I was getting tired of commuting to work every day, so I moved close to a train station with express service into Grand Central Station. Best thing I ever did. My older car joined the ranks of Rockland County cars for sale, because I could now walk fifteen minutes to the station. I’m in better shape and my nerves aren’t shot from rush-hour driving. So now I love trains, and I use my commute time to read about them and their history.
I’ve learned a lot about the history of railway mechanics since trading in my car for a monthly commutation pass. It seems that they started studying railway mechanics in the 19th century by analyzing the interface between a locomotive and track. They improved the fit between the engine and the track, which made train operation safer. Scientists first discovered machine fatigue by identifying it on locomotives and finding shatter cracks in rail heads. In the 1890s, scientists turned their attention to thermodynamics and figured out locomotive energy flows. This led to remarkable advances in efficiency. At the turn of the 20th century, a traction system was integrated with signaling. Simultaneously, Purdue University was investigating the optimal proportions for a locomotive, which also improved efficient energy use.
Skipping ahead to the 1940s, Chicago North Western RR developed a testing program to discover the effects of unbalanced forces generated by steam engines upon track. They used high-speed cameras and electrical recording devices to measure the behavior of locomotive components, trackbed and rails. Researchers immediately identified the occurrence of wheel lift during slippage. They constructed mechanical models which taught them about wheel-rail interaction with regards to different rail dimensions, ballast characteristics, train speeds and axle loads. This modeling helped researchers compare their observations with theory, and led to new guidelines for the optimal number and balancing of cylinders, wheel design and springing. New attention was paid to train aerodynamics and wind-resistance, along with vehicle-rail interaction.
After World War II, the Japanese developed the concept of stiffness to keep spring-restrained wheelsets stable at any speed. The result was the advent of high-speed trains of the 1960s. Computers were used to solve mathematical expressions that had been too hard to solve by hand. This was especially useful for developing theories of vehicle behavior when taking a curve. Theories about curving were developed which addressed vehicle configuration, creep and stability.
Woops – we are pulling into Grand Central, sorry I got carried away. This stuff is fascinating!