Me, reading the headline: "Aw shit, was that us in '98?"
Open the article: "Over the week spanning Jan. 4-10, 1998..."
That was honestly a wild time. I was almost 12. School was closed for 2-3 weeks because they couldn't promise there would be electricity to heat the building. The ice kept breaking power lines or crushing the transmission towers from the weight (ice is heavy!). Imagine your car, covered in a 1-2 inch thick layer of very solid ice, encased.
People died. The military had to come in to help. My family was fortunate that we had a wood stove in the basement that kept the house warm and cooked some meals on. We lost power a few hours at least every day.
Edit: For those interested in this, the Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/January_1998_North_American_ic...) has some great photos and description. 1,000 transmission towers/pylons destroyed, 35,000 utility poles. Whole forests devastated.
One of my former colleagues worked on disaster response in the northern Adirondacks and areas around the border. From his tales, it was pretty harrowing, basically bringing the region into circa 1880 technology overnight.
It was pre-911 before emergency response was well funded which made things more challenging. They were dealing with frozen everything, no power, no cellular, impassable roads, etc.
I thought the same thing. I was 11, in 6th grade and remember it pretty clearly. We had the wood fireplace going non-stop, and yet we had it fairly easy in comparison with 'only' 2 weeks without power in the Ottawa area.
I remember walking over huge snowbanks on our front yard and it was all frozen solid. We could almost walk straight up onto the house roof.
The Ice Storm as it was aptly called.
We were lucky that we were on a road designated as an emergency route, and though power was down, our internet still worked.
My dad was handy so he set me up on my laptop with a car battery, and my life as a shy, hypersensitive, introvert who found solace being away from people and on my computer - learning to code through adding features and a fixed ASCII interface for the text-based MUD I was building - debugging as I went, using my mother's university account server to host it initially; he also brought in a BBQ and heated the house with propane - not recommended as you need to know the cautions.
I grew up south of Ottawa and remember this storm well. Ice 10cm thick on downed power lines and transmission towers. I lived in a rural town south of Ottawa (Winchester) and school buses would be cancelled on any rain that happened when the temperature was below freezing. The literal first day of the ice rain (that lasted for a solid week) was on the first day we were supposed to go back after the xmas break. School was out for two weeks (so a straight month off). On top of that, it was the year of the Mike Harris teacher strikes, which meant we got a two week break a few months earlier. When we did eventually return to school, the army and requisitioned our gymnasium and they cooked us all free cafeteria food for two weeks.
Winchester was an Ontario Hydro hub, so I was only without power for about a day and a half (we had a wood stove, too). So this nerd had internet and video games. The only "tough" job I had to do was help my grandfather clear his driveway of the thick ice, which took hours (salt was impossible to come by at this point).
I was also outside Ottawa(West) at the time. I remember hearing the trees collapsing as they failed under the weight, it was like mini explosions. We were out for about 48 hours but our neighbours' line to the road down their long driveway failed and so they were out almost 2 weeks.
Came hear to also say "I remember that". Glad to see fellow Ice-Stormers here. We were in Maine, on the coast. We were lucky enough to have a wood stove for heat. And we were close enough to the ocean that the kids (me) would go down to the ocean at high-tide to fill up 5-gallon buckets with sea-water. We used those to flush our toilets for a full week. Oh, And I had to walk to school in that ice storm - up hill, both ways ;-).
You reminded me my dad something similar for the toilets - living close to Lake Ontario. :)
I'm a bit surprised you had either a laptop or broadband Internet (as opposed to dial-up) in 1998. I may have had (barely) a work laptop by then but I didn't get home broadband until maybe a couple years later.
Laptop with a car battery? 12V DC to 160 or whatever AC?
Laptops (and computers in general) run on 12V DC and 5V DC (and more recently also 3.3V DC) internally. Modern laptop chargers tend to put out around 20V DC to charge the battery and stepped down by power management circuits. Not sure if it was already 20V in '98 or if laptops were still using 12V DC to charge the NiCads, I seem to remember car chargers that plugged the laptop directly into the cigarette lighter.
Probably a DC-DC adapter, bypassing the power brick entirely.
That would make sense, really interested in the details. Unrelated to anything, but makes me wonder how horribly inefficient running a car I4 is for providing power.
Internal combustion engines emit the majority of their energy as heat. A typical gasoline engine is 20% efficient at turning gasoline into rotational power. (and that's under ideal usage, usually they're designed to be most efficient at operating speed, not at idle) Anything you have connected to the crankshaft after that is additional inefficiency on top of that.
I remember that, luckily we were spared in Toronto.
> Once at its destination and hooked in, its V12 had to be run at a specific, constant rpm' to generate AC current at 60 hertz, the frequency used by most North American utilities.
