March 16, 2004

Train Brakes

Brian Crozier over at Transport Blog muses about train stopping ability a subject that I didn't know much about but this referenced article makes all clear (it pays to read comments). One improvement that presents itself immediately to me is to combine the current air pressure brake signalling system with some sort of electronic communication. Currently, it can take many precious seconds for the back car on a freight train to get the signal to start applying its brakes. The article supplies an example figure of 16 seconds. If there were a parallel electronic system that could achieve sub-second response times, stopping distances would be improved, though how often that would make a difference and would the expense be worth the savings is beyond me. No doubt a trial lawyer will be making that argument at some future date in some tragic case.

Another issue is that brakes are monolithically set so that they do not skid, whether under load or empty. Adding intelligence to the braking system in the form of a type of rail car ABS system would also increase stopping power. The cost of such systems versus the improved braking performance would have to be weighed as well as what happens when you have a bunch of old and new cars mixed together. Anyway, it's an interesting intellectual exercise. Unfortunately, such innovations are unlikely in the US as the dead hand of government regulation has been killing off railroad innovation for over a century.

Posted by TMLutas at March 16, 2004 01:18 PM