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Technological Opporturtities and lye Railroad Inalastry WILLIAM J. HARRIS, JR. Had one been discussing railroad technology 100 years ago, the rail- roads could have been characterized as being at the cutting edge. It took invention and major industrial change for them to become the great enterprise that they were and are. Without revolutions in the steel industry, the invention of the air brake system, and universities' dedi- cated mechanical engineering department studies of steam tables and energy conversion systems, the railroads would have simply remained a curiosity. As it was, this confluence of development created a system that shaped the economy of the United States. The railroads became so successful that a whole set of national leg- islative and regulatory institutions had to be established. Some of these institutions lasted longer and stayed more rigid than we would have liked, but they were a consequence of enormous technological success. The railroad industry today functions within an environment that is completely different from that of the past- today we have an extensive, mature transportation system and network. A completely rational so- ciety that made all economic decisions based on benefit costs would have provided a rather different set of institutions from those we have, which are a mixed set of public and private institutions. Public policy does indeed affect these; it provides major support to some elements of the transportation system and less to others. But what is given can also be taken away. And so, in considering technological problems in the railroad industry, one must be extremely mindful of the context in which this mode of 181

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182 TRANSPORTATION TECHNOLOGY transportation is functioning and of the challenges to that mode. This economic issue helps to define the nature of relevant technological ac- tivities. The issue arises from competition between modes in the United States as well as from competition between foreign sources of supply of commodities produced for export in the U.S. economy. Recent legislation in support of 48-foot trailers that are 102 inches wide and authorization for use of two trailers pulled by a single tractor establish a basis for significant cost reduction in highway transportation. The creation in South Africa of a very viable coal-exporting industry, one pending in China, one in Australia, and one in Poland are having profound effects on how the U.S. transportation system develops. They force us in technological directions that otherwise might not be pursued. These examples of domestic and foreign competition set the stage for a discussion of selected technologies that affect the railroad industry. Although the dynamic interaction of the train with the track structure seems similar to other dynamic problems, there are some differences. There are more degrees of freedom and more complexities in the rail- road train than in almost any other system. Trains carrying 14,000 tons in 140 or more cars, each car with four axles and eight wheels, each with two flexible connectors (couplers) at the ends operating over track structure that may be jointed every 39 feet, provides enormous potential for unsatisfactory dynamic interaction. There are many nonlinear ele- ments in the system. As a matter of fact, only a decade ago the designers of track did not understand the inputs to track from cars, and the designers of cars did not understand the effects of track perturbation on suspension systems and other features of cars. The engineer operating the locomotive had only the seat of his pants for guidance as to the correct control strategy. That situation has improved. There are now mathematical models that permit running a train in a variety of ways over a variety of track structures with a variety of car designs, which has led to a $3-billion annual investment in maintenance of track structures. That in turn has led to the emergence of a new generation of cars designed to be more gentle on the track. And that development has led to precise guidance for the operators of trains and effective training programs that make possible much more relevant train operations. As an analytical base has been built under these empirical relation- ships, a serious time constant has been encountered. A Track-Train Dynamics program was started in 1972; it will result in new components and new cars by 1985 or 1986; those cars will remain in the fleet until 2026. Thus, there is a 54-year time span from the beginning of research to the obsolescence of products based on that research. Over such a

