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Jet Turbine Locomotives 455

An anonymous submitter writes "I saw this article in the paper today. Not only is it lighter than a comparable diesel engine, it should burn the fuel more completely and be a bit better for the environment. Not to mention it is much faster. They should make more of a point that the North American railway system needs a major overhaul in order to support faster trains." The Department of Transportation has some information about next-generation trains, including a design incorporating a flywheel to improve acceleration.
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Jet Turbine Locomotives

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  • Sounds good (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sketerpot ( 454020 ) <.sketerpot. .at. .gmail.com.> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:27PM (#4465100)
    If it isn't too expensive, I'd like to see this used a lot more. Can existing trains be retrofitted with one of these things? Or is this just for trains of the (not too distant) future?

    If you were willing to foot the extra bill for one of these in new trains that you bought (assuming that you buy trains) it would have more advantages than just efficiency and speed--can you imagine how cool this would look in an advertisement?

    • Re:Sounds good (Score:4, Informative)

      by Goonie ( 8651 ) <robert.merkel@be ... g ['a.o' in gap]> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @07:26PM (#4465470) Homepage
      If it isn't too expensive, I'd like to see this used a lot more. Can existing trains be retrofitted with one of these things? Or is this just for trains of the (not too distant) future?

      I doubt that existing trains will be able to be retrofitted with one of these things - at least, they won't be able to to take full advantage.

      If you're trying to build a high-speed train, all the running gear has to be rated for that high speed. That means suspension, brakes, etc. etc, and applies to all the carriages, not just the locomotive.

      Just adding one of these to a train would be like bolting a Formula One race engine in a Civic - it could probably be done, but it wouldn't be safe to use anywhere near its full potential.

      Not to mention that train tracks have maximum rated speeds also, so if you upgrade to high-speed trains you have to upgrade to appropriate track standards. Such upgrades are potentially quite expensive (you have to widen bends to reduce lateral G's, for instance).

      • Re:Sounds good (Score:4, Informative)

        by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <`pig.hogger' `at' `gmail.com'> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @09:21PM (#4466099) Journal

        I doubt that existing trains will be able to be retrofitted with one of these things - at least, they won't be able to to take full advantage.

        If you're trying to build a high-speed train, all the running gear has to be rated for that high speed. That means suspension, brakes, etc. etc, and applies to all the carriages, not just the locomotive.

        High-speed is made possible by the tracks, not the trains. The french TGV (the fastest - 515 km/h that's 320 miles per hour) is a souped-up ordinary train. No exotic technology, no fancy tilt mechanism, no esoteric power system. Just bigger transformers, faster traction motors, faster gearing and more powerful brakes.

        But the track. Oooh, the track, it's a smoooooth gentle nicely laid ribbon of steel, designed to be travelled at speeds up to 250 miles per hour.

        • by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @10:38PM (#4466394)

          Let me get this straight: The TGV runs at 320mph... on tracks rated for 250mph. Oh, that's gonna be fun.

          • Re:Sounds good (Score:4, Informative)

            by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <`pig.hogger' `at' `gmail.com'> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @11:00PM (#4466495) Journal
            Let me get this straight: The TGV runs at 320mph... on tracks rated for 250mph. Oh, that's gonna be fun.
            This was during a test run, some 11-12 years ago. The test run was with a modified, lighter (3 cars - 2 first-class and one test coach) and souped-up train. What was interesting is that the record-breaking run was done not only with a full complement of journalists, but with the French transportation minister on board (hence the first class coaches)...
        • Re:Sounds good (Score:4, Informative)

          by Goonie ( 8651 ) <robert.merkel@be ... g ['a.o' in gap]> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @11:10PM (#4466540) Homepage
          But the track. Oooh, the track, it's a smoooooth gentle nicely laid ribbon of steel, designed to be travelled at speeds up to 250 miles per hour.

          With an electric wire on top, adding to the cost. The point of this train is, presumably, that you don't need to electrify the system. It'll still be expensive to upgrade the rails and reroute the track in parts, but not as expensive as the TGV.

        • Re:Sounds good (Score:3, Informative)

          by TheToon ( 210229 )
          > The french TGV (the fastest - 515 km/h that's 320 miles per hour)
          > is a souped-up ordinary train.

          Pretty "ordinary" [unipi.it] yes... but there's one striking feature that differs from ordinary trains:

          On a normal carriage, you have two boogie wheel pairs, one on each end of the carriage. On the TGV two carriages shares the same boogie in the intersection. Picture here: TGV boogie [unipi.it]

          This picture is actually from a tilting prototype [unipi.it] of the TGV.

          You can read more about the modifications to the TGV (Train Grande Vitesse) here [unipi.it], and some history [worldonline.nl] here.

  • Noise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the_Bionic_lemming ( 446569 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:27PM (#4465102)
    Living next to a railway crossing - I wonder how loud it's going to be - Judging from Jet's flying in and out of airports - I'll be moving away from any railroad tracks.
    • Re:Noise (Score:2, Informative)

      by op00to ( 219949 )
      The turbine runs at a constant speed -- that is, it runs a electric generator which provides power to run the motors. The engine would probably be no louder than current diesel locomotives, and most likely quieter.
    • Re:Noise (Score:5, Funny)

      by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:47PM (#4465256)
      Living next to a railway crossing - I wonder how loud it's going to be

      In the railroads' minds, louder is safer. They'll probably take advantage of the jet exhaust by routing it through a huge whistle and horn. It will continuously emit a piercing, deafening alien wail audible dozens of miles away. Railroad crossing accidents will become a thing of the past, because it will be too painful to remain near the tracks as the train approaches.

      • Re:Noise (Score:4, Funny)

        by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @07:26PM (#4465468)
        > In the railroads' minds, louder is safer. They'll probably take advantage of the jet exhaust by routing it through a huge whistle and horn. It will continuously emit a piercing, deafening alien wail audible dozens of miles away. Railroad crossing accidents will become a thing of the past, because it will be too painful to remain near the tracks as the train approaches.

