AquaCap make it easier for us to explain the benefits of good vegetation management to the public and to our customers,” Hensley said.

“Ensuring that applicators remain safe during railroad treatments is really important,” said Standish. “Asplundh cooperates with rail yard workers to make sure everyone and everything stays unharmed ... well, everything except the weeds, of course.”