JetTrain: The high-speed dream that by no means took off

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(CNN) — It could have among the world’s longest railroads, masking huge distances throughout its wide-open provinces, however one factor Canada does not have is high-speed trains.

Of all of the economically highly effective international locations which make up the G7 — the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, america and the EU — Canada is the one one with nothing swift coming down the tracks.

It has come shut although, with a creation that will’ve not solely put it on the excessive velocity rail map, however might even have radically shaken up the worldwide rail trade: JetTrain.

Within the early-2000s, the nation’s largest transport producer, Bombardier got here up with an experimental high-speed passenger practice idea that promised to deliver European-style rail companies to Canada and the US.

Marrying expertise from America’s all-electric Acela Specific and fuel turbine helicopter motors, JetTrain was a courageous try to create a quick, trendy passenger practice for routes throughout North America.

Its tilting passenger automobiles have been an identical to the Acela, now arising for substitute on Amtrak’s busy Northeast Hall (NEC) route linking Boston, New York Metropolis and Washington D.C., however the propulsion system was a lot much less standard.

Bombardier’s proposal concerned sandwiching light-weight tilting passenger automobiles between two energy automobiles fitted with Pratt & Whitney fuel turbine motors — delivering a powerful 8,000 hp and efficiency to match the NEC’s electrical trains.

In comparison with diesel engines, fuel generators are a lot lighter, smaller and able to delivering distinctive effectivity in the precise circumstances. In principle, they are perfect for long-distance, high-speed rail operations on non-electric strains.

Remarkably, the turbine motor used within the JetTrain prototype weighed simply 882 kilos (400 kilograms) and was no larger than a standard workplace desk. A diesel engine of comparable output can weigh as a lot as 10 tonnes (22,046 kilos) and could be round 16-feet lengthy (4.88 meters) and virtually 10-feet excessive.

Bombardier’s JetTrain prototype was powered by a jet engine, quite than a conventional diesel one.

McClatchy-Tribune/MCT/Sipa USAKRT/

Maintaining the burden as little as potential is essential to high-speed rail autos; lighter locomotives and automobiles place much less stress on the observe and constructions beneath, which in turns reduces the price of sustaining and repairing each factor of the operation.

With a practice designed for a most velocity of 165 mph (265 kph) on current tracks shared with freight trains, low weight was not simply fascinating however unavoidable. In comparison with current diesel locomotives, JetTrain’s low weight and trendy engines additionally promised a 30% discount in greenhouse fuel emissions.

Many proposals, no takers

The idea was Bombardier’s response to a name from the US Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to develop new high-speed practice expertise for routes the place electrification was unlikely.

The 2 events invested $13 million every to construct the primary — and solely — prototype at Bombardier’s plant in Plattsburgh, New York.

FRA spokesman Warren Flatau mentioned on the time: “Bombardier stepped as much as the plate once we put out the phrase we have been fascinated about doing this challenge. We imagine that the challenge holds nice potential for bringing concerning the high-speed companies that individuals throughout the nation are expressing a need for.”

Accomplished in June 2000, the prototype hit 156 mph throughout testing on the FRA’s check heart in Pueblo, Colorado earlier than happening a tour in america and Canada.

Within the early-2000s, Bombardier raised eyebrows in Europe by proposing a British model of JetTrain as a potential substitute for its fashionable InterCity 125. Regardless of a short flurry of pleasure, the proposal quickly drifted into obscurity and it could be one other 15 years earlier than the diesel-powered “125s” have been changed.

JetTrain was seen as the perfect resolution to enhance passenger companies on the proposed Florida Overland Specific between Orlando and Tampa in Florida — though this scheme fell by after being denied funding in 2004.

Different proposals included new strains in Texas and between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, though neither of those has but come to fruition.

A Via Rail passenger train travels through Canada's Rocky Mountains.

A By way of Rail passenger practice travels by Canada’s Rocky Mountains.