        You're an optimist... I predict lawsuits from grieving parents of Darwinbait.

        "B-b-b-but the trains are so loud now, they practically forced Johnny to floor it and drive around the gates at the railroad crossing! When they made new trains that could go twice as fast as the old trains, why couldn't they also make them able to stop faster, too? Waaaah!"

      • Re:Noise (Score:3, Interesting)

        At one meter, how loud in dB would something have to be for a deaf person with their back turned to realize a tone was being generated? And does the frequency matter?
    • Re:Noise (Score:5, Informative)

      by dagnabit ( 89294 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:48PM (#4465264) Homepage
      Having been a gas turbine mechanic in the US Navy (gas turbines are used to power the Aegis-class cruisers, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and Perry-class frigates), I can say that there are silencers that can be used in the exhaust which will keep the noise down quite a bit... jet airplances are "extra noisy" because the hot gas flows out the back pretty much unabated (small loss to continue turning the gas generator portion, but most energy is "lost" out the back in pure thrust), whereas in a turbine "prime mover" application, much of the exhaust energy is used up turning the power turbine / reduction gear / generator.

      Plus the size of the turbines in these locomotives is probably similar to those in Huey/Blackhawk- sized helicopter... you can get a lot more HP out of a physically smaller gas turbine than you can from a diesel (the Navy gets 2500kW from a single Huey-sized turbine/ generator setup). And, to me anyway, the lower frequencies from a diesel are more "penetrating" than the higher turbine freqs...

      Another turbine advantage is they can run on almost anything flammable, given the right nozzles etc. Some power plants actually burn pulverized coal in their turbines. They can also run on methane, LNG, etc... so if/when it becomes unfashionable enough/too expensive/whatever to power the trains with dead dinosaurs, they can switch over to something else... (methanol anyone?)

      I've always thought a turbine-powered locomotive made a lot more sense from a size/weight/fuel economy point of view than a diesel engine... guess I shoulda patented the idea when I had it back in the mid-90s!
      • Re:Noise (Score:5, Informative)

        by Gumber ( 17306 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @07:16PM (#4465421) Homepage
        Most modern jet engines are high-bypass turbofans. A great deal of the exaust energy is captured in the turbine section and used to spin the big fan at the front of the engine. The result is that rather than generating thrust by ejecting a relatively small mass of exaust gas out the back at supersonic speeds, they pump a large quantity of air at subsonic speeds. The result is a quieter and more efficient powerplant.

        This doesn't really change your main point though. These aren't going to be as noisy as a jet engine.

        I'm going to guess though that these turbines are going to be a lot bigger than the ones in a huey. Or maybe not: http://www.bombardier.com/index.jsp?id=1_0&lang=en &file=/en/1_0/1_10/1_10_0.jsp
        Looks like they are about half again as powerful. I was imagining a freight locomotive.
      • Re:Noise (Score:5, Informative)

        by QuasiEvil ( 74356 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @07:19PM (#4465437)
        Sorry, dag - Union Pacific beat you to it by about 4 decades. Back in the 1960s they experimented with 10,000 HP gas turbines that burned Bunker C oil. Eventually, reliability problems and the rising price of price of Bunker C did them in. However, they screamed like banshees and weren't allowed in many parts of the UP system due to their noise problems. While I'm sure advancements in noise damping tech will help significantly, it's hard to keep something producing several megawatts quiet.

  • Currently, except for regional trains or overgrown subways, the people moving business for trains in NorAm is pretty dead. Planes and automobiles pretty much dominate the possibilities.

    If air travel could be reduced yet again in cost for bulk, it might well finish wiping out the trains altogether.

    • and that's why in the long run we are all screwed in the continent. When we finally run out of oil, we are screwed!

      I also don't think airline tickets are coming down in price.
      • Re:IDK... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Tattva ( 53901 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @07:47PM (#4465576) Homepage Journal
        Oil exploration and energy generation in general are economic activities. The more oil costs, the more marginal fields will be exploited and the more alternatives will be found. This will take years and years, as it already has taken years and years. It's not like there's one tap in the ground and when it goes dry there is no more oil There are a number of different quality oil sources in the ground, and some are more expensive to exploit. As the price of oil goes up, they will become economically feasible, and there will be enormous economic advantages to find cheaper sources of energy. At some price, biofuel will be feasible, at some price wind power will become feasible, and at some price, solar power will become feasible. Gasoline cars will never be obsolete because those alternatives will be used for applications that are flexible with regards to the source of their energy (anyone that uses electricity for example) when those alternatives are cheaper than oil, so the demand for oil will decrease dramatically, leaving only those who have no choice but to use oil as the only market for oil.
    • Re:IDK... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Synn ( 6288 )
      I looked into train travel a couple months, Florida to St Louis and it was more expensive than airfair.

      The trip would've taken longer than a bus too.

      So, no cheaper than airplanes and it takes longer than a bus... any wonder hardly anyone travels via trains anymore?

      We want fast or cheap. Trains are neither right now.
    • Rail service (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ces ( 119879 ) <christopher DOT stefan#gmail DOT com> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @07:30PM (#4465491) Homepage Journal
      I don't know if you are familiar with rail service in Europe but it is a good alternative to flying or driving. For example high-speed rail is considered THE way to travel between Paris and Brussels.

      There are train corridors that already are quite popular such as Vancouver BC-Seattle-Portland, Boston-NYC-DC, and LA-San Diego. Many areas have corridors they would like to see higher speed, more frequent, and more reliable service. In some cases the states and cities are even willing to invest their own money (YVR-SEA-PDX Talgo service).

      If I want to travel between Seattle and Portland (about 200 miles) I have 3 options:
      1. Fly, 1hr to get to airport, 2hrs to clear security and check in, 1hr for flight, .5 hr to get into downtown Portland. 4.5hrs total.
      2. Drive, about 4 hours, 6 or more during rush hour or if there is an accident.
      3. Train, .5hr to station, .5hr to .25hr waiting for departure, 2.5hr train ride, .25-.5hr to get to destination in Portland. 3.5hr-4hr total.
      and trains don't require a body cavity search.

