What puts a locomotive in motion?
Everything we use today was on a freight train at one point in one form or another.
Whether chugging across short distances or entire countries, trains act as a major form of transportation for both passengers and freight.
The first steam locomotive was invented in 1797 in England and carried six coal cars and as many as 450 passengers a distance of nine miles in less than an hour.
In 1827, the B&O Railroad Company established itself as the first U.S. railroad company and, by 1860, the U.S. had more track laid than in the rest of the world combined.
A locomotive changes the chemical energy from fuel into the kinetic energy of motion.
“A locomotive is like a hybrid car. It has a diesel engine that is used to turn an electric generator. That generator powers the batteries and traction motors on each axle,” explained Burlington Northern Santa Fe Trainmaster Wes Patteson.
Operators control the train by using the throttle, which controls the speed of the train, the reversing gear and brake.
All locomotives use high pressure air brakes to drive the brake foot against the wheel.
“The cars are connected by air hoses which power the brake system. If a hose comes undone, the train will go into emergency mode,” Patteson said.
It is the friction between the brake pad and the wheels that slow the train.
The locomotive’s cars have an undercarriage that contain wheels and a suspension system that buffer the ride. On each end of the undercarriage, couplers connect the cars.
There are several types of railroad cars:
• A boxcar is a basic box that carries basic goods.
• An ore car has an open top and carries coal or other mineral ore.
• A tank car holds chemicals such as chlorine or ammonia.
• Trailer cars transport automobiles.
• Container cars are filled with boxed containers of various materials.
• Passenger cars hold people.
There have been many changes in the railroad industry over the years.
“The biggest change is safety. The railroad industry is very dangerous. No item is small or light. Making sure everyone takes an active role in safety is our priority,” Patteson said.
Another change is in the velocity of trains. The speed of a train is much faster due than it used to be due to the highly computerized efficiency of new technology.
Some interesting facts about trains:
• An average freight train weighs between 10,000 and 12,000 or more tons.
• Even in full emergency, it can take a train a mile or more to stop. This means if an engineer can see you, it is already too late to stop for you.
• A single locomotive puts out enough electrical power to power your neighborhood.
• Railroads operated responsibly are much more eco-friendly than other forms of transportation.
The decline of the U.S. railroad had begun by the mid-20th century due to a developed interstate highway system and federal regulations. However, with the ongoing energy crisis, trains, which run on diesel fuel, are regaining popularity.
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