Bernard Weil/Toronto Star/Getty Photographs

In Canada, JetTrain was promoted as a substitute for diesel-powered trains on Canadian intercity passenger service operator VIA Rail’s Quebec Metropolis-Windsor route, however once more the required funding proved elusive.

Regardless of an extra research into accelerating passenger trains in 2008, no additional progress has been made and the JetTrain prototype has been saved out of use in Pueblo for a few years.

Lack of funding stifles rail growth

Constructing smooth and glossy new high-speed trains is the simple bit. Persuading governments to take a position billions of {dollars} in upgrading railroads to take full benefit of these trains is way tougher — particularly in North America.

“JetTrain is symptomatic of the power drawback going through inter-city passenger rail in Canada; the need to get one thing for nothing,” says Canadian rail skilled and passionate VIA Rail supporter Jason Shron.

“Within the Nineteen Sixties, when the Canadian authorities invested within the 170 mph-capable United Plane TurboTrain, it was positioned in service on jointed rails on an alignment laid again in 1856. With tight curves and over 300 degree crossings between Toronto and Montreal, the practice by no means reached its potential.”

The Bombardier JetTrain on display at Florida's Tampa Union Station in 2003.

The Bombardier JetTrain on show at Florida’s Tampa Union Station in 2003.

Tampa Bay Occasions/Zuma Press

For a lot of causes, not least the dominance of the non-public vehicle and the oil foyer, governments in Canada and the US have lengthy been reluctant to put money into quick, frequent and dependable intercity rail. Many robust proposals have come and gone over the many years, victims of shifting political priorities, lobbying by anti-rail pursuits and indifference.

Protected operation at speeds above 100 mph requires main funding in tracks, signaling and the substitute of high-risk grade crossings with bridges or underpasses. Grade crossing security is a specific problem in North America, the place trains typically run sometimes and street customers do not anticipate to see them — or worse — take pointless dangers to cross tracks in entrance of approaching trains.

Nonetheless, the price of eliminating these dangers can run into billions of {dollars} and capital spending on public infrastructure has lengthy been seen by many in North America as pouring cash right into a bottomless pit, quite than an funding in bettering connectivity for everybody.

Excessive frequencies, excessive speeds and electrification stay a distant prospect and even VIA Rail’s quickest trains max out at 100 mph. Likewise the US, regardless of its wealth and big inhabitants, solely has restricted sections of railroad handed for optimum speeds higher than 100 mph.

“Canadians imagine they’re pouring lots of tax {dollars} into supporting a fairly trip for international vacationers.”

Rail journalist Chris Leigh

The densely populated Hall in southern Ontario and Quebec is a perfect candidate for high-speed rail, and greater than 20 research commissioned by the federal government have confirmed this,” says Shron. “Sadly, you’ll be able to’t construct high-speed rail with research.

“That is the continuation of an ongoing theme of under-investment. Whereas VIA has a brand new fleet on order from Siemens to be used within the Hall, it’s a seat-for-seat substitute for current tools that may no longer enable growth of companies. The final important funding in inter-city passenger trains was in 1954/55, when Canadian Pacific and Canadian Nationwide bought new fleets. Since then, Canada’s inter-city passenger community has struggled.”

Recognizing that real high-speed rail will seemingly by no means happen, VIA has been pushing for high-frequency rail on a brand new alignment.

Even that has been slowed down by research and isn’t a lot nearer to realization than when it was proposed 5 years in the past. At this time, the common age of VIA’s energetic passenger automobile fleet is over 40 years, with a lot of the fleet constructed between 1946 and 1955.

“The largest menace to VIA Rail’s existence is authorities indifference to the best way that passenger trains are operated,” says veteran rail journalist and frequent Canada customer Chris Leigh.

Via Rail passenger trains share tracks with freight operator Canadian National.

By way of Rail passenger trains share tracks with freight operator Canadian Nationwide.