      If we were willing to invest even a fraction of the total subsidies given to either the auto industry or air travel industries in passenger rail services people actually wanted to use we could probably achieve ridership rates approching Europe.

      • Re:Rail service (Score:3, Insightful)

        by N Monkey ( 313423 )
        I don't know if you are familiar with rail service in Europe but it is a good alternative to flying or driving. For example high-speed rail is considered THE way to travel between Paris and Brussels.

        Not just Paris and Brussels but London as well despite the fact that the train currently runs at about 1/2 speed between the 'chunnel' and London. (The high speed link is still under construction).
        Although the train doesn't travel quite as fast a plane, :-), you save a lot of time in other ways.
        The stations are closer to the city centres (i.e. in them!), the 'check in' is fast and you don't have to wait for you luggage to arrive (pulversised) on the baggage carousel.
  • by gotr00t ( 563828 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:28PM (#4465108) Journal
    As of right now, most North American railways are used to transport cargo, and the very fact remains that speed isn't really a problem right now, as even though trains are very slow, a speed increase would probably not be necessary, as it would only cost more on shiping. On the other hand, these new technologies could be more useful in other places, such as the Far East, where rail transport is still the primary way to transport both passengers and cargo.
    • by RollingThunder ( 88952 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:48PM (#4465261)
      Sounds more like a "hole in the bucket" problem.

      We don't have large passenger traffic via rail because it's slow.
      We don't have fast rail because most rail traffic isn't passenger.

      Time to break that loop. If you could cheaply load your car on as well (think land-ferry), this would be a kickass way to vacation with a small car or minivan.
      • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @07:53PM (#4465605) Homepage Journal
        We also have a Congress who feels that Amtrak should be paying its own way, and not requiring federal subsidies.

        Meanwhile, just how big is the tax infrastructure that's already in place supporting our road and highway system? Road traffic is really *heavily* subsidized by our taxes, and not just the ones at the pump, tires, and vehicle registration.

        I've also heard that there's a heavy federal infrastructure involved in air transport, though I know nothing of the breakdown there between private and public sector. I remember Reagan ordering the air traffic controllers back to work, suggesting public sector, there. (I don't remember Taft Hartley being invoked, though it may have.)
        • We also have a Congress who feels that Amtrak should be paying its own way, and not requiring federal subsidies.

          But it will give billions to the nearly-bankrupt air-transport industry...

  • by deadgoon42 ( 309575 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:30PM (#4465120) Journal
    Union Pacific has a jet powered locomotive. They used to have more, but they burn so much fuel that they aren't very economical to operate. Plus, you can't park them underneath overpasses because the exhaust will melt the asphalt. So they just have the one now and it is mainly used for special loads and public relations.
    • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:39PM (#4465199) Homepage
      There is a web page with a short history of these locomotives here [uprr.com]. They were delivered to Union Pacific starting about 50 years ago. Union Pacific had 55 gas turbine locomotives. They were noted for their noise and high fuel consumption.
    • by aquarian ( 134728 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @08:49PM (#4465970)
      Don't compare old-tech, experimental turbines with what's available now. The whole reason for this project is that turbines are *more* efficient than diesels, not less. If diesels were more efficient, they'd be the first choice for electric powerplants, and they're not- turbines are.

      Another reason for this project is that the service requirements of a passenger train are different from that of a freight train. Passenger trains pull lighter loads, travel faster, and need to accelerate more rapidly. Most locomotive technology in the US was designed with pulling freight in mind. Even the passenger locomotives are based on freigh-pulling designs. This project is a clean-slate design, with a specific purpose in mind. It should fulfill that purpose much more efficiently.
  • That's nice but... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JoeLinux ( 20366 ) <joelinux@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:30PM (#4465125) Homepage
    How about DEceleration? I mean, don't these things take like 2 miles to stop? and making it lighter...would that mean that if it broadsided a bus, that it would have a greater chance of derailing the train, instead of today's "train demolished on tracks, news at 11"

    Just my thoughts,

    Joe Carnes
    • er...that should read "bus demolished on tracks"


    • by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:50PM (#4465274) Journal
      How about DEceleration? I mean, don't these things take like 2 miles to stop?

      Yep. They probably would. But freight trains travelling at 60 mph already do take at least that long to come to a halt. Trains just don't stop on a dime. This just means that passenger trains of the future would cover as much ground to come to a stop as freight trains do now.

      It's not that serious a problem--European and Japanese rail services already operate in this high-speed regime. If you don't want your vehicle pancaked by a train, don't ignore the lights at a level crossing, and don't drive around the gates.

      • by Usquebaugh ( 230216 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @07:43PM (#4465560)
        Most high speed services in Europe run on their own tracks and they do no thave crossings, the go over or under roads etc.

        It is very rare for a person in Europe to drive across a rail crossing. When I lived in the UK it was mostly for small lines with one train a week.

        Of course this requires money when laying tracks and America is far keener to save money at the start and spend it on lawyers during litigation.
    • by dpaton.net ( 199423 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:51PM (#4465279) Homepage Journal
      The stopping distance of a train has very little to do with the weight of the loco and much more to do with the weight of the cars begind it.

      Also, trains don't brake at the engine, they brake at every car, via the high pressure air hoses that you see in between every piece of rolling stock (if you're observant). Think about how much slack int he couplers needs to be taken up for a train that's a mile or two long (yep, they get that big). Trying to take it up all at once is damn hard, not to mention dangerous. it takes time to stop somethign as big as a drag freight of coal (or Fords, or steel, or....).

      In rail traffic, the weight of a train is measured in thousands of tons. Most coal hoppers hold 50 tons of their load. A string of 100 of said cars has 5000 tons of load, not to mention the weight of the cars themselves. Fully loaded boxcars can carry similar loads.