I don't think this is exactly right. I'm sure it wasn't consistent either, but few loads really cared too much.
From the article's link, about a different locomotive doing the same thing:
> Conrail actually had a set of standing instructions on how to provide quasi-commercial power from a locomotive. For an SD40-2, you attach to the bus before the diodes. Operating in notch 6 runs the generator at 647 RPM. Since the AR10 is a 10 pole machine, that gives 64.7 Hz power. You could tweak the governor to get it closer to 60 Hz if you really wanted to, but for powering everything but clocks, it's close enough. I think the method for regulating the voltage was to disconnect the load regulator from it's governor-powered vane motor and dialing the voltage in manually. The output is 3 phase power. Max output in notch 6 is about 1000KW. If the avg home draws 2-3 KW on the avg, that'd power several hundred homes.
Not an engineer but I used to sell generators. I believe constant rpm eng/alternator is pretty common practice. From memory and a quick Google search, 1800 rpm produces 60hz and 1500 produces 50hz in newer alternators. I'm unfamiliar with these engine/alternator combos so they likely operate slightly differently.
Most power generating units operate at a relatively fixed rpm for longevity and will ramp a little during heavy load.
Also pulled up an old spec sheet for a Cummins and it had the same rpm/Hz specs.
Edit: added link to spec sheet
Diesel engines for power generation will have a governor control that sets the throttle based on the load to maintain whatever rpm is required for 60 Hz (constant speed control). The load in this scenario is uncontrolled and the genset simply follows it.
A diesel locomotive's engine controls are about producing the right amount of power to match the operator's throttle control. Electrical frequency at the generator (alternator) terminals is irrelevant since that output is being rectified to DC anyways. This is great for a train, because it means you can have full power at any speed - the speed of your train and the speed of your engine are completely decoupled from each other. But if you now connect this normally variable frequency AC output directly to 60 Hz loads, you will need to figure out how to set the throttle to best maintain something close to 60 Hz and your power output will be limited.
If you buy a large engine for a generator the manufacture will have one pin on the ECU for the 50/60hz switch which just changed the RPM. Generators are not enough of a market for the manufactures to make their own engines (unless they have other divisions that also need an engine for something else) that meet emissions, but they are large enough a market overall that companies that make engines want to get in on the extra profits they can by selling to the market (they get to spread the cost of emissions development across more engines), and the 50/60hz RPM needs are only a few hours to code/test on top of all the other work they are doing anyway.
There may be minimum quantities in your engine order, though the contract will provide for spare parts which might get you a single replacement many years after the generator is manufactured (if the rest of the engine is still available)
Older/basic generators would run at fixed frequency to generate the correct frequency. I believe the voltage is regulated by regulating the field strength in the rotor. Modern generators have inverters that handle the output and regulates the 60Hz/110V or 50Hz/220V etc. In this case the RPM is controlled by the wattage required (with a min and max RPM). Motor -> alternator -> inverter -> load
It depends on the size.
The larger the generator, the more likely you have a constant-RPM setup.
True, but that is changing. Inverters are not very expensive anymore, provide cleaner power, and can match the frequency of the something else allowing you to put several generators in parallel and disconnected one for maintenance. They also allow running lower RPM which at lighter loads can save fuel/money. (A constant rpm generator often uses more fuel at 50% load than at 80% load!)
Inverter generators can also sell power back to the grid. To pay for the fuel you need more than the typical retail price of electric, so this is only worth it if you have a need for a backup generator anyway. However if you have this need talk to the power company, they often will give you a discount because when there are load issues (See Texas last week), and the ability to add power to the grid in this time will be something they are interested in.
Today most large generators are still constant RPM, but I don't expect that to last.
Why would a constant-RPM generator not be able to feed into a grid?
Also, you can run them in parallel without problems, as long as you keep the governors from oscillating. But proper PID tuning and sensing architecture should turn that into a non-issue.
Larger engines btw. just disable cylinders for part-load operation.
1800 rpm 60hz / 1500rpm 50hz given a four pole alternator.
One of the reasons old stationary engines (in Europe) in the pre-governator time ran at a fixed speed of 1500 RPMs
I understand that more load reduces frequency and less load raises frequency.
Maybe something got lost in translation and "specific, constant RPM" was describing (a feedback loop of) "watch the frequency and keep it steady" as opposed to "always use this value"?
Also, wow. Seriously, wow. A locomotive running flat out could power several hundred homes. Transportation is expensive, both from a relative cost perspective, and also from a resource(-wastefulness) perspective. Electric (specifically grid-connected) trains also suddenly make a bit more sense.
> Transportation is expensive, both from a relative cost perspective, and also from a resource(-wastefulness) perspective.