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RAILROAD INDUSTRYTECHNOLOGICA ~ OPPORTUNITIES 183 long period, there will unquestionably be changes in the nation's econ- omy, in its societal structure, and in its regulatory structure. There is at present no effective response to the need for approaches that will identify these prospective changes which can be reflected in designs of equipment and systems. In other competitive modes, equipment be- comes obsolete in 7 to 10 years. Thus, the other modes can remain more flexible in response to changing requirements. The National Academy of Engineering has an opportunity to recog- nize some of these issues. It needs to look at the time for introduction of new technology, its life span, and the dynamics of changes in the economy that can affect new investments. The study of dynamics is essential to railroad technology, and ma- terials science and engineering are also important. The materials de- scribed in other papers in this volume represent great technological advances, but they are not "cents per pound" units, which the railroad industry requires. Nonetheless, there are improved, low-cost materials that are not in widespread use in the industry. Combining our broader insights into dynamics and our review of low- cost, higher-performance materials, we can see an opportunity to re- structure trains. Much weight can be taken out of each car. The weight of locomotives can be reduced but tractive effort retained by using powered axles under loaded cars. Very substantial redesign of train operating systems such as braking and coupling will be necessary. It is thought that those changes can reduce the costs of track operations by about 40 percent. If that can be done, new opportunities can be created for export of bulk commodities such as coal and grain, and thus a new demand for transportation can be developed. These commodities must now compete with lower-cost commodities available from foreign pro- ducers. If transportation costs can be reduced, our markets for these products can be retained and expanded. Computers have been absolutely essential to the improved efficiency of the railroad industry. At present about 2 million freight cars operate with about 26,000 locomotives over about 285,000 miles of track struc- ture in the United States. Two decades ago the procedures for keeping track of cars were unsatisfactory. That is no longer the case. With flexible computer programs and computer-to-computer communications, effi- ciency can be enhanced by providing lists of arriving cars to the next destination. And the industry is now applying microprocessors in a va- riety of ways; for example, in locomotives they identify the need for maintenance and the opportunity for more efficient control. The actions of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have been devastating to the economics of every transportation

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184 TRANSPORTATION TECHNOLOGY mode. The oil bill of the railroads went from $350 million a year to $3.5 billion a year within about two years. The Association of American Railroads has joined with the Southwest Research Institute, with the builders of locomotives, and with the oil industry to study all of the ways energy is used in the railroad system. For example, in a guided ground system with the flanged wheel atid a rail, the flange may touch the rail on occasion, resulting in wear and loss of energy. The use of roller bearings improves safety, but the seals that keep the lubricants in place, without maintenance, for 7 to 10 years, bear on the axle and use energy. In the past, with low-cost fuels, it was not necessary to pay attention to aerodynamic drag in relatively low-speed systems such as freight railroads. Now it is. Using Airings, closing freight car doors, and chang- ing the spacing between trailers can reduce drag. The locomotive builders have been able to reduce energy require- ments by about 10 percent through a large number of changes in engine components. Lubrication of the track to reduce the friction between the flange and the side of the head of the rail can reduce energy requirements by another 10 percent. During the next few years we will probably abandon number 2 diesel and move toward a less expensive but still effective fuel. This can reduce costs by 10 percent. The cumulative effect of these changes will be a reduction of cost up to 25 percent. Attention has been given to the interaction of these technologies with the labor force. The labor force in the railroad industry was 1.4 million in 1950; three years ago it was about 700,000; today it is under 400,000. Most of that reduction has occurred because of improved productivity. But the new technologies will provide further opportunities for improved production. There are areas that need very real technical advances. Nondestructive inspection (NDI) of rail and wheels falls far short of what is technically required. As lighter and more highly stressed components are used, advanced structural design concepts will be employed that demand com- patible NDI techniques. Alternative energy conversion processes could make it feasible to use coal instead of liquid fuels, but none is immediately available to replace the diesel locomotive. There are broad policy issues in transportation that need further ex- amination. It is hoped that the National Research Council's Transpor- tation Research Board will be able to clarify the demands that the emerging domestic economy will make on transportation. Until that

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RAILROAD INDUSTRYTECHNOLOGICAL OPPORTUNITIES 185 guidance is available, public and private investment decisions may lead to extensive overcapacity and inefficient use of capital. The competitive technologies have to be brought into better focus than they are, not to create some broad national plan, but to provide a better basis for tech- nical, engineering, and investment judgments. The railroad industry, once extremely successful and now again ex- tremely competitive with other modes, is working very hard to remain a dynamic force in the future of the economy. New technologies are contributing to that goal.

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