      As for derailing when it hits a bus, that depends entirely on the collision. If it broadsides a bus, and the front of the engine isn't designed such that it sucks the impacted vehicle under the wheels, then I doubt it'll be any different than rail accidents now. The problem comes when somethign gets betwen the wheels and the rail. The trains have a contact patch that's tiny...think less than one square inch per wheel. That's maybe 16 or 24 square inches of steel-on-steel contact per locomotive (4 or 6 axles respectively). This is done to minimize rolling resistance with the above enormous loads, but also makes the trains more vulnerable to derailment. it's a trade off that's been argued about over and over, but the economics of making rail travel even less efficient than it already is win.

      The simple answer? Make grade crossings better, maintain them better, and teach people to OBEY THE GODDAMN SIGNALS. I can't count how many idiots I've seen blow through the crossings in the suburbs around Chicago mere seconds before a METRA [metrarail.com] train went flying by at ~20mph.
      • by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <`pig.hogger' `at' `gmail.com'> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @09:43PM (#4466193) Journal
        The simple answer? Make grade crossings better, maintain them better, and teach people to OBEY THE GODDAMN SIGNALS. I can't count how many idiots I've seen blow through the crossings in the suburbs around Chicago mere seconds before a METRA [metrarail.com] train went flying by at ~20mph.

        Back in the 1950's, the Chicaco Rock-Island & Pacific had a Talgo train that had a TV camera installed in the engine cab. You could watch the engineer's view on a TV screen in the bar, and after a while watching near-misses with cars, school buses and gasoline trucks, you needed a stiff drink...

        Some time ago, I was in the cab of an Iowa Interstate freight train. As we pulled by the Blue-Island station, a jerk went around the gates, only to fall in the claws of a thoroughly unamused METRA cop. I went out on the engine catwalk along with the whole train crew to say a big FUCK YOU to the car driver (at that time, the cop did laugh, though)...

  • by Eight 01 ( 614650 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:31PM (#4465130)
    This may be obvious to most people, but this train doesn't actually get thrust from the jet engine. The jet engine is used to power an electric generator, which in turn powers electric motors for the wheels. This is how diesel locomotives work too.

    I'd guess the reason they say this locomotive is faster is due to the much lower power to weight ratio of the jet turbine compared to diesel engines. I don't see how this would make any difference on a fully loaded train, however, as the delta in weight between a jet turbine and a diesel engine has to be a small fraction of a percent of the overall weight of the train.
  • by PhantomHarlock ( 189617 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:32PM (#4465142)
    The jet engine acts as a turbine to drive a generator for the electric motors, just like diesel engine. It does not actually propel the train down the track directly. And this is not the first time just turbine engines have been tried.

    UP had a few turbine locos in the 1960's but they didn't do well. In the past, the problem with turbines in locomotives has been low efficiency (especially at part throttle) and low reliability. They are getting better, but I doubt that you'll see them in freight locos in the near future. Their lighter weight is not a big advantage in freight pullers. Sounds good for lightweight passenger travel, though.

    Here is Bombardier's own page on it [bombardier.com] and a photo of the locomotive. [yahoo.com]


    • by sohp ( 22984 ) <snewton@iCOMMAo.com minus punct> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:46PM (#4465249) Homepage
      Yes, the old gas turbines. Fast and fuel-efficient at high speed, but it's a fact of life in railroading that locomotives spend most of their lives idling in one yard or another. UP found that they sucked fuel almost as fast idling as at full throttle. "The turbines burned about 90% of max HP fuel at idle so they would shut the turbine down going down longer hill. BIG THING, is you never stopped turning the turbine hot because the shaft was so long/heavy that it would sag when hot and you would never get it turning again. If you did it would be somewhat out of balance and shake the heck out of things." -- http://www.northeast.railfan.net/turbine_faq.html

      Cool engines though, and other than the fuel consumption at idle, they were successful experiments.

  • by Geminatron ( 616988 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:33PM (#4465159)
    I hate flying. The cramped seats. The claustrophobia. The ridiculous rules about standing and walking around...

    I'd much rather travel by train, but it's always been much too slow. Even though these new trains are still slower than flying, they make up the difference quite a bit.

    A smooth, relaxing train ride where all seats are Business class or better? Sign me up.
  • by PhysicsScholar ( 617526 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:36PM (#4465174) Homepage Journal
    Few know that the first practical gas turbine was made by a couple gentlemen who weren't even sure that it would actually work.

    But, these days it's almost a trivial task to make your own. Jet engines take air in the front at low speed and chuck it out the back at high speed.

    So, with that in mind, I could easily throw one of these together over a lunch break. All you need are a propane torch, a ten centimetre square sheet of foil, one of those hole punches, and a five centimetre square of brass metal.

    Make the nozzle fairly long for more power. If you want to have a nice methane-excretion sound like some teens' automobiles, poke a few dozen holes on the inside of the nozzle.

    Remember that Force = Mass * Acceleration as well as what time your girlfriend will be home so that you don't have to sleep on the couch that night.
  • I'm from montreal (Score:2, Interesting)

    by neoform ( 551705 )
    there was talk about these new bombardier trains being used to replace the current VIA rail trains that go between montreal and torronto.. i happen to live rather close to the tracks and i dunno if i want to hear a train flying down the tracks at 240kph at 11pm like the current VIA trains do.. :o/
  • by dfung ( 68701 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:38PM (#4465192)
    I guess they could be clearer, but I doubt this locomotive uses the jet engine for propulsion, rather it uses the jet engine to generate electricity that drives the same gigantic electric motor that moves the train today. Although the engine is a much higher-tech device to maintain than a diesel engine, it should be cleaner and possibly quieter as well.

    You can go faster because a turbine engine that generates the same kilowatts as a conventional diesel does will be lighter. Less weight can equal more speed.

    All that said, I'm not sure that "less weight" is a priority for most locomotives. If I remember correctly, the enormous weight of the locomotives is critical in pulling literally miles of loaded box cars up an incline. Of course, passenger trains are packed with very low density compared to freight, so maybe that's what this is for.
  • Ancient History (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mystic Smeg ( 585019 )
    It's not that new an idea. British Rail's experimental APT-E [f9.co.uk] train was gas turbine powered, back in 1972. However the line they were intended to be used on was electrified, and so this part of the project was abandoned.
  • For some people time is money.
    Oh well

    According to the articcle this seems to be mainly applicable to small freight trains and passenger trains. There s a huge valid market for these locomotives. The northeast coordoor would benefit greatly from higher speed trains, and they are a joy to ride on, much less hassle the La Guardia or Logan.