It really isn't. That locomotive running flat out may use a lot of energy. But it's also moving an enormous amount of freight, making the energy used per unit mass fairly small. For instance, CSX estimates it can move about 1 ton of freight 492 miles per gallon of diesel: https://www.csx.com/index.cfm/about-us/the-csx-advantage/fue...
Your trip to the store and back will probably use more energy.
Running rail relatively slowly and on the level is low-power. Put hills or other load factors (start/stop, speed up / slow down, even wind) into the mix and it can go up. Elevation most especially --- railroads will go up to a thousand kilometers out of a straight-line route to avoid elevation gains.
A passenger car should get 20-30 miles (30-50 km) per gallon, so unless your store run is several towns over (or you're in the sticks), probably less energy moving a ton 500 miles by rail. Though yes, personal autos are, relative to size and cargo capacity, profligate energy users.
What goes up must go down. Every joule you have to put in to climb, you get back in the downhill.
So in the end it mostly works out.
1. Diesel-electric engines are not regenerative.
2. If you can't get it up, you won't be going down.
A 110 car unit coal train grosses 143 tons per car for a 15,750 ton gross trainset weight, excluding locos. Metric is nearly the same, I'll round to 15,000 tonne.
Lifting that 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) requires about 150 gigajoules of energy, or the energy equivalent of over 3.5 tonnes of oil. You're not going to recover that fuel going downhill.
(Rough numbers for an approximate answer, but it's a lot of energy.)
The highest elevation mainline crossing in the US was on the Union Pacific Railroad, Tennessee Pass (10,240 feet, 3,121 m), built in 1882 and retired in 1997. Today it's the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, La Veta Pass (9,242 feet, 2,816 metres).
I think you are forgetting brakes. There is absolutely no way a train is free-rolling it down a hill. They will be on brakes the entire time - dynos and air brakes - so you are "getting back" a lot of those joules in the form of electricity and heat, not momentum.
I used to work in the freight railroad industry. One instructive thing to demonstrate how efficient rails are, which I got to try once or twice: one person can move a fully loaded railcar with a pinch bar (basically a crowbar with an extra lever element) behind a wheel.
Well, my hybrid electric car gets, on a summer day, about 70 km per 10 kWh charge. So if the locomotive can produce about 24000 kWh in a day, it could power 2400 35 km round-trip commutes.
Now a freight train will run at, I don't know, 120 km/h? So, theoretically, it could run 2 880 km in a day. As we can see, that's a lot less than the combined 168 000 km 2400 hybrid cars could drive.
So if we're comparing a train pulled by a locomotive like this to single-occupant hybrid electric cars, the train would have to transport 60 people to be about equivalent in efficiency. That seems very doable, you could fit that in a single train car. Also the 1000 kW power output is the peak output, I can't imagine a locomotive would be anywhere near it's max power very often.
Did I goof in my calculations? I may well have! But based on these numbers, trains seem pretty efficient.
Freight train implies cargo transport, while you’re generally correct from my point of view, I think the more apt comparison would be freight train vs. semi
Also, looks like your car gets ~230Wh / mile, that’s pretty efficient compared to teslas, what kind of EV do you have? Are teslas just that inefficient or are you including ICE hybrid engine use in that measurement? Model 3 gets ~315 - 350 Wh / mile
It's an Opel Ampera, i.e. a Chevy Volt. That range, fully electric, is the best I've reliably gotten out of it, attainable on summer days (no heating!) driving on slower country roads. Highways and wintertime are a different story - this time of year I get maybe 45 km per charge. And currently it won't even run on battery only since it's so cold the car insists on intermittently running the engine for heat.
If you really want to have your mind blown, consider that one locomotive can move the equivalent of 400 trucks, and can be run in tandem to move more.
Trains are similar to solar panels... they are operationally super efficient but require a large capital investment. Where they work, they are magic.
Electric infrastructure is even more capital intensive, i would guess that if using was even marginally more efficient, it would have been implemented as railroads benefit from that efficiency. Equipment exists to accept grid power in diesel (Amtrak trains pulling into Penn station in NYC switch).
I think the main motivations for electrifying a railway are:
- flexibility and independence of power source. Switzerland can use hydropower, France can use nuclear power, many places could use coal power and not worry about losing rail transport in an oil shortage.
- reduced maintenance costs (no diesel engines; reduced weight of the trains causes less wear on the track)
- more power, i.e. faster trains, increasing the capacity of the railway line. Passengers approve, and freight trains can accelerate better meaning it's easier to run them between passenger trains.
The US and Canada have less to gain with these than many other countries.
> Also, wow. Seriously, wow. A locomotive running flat out could power several hundred homes.
