Friday, August 27, 2010

Trains Magazine Features Colorado's Distributed Power

I got my October issue of Trains on Saturday. Did you?

Trains Sept 2010
The September 2010 issue of Trains Magazine features diesel engines using distributed power in Colorado. The cover  boasts, "Ultimate Motive Power, 6 Locomotives [under] 1 Engineer, How distributed power changed the way railroads run big trains." The main article by David Lustig features a double page spread of the Moffat Route through Little Gore Canyon to start the article, another from the Front Range sub north of Palmer Lake, and yet another from the west of Denver above the Big Ten Curve west of Clay, Colorado, which is also where the cover was shot (see at left).

If there is one aspect that has helped railroads increase their advantage over the rubber-tired competition of truckers, it is the growing ability to control massive amounts of product with significantly less manpower for medium- to long-haul freight. For about two years, CSX has run numerous national and semi-national advertising campaigns to boost the public's perception of how railroads make life better for everyone by taking trucks off the congested national highway system.

The message of the ad is simple, yet very hard to defeat, even for truckers, who, like all of us, work to put food on their table. But the benefits of DP are far more than just longer trains under an engineer and a conductor.

Distributed power in one form or another has been around in Colorado ever since I can remember. My dad and my brother would wonder at the units cut into the middles and the ends of the Rio Grande trains descending from the Moffat tunnel back when I was too small to see over the dashboard. The "knuckle-busting" grades, as the article referred to it for it's tendency to break the knuckles of couplers, made for serious demands on the equipment and men of the "Real Grime." Often we'd hear these "weird" sounds from the engines as they descended into Arvada. We found out that the engineers were using dynamic braking on the GP and new SD units as they came down the grade. Howling, growling, they'd roll past while the cars shoved from behind, and they would careen all the way down to downtown Denver if they could.

What I really appreciated about the articles was the graphics illustrating the way different DP options worked to even out the braking and drawbar forces. A DP unit in the middle can help slow the train faster, giving an engineer much more control of the train and making it a safer operation. With all the benefits, it wouldn't be surprising to see DP continue to grow.

It makes me wonder, how can it be improved?


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