    The US rail system. It is a piece of shit. If we had viable transportation, there might be some more money to renovate the trains. They, despite their age, are a viable alternative to air travel. The Northeast coordoor and the SFO-LA routes are ripe for high speed trains. THis would do a lot to alleviate the crowding and security concerns involved with airplanes.
  • Loco-tech FYI (Score:2, Informative)

    by Xunker ( 6905 )
    Just an FYI, in case anyone is interested; the vast majority of commerical locomotives in the USA are already, in fact, electric, and have been since the 1950's. The diesel engines are there, sure, but they are there to generate power to turn electric motors.

    This is because electric motors have many degrees more torque at low speeds than any comparable internal combustion engine.
  • by El_Smack ( 267329 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:43PM (#4465231)

    I was in a secret railroad switch-house last week, and I stumbled upon a locomotive that had been sitting there since 1880. It was fusion powered. The reactor ran on GARBAGE no less! It could levitate and even looked capable of time travel. The security guard who let me in said his only instructions were to wait for a man named "Doc Brown" to show up.
  • Already in use!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by prock307 ( 513323 ) <rock AT sr71 DOT net> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:47PM (#4465253) Homepage Journal
    I have seen several Freight Trains powered by gas turbines.

    http://www.railpower.com/2support/locomotives.ht m
  • by Wonko42 ( 29194 ) <ryan+slashdot@woCOUGARnko.com minus cat> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:54PM (#4465301) Homepage
    They should make more of a point that the North American railway system needs a major overhaul in order to support faster trains.

    Is it too much to ask that submitters read the article they're submitting? The entire reason this train was developed is so it could be used on existing tracks with a minimum of modifications. It's right there in the second paragraph of the article: "Bombardier believes its 240-kilometres-an-hour JetTrain is the answer to providing high-speed rail service throughout North America using existing track and without the prohibitive cost of electrifying rail networks."

  • What about heat? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by krangomatik ( 535373 ) <rfujikawaNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:57PM (#4465319)
    I had read about early attempts to use this technology to power trains, but I seem to recall some heat dissapation problems. I believe it was when these locamotives were stationary beneth things like overpasses and tunnels that they had problems with the output from the jets burning/melting things. My guess would be that they solve this using some of the same technologies they use to reduce the heat signature of aircraft.
  • Via's Turbo Train (Score:5, Informative)

    by Railroader ( 139848 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @06:58PM (#4465327)
    This isn't the first gas turbine locomotive that Bombardier has built. Back in the 70's and early 80's Via (Canada's Amtrak) had a gas turbine train (called the "Turbo") operating between Montreal and Toronto that was built by Bombardier. It wasn't as reliable as diesel engines and didn't offer any particular advantages. Gas turbine engines are considerably lighter than diesels and perhaps a bit more fuel efficient, but light weight isn't very important for a locomotive. I remember once watching the Turbo getting towed through Belleville ON by a diesel unit because there was a couple of inches of snow over the rails and the Turbo couldn't plough trough it.
  • Trains and weight (Score:4, Interesting)

    by thogard ( 43403 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @07:05PM (#4465358) Homepage
    If you look at the weight of a fully loaded train and the weight of an unloaded one you will see they are very close. A light weight train car will weight in at 50,000 lbs and can carry less than 3 times that. When the average loads these carry are a few pallets and is typicaly less than 10% of the weight of the car. The result is a huge mass that gets moved and that takes energy.

    The reason train cars weigh so much is so they don't come off the track when they are pulled around corners. Even with the large radius curves on trainlines, the side forces of a mile long train with a fully loaded car at the back will be quite high. The early solution to that problem was to make the train cars weigh more and the result is now all trains cars fit into a standard weight. This also makes passenger trains weigh far more than they should. The US rail industry could save a major part of its energy bill by introducing a lighter train standard but that would cost a fortune in new rolling stock.
  • by g4dget ( 579145 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @07:09PM (#4465379)
    At around 200mph, easily achievable using current train systems if you got high speed rail all the way, you should be able to go from downtown San Francisco or LA to New York in 15 hours. That is actually not that different from air travel if you take into account all the overhead associated with air travel (security, parking, transportation to/from airport, etc.), and it's a whole lot more pleasant. With improved technology, perhaps one could even get that down by a few more hours. And trains don't fly into buildings either.
  • Gas Turbines at Sea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KFury ( 19522 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @07:16PM (#4465420) Homepage
    Someone previously mentioned the gas turbines powering Aegis-class destroyers, but I'd also note that they're now starting to be used in cruise ships as well.

    I had the chance to cruise on the Millennium last year, which has two gas turbine engines hooked to electrical generators which both supply energy to the ship's power grid and also power the motors driving the propellers. I'm sure kilotonnes of ship will help silence the engines, so I can't speak to noise, but they were amazingly vibration-free, unlike more common deisel engines with a direct physical linkage from engine to drivetrain to prop.

    I'm not sure how that translates to train use, but I'm curious to find out. Considering that they'd probably provide electricity to power the wheels, I wonder if a sufficiently sized flywheel arrangement or battery bank could mean that the engine could operate at constant speed, preventing the frequent idleup and idledown which creates a much more distracting noise at a distance than the noise of a constant engine...

  • MHD? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by po8 ( 187055 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @08:11PM (#4465734)

    What ever happened to Magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) engines? It seems like they'd be perfect for a locomotive application, inasmuch as they can take fuel directly to electricity with no moving parts. A quick Google search shows one old but promising article on an LMMHD auto engine, and that's about it: comments on the infeasibility of this approach would be appreciated.