Christinne Muschi/Bloomberg/Getty Photographs

“Not like Amtrak, VIA trains haven’t any statutory precedence on the railways over which they function. As a passenger it is a unusual feeling to understand you might be of significantly much less significance than a field automobile or a grain hopper!

“VIA trains all the time play second fiddle to the host railway’s personal freight trains and this has turn out to be worse lately as freight operator Canadian Nationwide struggles to search out sufficient capability for its personal trains as cargo visitors grows.”

He provides: “Excessive price and poor reliability are a deterrent to passengers — whether or not they’re commuters or transcontinental vacationers, whereas Canadians imagine they’re pouring lots of tax {dollars} into supporting a fairly trip for international vacationers.”

Many years of innovation, combined outcomes

JetTrain was not the primary try to deliver jet engine expertise to the rails. As early as 1941, Swiss firm Brown Boveri was engaged on experimental fuel turbine locomotives, constructing one for home use and one other for Britain’s Nice Western Railway.

On the time, fuel generators have been nonetheless “white sizzling” expertise, having been developed to energy the primary jet fighter plane in direction of the tip of World Warfare II.

Gasoline generators have been a lot lighter and extra highly effective than up to date diesel engines, none of which might match the ability and velocity of the most effective steam locomotives they have been meant to exchange.

Nonetheless, the early fuel turbine prototypes didn’t fulfill their nice promise, proving unreliable, thirsty for gas and extremely noisy throughout their trials. Best when working at full energy for lengthy intervals, the expertise was not effectively suited to the stop-start nature of passenger operation.

Regardless of this, between 1952 and 1970 the legendary Union Pacific Railroad in america operated the world’s largest fleet of fuel turbine locomotives, referred to as GTELs. At one level, round 10% of UP’s freight was hauled by GTELs, however gas financial system once more proved to be an issue, with the large machines utilizing as much as double the quantity of gas of equal diesel locomotives.

Within the late-Nineteen Sixties and early-Nineteen Seventies fuel generators made a comeback as European railways sought light-weight, excessive efficiency options for a brand new era of categorical passenger trains, corresponding to Britain’s Superior Passenger Practice (APT) prototype, a exceptional tilting practice taking a lot of its inspiration from aerospace expertise.

Likewise, SNCF in France selected fuel generators to energy “TGV 001,” the predecessor of its world-famous high-speed trains. In each instances, jet propulsion shortly turned a lifeless finish, not least due to the 1973 oil disaster, which rendered thirsty fuel generators unaffordable virtually in a single day.

In 1967/68, the United Plane Company (UAC) constructed seven futuristic trying fuel turbine trains for the UA and Canadian Nationwide Railways.

Full of superior expertise, the “TurboTrains” attracted plenty of consideration however proved to be unreliable. In the precise circumstances although, they may run notably sooner than standard trains. One of many two US trains managed a powerful 170.8 mph in New Jersey in December 1967 — nonetheless a world report for this type of propulsion.

In April 1976, after a rebuild program which considerably improved reliability and on-time efficiency, a Canadian TurboTrain reached a most of 140.6 mph — effectively above the day by day norm of 95 mph. That this report nonetheless stands 45 years later tells us a lot about Canada’s willingness to put money into passenger rail.

Within the late-Nineteen Sixties the paperwork at Transport Canada was of the opinion that passenger trains have been the equal of the horse and buggy.

Sadly, in over 5 many years since then it seems attitudes there haven’t modified.

Intercity passenger trains are seen as a distraction and never price severe funding.

Because the formation of VIA Rail Canada in 1978, the intercity community has by no means been expanded: it has shrunk steadily for over 40 years.

Jason Shron concludes: “VIA’s efforts to introduce new companies and routes are regularly stymied by Transport Canada. VIA just isn’t allowed to introduce a brand new service if it’s going to require a subsidy. As virtually all VIA companies require subsidies, that is successfully a everlasting embargo on new routes.”

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