  • by maggard ( 5579 ) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @08:27PM (#4465834) Homepage Journal
    The US doesn't have separate trackage for passenger & freight traffic or very advanced signaling systems.

    Thus US rail passenger vehicles must be built to withstand impact with freight trains. Other nations have a far greater percentage of passenger-only track including many dedicated lines. Also in many nations the rail infrastructure has been continuously modernized resulting in more sophisticated switching and control system.

    Amtrak inherited its system after decades of private neglect and was originally a way to prevent the various passenger rail services in the US from individually being shut down or sliding into bankruptcy. That passenger rail still survives in the US at all after decades of far less support then virtually every other transportation medium speaks to its tenacity and durability. Unfortunately Amtrak has always been stuck with conflicting missions and starved for infrastructure (again, much of what it began with was already obsolete or decrepit; upgrades, replacements and refurbishments have always been piecemeal and/or minimal.) That and impressively bad management.

    Another problem has been the extraordinarily high strength requirement has been set by the US's Federal Railroad Administration which results in US rail passenger cars being at a minimum of twice as heavy as every other nation's. A result is that there is literally no other market for US vehicles thus tried & proven designs from other nations can't be used in the USA. Spanish, Swedish, German, etc. - none of their highly successful trains can now be imported into the US due to the FRA's unique requirements.

    Thus when folks point out the curiosity of Amtrak hiring the consortium of Alstom/Bombardier to design & build the Acela instead of buying a successful somethingelse model they're ignoring that the somethingelses simply aren't allowed to run in the US on an ongoing basis. After license and redesign fees it would have cost more to convert an existing train then to just design & build one to Amtrak's (& the FRA's) unique requirements, which is what was done.

    Of course now Amtrak & Alstom/Bombardier are mired in suits and counter-suits, ignoring the mediation structures built into their contracts and publicly blaming each other for the problems the Acela is facing. Amtrak claims the Acela doesn't meet specifications and was delivered late. Alstom/Bombardier claim Amtrak wasn't timely in providing specifications and making design decisions, many of the problems are with features Alstom/Bombardier advised against, and that Amtrak is running the vehicles on substandard track & caternary against Alstom/Bombardier's recommendations.

    Of course much of this could have been avoided had the usual process of building a test train, running it ragged for a year, then dissembling it to examine it for understanding of it's rail performance, maintenance characteristics, wear patterns, practical experiance, then refining the design before going into production been followed. Indeed reexamination of the original train's evaluation appears to show the precursors of many of the problems now appearing on the Acela.

    Instead however Amtrak ordered 20 trains in one design/build package (and now claims it'll never order another.) Thus as each trainset was built it was manufactured slightly differently from the ones before as experience was applied and improvements made. This now gives Amtrak 20 subtly different trainsets and no further application of the lessons learned nor incentive on the designer/manufacturer to refine the vehicle.

    Whatever the case the losers are the citizens of the US & Canada. Why Canada? It turns out the money Amtrak used to purchase Acela Express was from a $1 billion low-interest loan from the Export Development Corp. of Canada. Yep, if Amtrak goes belly-up not only will the US public be out but also the Canadians. As you can imagine the prospect of a US quasi-governmental agency going belly-up and forfeiting on it's debts to Canada doesn't play well north of the border

    Ironically there is a widely rumored proposal in Canada for investing CA$3-billion to improve train service in the Quebec City to Windsor corridor (incl. Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and possibly Kingston). The "VIAFast" upgrade is expected to take advantage of trains like Bombardier's newly (re)announced turbo train as well as track-swapping with CPR & CNR to create a dedicated passenger rail route. Indeed there's even renewed interest in a new high-speed Calgary-Edmonton corridor route to serve that rapidly growing part of the country.

    Anyway, now you know why the US is stuck with slow trains: Inheritance, lack of investment, political game playing, lousy management, and extreme requirements. On the other hand neighbors in much the same situation are instead expanding their rail systems in logical yet ambitious ways. Makes me think of the tortiose & the hare...

  • by weiyuent ( 257436 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @08:29PM (#4465847) Journal
    I fail to see how a jet train will make much difference given that passenger rail travel is generally a failure in North America.

    There is the immediate issue of population density - it is not high enough to economically justify the huge construction and maintenance costs. Very few passenger routes (mainly between large cities in the North East) actually turn a profit.

    Of course, this exact same argument could be levelled against passenger car travel, as the hidden subsidies in the form of public roadworks, tax benefits to car manufacturers and oil companies, etc. all add up to about 4 times as much as the visible cost of owning and operating the average car.

    The issue then becomes, at the core, one of culture. We are wedded to our cars, they are ingrained into our very way of life far more than their mere utilitarian purpose entails. Life in America revolves around the car, not the other way around. Given that, passenger rail travel has no hope of succeeding beyond a few niche markets.

    Finally, the high-speed rail travel is only moderately successful even in its ideal arenas of rail-crazy Europe and Japan. The Eurostar, Thalys and ICE make a profit (and that's BEFORE accounting for public subsidies) only over middle distances connecting the major hubs, i.e. London, Brussels, Paris. Other routes to Switzerland, Germany and the South of France have always been making huge financial losses, even more so now with the advent of low-cost, low-frills airlines that get there in half the time.

  • Different Beasts (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Meathead ( 120753 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @08:47PM (#4465956)
    I'm really not sure why everyone gets down on American railroads. American railroads are completely different beasts from those in Western Europe and Japan. They are geared towards freight, particularly bulk freight. They move huge quantities very cheaply. Do Europeans have anything comparable to the 100+ car long freight trains that are common in the US? (Just drive I-80 west of Iowa. Original transcontinental railroad still handling hugh trains.) Also remember that the US freight equipment tends to be much larger (because of all of the grade separation requirements, railcars in Europe must fit under all of those old underpasses, while upgrading to stacked containers requires many fewer modifications to the road in the US.)

    Huge freight trains and fast passenger trains just don't mix well on the same lines. The US could build dedicated passenger lines (like European governments did) in some locations, but a national network just doesn't make much sense. Even the regional networks would require constant subsidies to operate.

    I know, its off topic.
  • by aquarian ( 134728 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @08:52PM (#4465979)
    I knew Slashdotters were just a big bunch of trainspotters, and now they're all coming out of the woodwork. This is amusing...
  • by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <`pig.hogger' `at' `gmail.com'> on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @08:57PM (#4466003) Journal

    Although this looks promising on paper, one can but wonder if that turbine locomotiveis yet another boondoggle (sp?).

    Given that the turbine's fuel appetite does not significantly changes when the turbine goes from idle to warp factor nine (unlike a diesel), one wonder what fuel economy will be with a SINGLE 5000 hp turbine engine. Okay, granted, with hotel power (to light-up the cars and air-condition/heat them), you still suck some power from the engine when the train is stopped.

    One would think that a sensible way to address this problem would be to use 10 smal 500 HP engines whose number that kick-in would depend of the power needed at a time. But of course, this would mean higher maintenance costs and more chances for something to go wrong. However, modular design could make it easy to replace a turbine.

    Case in point: the old United Aircraft Turbotrain, designed in the sixties, had 6 Pratt & Whitney PT-6 turbine engines, each one of which could be replaced by three mechanics in less than 30 minutes (this was a NICE train: the bar was in the engine's cab, so you could look at the track ahead whilst sipping a beer, and switch to a stiffer drink whenever the train missed a school bus or a gasoline truck at a crossing).

    Even if we end-up with a super-magical turbine locomotive that runs all the time and doesn't suck fuel all the time as well, we'd face a little problem that is caused by the turbines's very suitableness for powering aircraft: low weight.

    Of course, low weight means less power needed to go at high speed. But is means also less weight on drivers. Perhaps railroads will be clipping newspapers coupons looking for sand clerance sales (sand can be injected right in front of driving wheels to boost adhesion if the wheels start to slip Wheels will definitely slip if there isn't enough weight on them)...

    So, one wonders of the suitableness of a turbine locomotive-hauled passenger train. Will it slip? Will it haul? I'm afraid that a turbine
    engine will have to be weighted up... But that weight need not be always deadweight. Big cities call for big commuter train traffic: the thing electrification is for. So, why not add a pantograph and power transformer allowing for full-power operation under catenary when approaching terminals? At least, this will reduce downtown air pollution.

    Wouldn't a better way be to have distributed traction throughout the train? You keep power generation in a lightweight power car (it would hardly be a locomotive anymore), and have traction motors throughout the train itself, so to take advantage of the weight there, too. Smaller traction motors, too, or at least, bigger derated ones. The first french TGVs had powered axles under the passenger coaches, and the Hikari Japanese bullet-trains running on the Shinkansen, as well as the newest german ICE trains have distributed powered axles through the trains (and the ICE-3 trains are real neat, too because the front seats of the first cars look on the track ahead, over the engineer's shoulders).

    But of course, one hits other problems, such as safely sending traction power throughout the train. You're talking at something like 1000 amps at 600 volts there. Coupling/uncoupling cars would cause problems, and at each car, you also have connections that can go wrong. 100 years ago, in Paris, a subway train caught fire, killing more than 100 people. The cause: high-intensity traction power sent through flexible cables throughout the train. Such lessons from the past are not easily forgotten...

    An lighter articulated train would be better in this respect, but then, you end-up with with an unflexible consist.

    A normal train car has two 4 wheel trucks, one at each end. On an articulated train, adjacent cars share the same truck. Since trucks are rather heavy, you end up with significant weight savings (a 10 car normal train has 20 trucks, whereas an articulated 10 car train has only nine count them right, and don't do a fencepost error [clueless.com]). The downside is that you cannot easily remove or add a car, they are all stuck together, so you have an inflexible train which can't be adjusted for varying loads.

    But, again, adding cars and removing them is expensive, more expensive than hauling around empty seats (or it seems, looking the way some MBAs with adding machines seem to think in railroad adminive departments). But, after all, the french TGVs are articulated, so this is less a problem it might see.

    Aha! Let's compromise on, oh, four car articulated, self-contained (1 first class parlour/club-car, 2 second class coaches, bar car & checked luggage/bicycle space with reversible control cab) units, two of which could be powered by one power car. So a 16 car train could be feasible, and you can retain some flexibility.

    And then, do we have a tilt-train ? Tilt-trains are attractive, but is still one more thing that can go wrong. And with motorized trucks, you have less room to put the needed power-banking mechanisms...

    A tilt train is a train that will tilt in the curves to compensate for cant deficiency . Cant deficiency is when the track is banked less than what would be needed for the speed the train goes through the curve. So, to prevent people from being tossed around curves, you simply tilt the train inwards, much like an airplane that does a banked turn. The new Bombardier Amtrak Acela train is a tilt-train, as well as the Bombardier VIA Rail LRC s that have been running for more than 20 years in Canada.

    There are two kind of tilt-trains: passive-suspention and active-suspension . Passive-suspension tilt trains are simply hung down and swing out in curves, whilst active suspension trains have electronic acceleration sensors that control hydraulic rams that tilt the carbodies. The old United Aircraft Turbo train and the old Talgo Pendular trains had passive suspension.

    It should work politically: engineers looove that kind of contraptions! And politicians looove to be associated with forward-thinking technology... But what kind of engineers? Aircraft engineers are clueless about railroad problems (one should remember the woes suffered by the late UAC turbo train), and railroad engineers are justifiably wary of sleek lightweight technology that falls apart at the slightest rail joint...

    I am afraid that having efficient turbine power for high-speed passenger trains would end-up in a costlier, less flexible exercise than using electrified off-the-shelf technology in the long run...

    • by MtViewGuy ( 197597 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @10:36PM (#4466387)
      I think you're basing your assessments on the old United Aircraft Turbotrains and the even older GE Big Blow locomotives that Union Pacific Railroad ran during the 1950's and 1960's.

      Fortunately, if you've read Bombardier's web page, JetTrain has been designed with the following in mind:

      1. The train is designed to meet the very strict FRA requirements for crash survivability, requirements that are actually stricter than those in much of Europe.

      2. The JetTrain locomotive uses far more modern gas turbine engines than the old Turbotrain. Remember, Turbotrain was built during the 1960's; with 30 years of research and development since then derived from developing quieter, more fuel efficient and less-polluting jet engines for the commercial aircraft industry since 1970, Pratt & Whitney today can deliver a gas turbine engine for the JetTrain that will use much less fuel, spew out way less exhaust emissions and generate far less noise than the old Turbotrains.

      3. Because JetTrain is a clean sheet design, it won't have to owe anything to current diesel-electric locomotive technology, technology that emphasizes more on initial pulling power for heavy trains. Remember, the entire JetTrain trainset uses the latest in materials technology to keep the weight down while still meeting FRA safety standards.

      If Bombardier can demonstrate it can properly cool the hot exhaust from the gas turbine engine so it doesn't become a fire/high-temperature hazard to nearby objects, JetTrain with its potential 155 mph (250 km/h) top speed could be just the train for a number of Amtrak routes here in the USA. Already, Amtrak is in the process of upgrading the Chicago to Detroit corridor to handle trains in excess of 100 mph; JetTrain would be a natural for this route. And since Amtrak's Southwest Chief long-distance train between Chicago and Los Angeles runs mostly on AT&SF railroad trackage (which was rated for 100+ mph operation back in 1937!), imagine a JetTrain variant of the Southwest Chief going between Los Angeles and Chicago in under 36 hours! (That is faster than the record for this route set by the Santa Fe Super C freight train in the late 1960's.)

      While having high-speed electric trains with overhead wiring is nice, you're forgetting that setting up all that catenary wiring is exorbitantly expensive, especially when you also have to tie in that wiring into the local electrical grid. And don't forget the NIMBY crowd that might not be too thrilled by the installation of all that wiring for various reasons.

      I think if Bombardier can work out the bugs on JetTrain, it may become the primary form of locomotion for high-speed rail in the USA, mostly because you can skip out on the expensive overhead catenary wiring installation.
    • 100 years ago, in Paris, a subway train caught fire, killing more than 100 people. The cause: high-intensity traction power sent through flexible cables throughout the train. Such lessons from the past are not easily forgotten...

      Actually, things happened a bit differently. While it is true that the train caught fire due to an electrical wiring defect, the blaze didn't kill many people; most if not all the passengers of the train escaped and survived.

      What happened is that the train being mostly made of wood, it generated a lot of smoke while burning. Additionnally, the venting in the subway tunnels was simply bad at that time. So, the hundred or so people who died there were in fact in the next train, which stayed stopped in the tunnel, where most of its passengers were asphyxied or killed in the panic that ensued.

      It was still the very beginning of the subway at that time; lots of lessons were learned the hard way.
  • by dolanh ( 64212 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2002 @09:23PM (#4466106) Homepage Journal
    I plugged "JetTrain bombardier" into google and got postings on the railroad.net forums. Seems quite a few folks there are pretty skeptical. A good read, in all:

    http://www.railroad.net/forums/messages.asp?TopicI D=5208 [railroad.net]
  • Gas Turbines 101 (Score:3, Informative)

    by nighthawk ( 6500 ) on Thursday October 17, 2002 @12:40AM (#4466883)

    Time for gas turbines 101. Here's the biggest difference betwen Gas turbines and Diesels. A diesel can idle on almost no fuel whatsoever, that's why you hear them idling all the time. The fuel/wear and tear it takes to start them vastly outweighs the fuel needed to run them for an hour or eight. Because they use a reciprocating compressor, and a reciprocating compressor maintains is efficiency accross its speed and horsepower band (actually dropping off at the top end) you can turn them down to zero HP out and the fuel going in drops to 1-5% of max power.

    GT's have a compressor which relies on the velocities of the compressor blades and the air mass flowing through the compressor to make its magic happen. You dump all the vibrating, clanking, and flailing parts of a recip engine and rely on the momentum/dynamics of the working fluid to get a gizmo which takes 14.4 PSI air at the front and shoves 200-300 psi air out the back with one moving part which is in perfect rotary balance.

    The problem is: It only performs this miracle in a small RPM range. Slow down by 10% and the efficiency goes to pot. Long story short, GTEs have only one fuel flow setting, ON. that's why the military was working on an APU for the M1 Abrahms tank. IT would keep the housekeeping electrical systes running without throwing all the fuel away!

    There have been advancements in GTEs. Variable inlet stators allow them to have a somewhat broader band of acceptable efficiency. I would not be surprised to see that this engine has intercoolers between the compressors stages. This is a BIG help to efficiency (less HP needed to crank the compressor). This is not done in AC engines because intercoolers are bulky, but not heavy. The second thing you COULD do in a train is to use a recuperator. The takes the nice cool compressed air, and heats it with the exhaust air. Saves on fuel big time, reduces the noise and and the thermal plume of the engine. Again bulky but not heavy.

    Modern, digitally controlled, intercooled, rucuperated, gas turbine engines are bone head simple to operate and basically have squat for moving parts and maintenance needs. And they're light. Damn light. Mostly air in fact.

    Modern Turbochanred intercooled diesels are damn efficient too. Comfortably close to Carnot efficiency. BUT the massize engine block needed to take the reciprocating pistons is god auful heavy. Damn near a solid block of iron.

    Modern diesel freight engines need to be heavy because they need lots of traction to get moving. A passenger train hauls mostly air and aluminum. People weigh squat next to 100 ton freights. That's why passenger cars are so long. They're full of air. Its posible for this type of passenger train to weigh 1/20-1/100 of a freight train with the same HP. A lightweight engine will impose much smaller dynamic loads on the track system.

    A big limiting factor is the engine weight. Modern high speed/non electric passenger trains have big fat engines up front. In europe, they offload the engine by using overhead electric power.
    This is an interesting solution to the speed problem. I hope it works.

"Unibus timeout fatal trap program lost sorry" - An error message printed by DEC's RSTS operating system for the PDP-11