That's exactly what happened in my hometown, which generated power via a locomotive that was literally up on blocks. You could hear it grinding away from quite a distance. They only got connected to the grid when I was in my 20s and long gone.
“ Electric (specifically grid-connected) trains also suddenly make a bit more sense.”
On a first glance it would appear so, but it a terrible idea in practice. At least for freight. Commuter trains are often electric (15 Hz? I forget), mostly for local air quality problems.
Train engines are incredibly efficient. Only the largest marine engines are better. These engines are large enough that they approach the thermal efficiency of the thermal plant producing electricity.
So no real gains for CO2 emissions. (Wind and solar don’t count at a first approx. since we’re talking about marginal E use. The train not connected on to the grid frees up production at a thermal plant to lower its production)
But you also loose a lot of resiliency. In extremis, a diesel Trains don’t need anything to run. In case of an ice storm you have to rebuild big infrastructure. Train can help you transport that if they’re independent.
Electric commuter trains have other major benefits. They stop and start frequently, and electric train sets can accelerate and decelerate faster than diesel. On the upcoming electric Caltrain, this will save quite a bit of time for long commutes. I believe that many electric trains can also regenerative brake. They can operate safely in long tunnels, unlike diesel. I suspect that diesel locomotives are considerably less efficient under the varying load conditions of a commuter train than they are for long freight routes.
And, as far as I know, all major high speed trains are electric.
> electric train sets can accelerate and decelerate faster than diesel
All locomotives use electric motors for traction. Diesel locomotives have a motor that turns a generator to produce electricity for the traction motors on the wheels. A diesel locomotive can stop and start just as fast as a fully electric locomotive, but commuter trains are relatively lighter than freight trains. Diesel locomotives can also use regenerative braking.
> A diesel locomotive can stop and start just as fast as a fully electric locomotive,
The Caltrain electrification plan respectfully disagrees. I am not remotely an expert, but I would guess there are two major factors at play. First, a lot of commuter electric trains are multiple units and have no locomotive. This means that more of the wheels can supply traction, which presumably increases the traction-to-weight ratio of the whole train set. Secondly, I think that efficient diesel generators tend to be most efficient at a specific output power, whereas a commuter train runs over a wide range of output powers. A grid-powered electric train set can briefly draw several MW from the grid without a major loss of efficiency.
Electric locomotives on freight trains are pretty common in Europe probably because they can have a much higher power output in a smaller unit.
A pair of TGV power cars, one at each end of the train, has a max power of 12MW at full acceleration, you would need about 14 of these diesel locos for the same output.
The power here is 25kV at 50Hz apart from some commuter lines. Also modern electric trains can use regenerative braking to dump the braking energy back into the grid. It’s pretty common.
Where do you think electric trains get their electricity from?
“but few loads really cared too much.“
There’s some room for error, but frequency is the a very important metric for the utility to get right. The reason is that motors start to burn when the frequency is significantly off of the design f .
So, the blower in your furnace will die (-> no heat in the home). Your laundry machines’ motor burn. You ovens convection oven burns. Etc.
You’re better of with rolling black ours (Texas forgot the “rolling” part) than get the frequency wrong.
 think of a motor as an LCR circuit. There’s a natural f, and if youre far from it it will cause heating of the windings
Operating in notch 6 runs the generator at 647 RPM. Since the AR10 is a 10 pole machine, that gives 64.7 Hz power.
This part doesn't quite make sense though, because it mixes RPM (per-minute) with Hz (per-second) without scaling.
647 RPM is 10.8 Hz, and more poles should increase the frequency not decrease it - 10 poles means you'd multiply it by 5, so would give you 54 Hz.
probably 54 Hz- split phase power has a GND, positive phase, and negative phase: https://techblog.ctgclean.com/wp-content/uploads/Split-Phase...
Alternating phases would be hooked up to one phase or the other, with negative phase poles connected backwards. I know traction motors are brushed, so probably the generators are as well. If that's the case then you should be able to just bolt new wires on (brushes are consumables, so they are easily replaceable).
edit: managed to misread your conclusion as it would be 110 Hz, lol.
I wonder what they did with the 5 phases? Use them asymmetrically and let the engine struggle with the unbalanced load? Also it seems like this feed would be no good for powering 3 phase motors, or really any phase-phase load. Although maybe city hall back then was only on single phase power, and they could balance circuits between all 5 phases, with the probable addition of temporary electric heaters etc.
With what part of it do you take issue? I don't see the discrepancy...
I think the only actual reason why the power frequency has to be precise is so all the power plants can be synchronized. But in an emergency situation, you don't really care if it's 60 or 65 Hz...
Wild variations are bad for heavy inductive loads like transformers and motors. Within 10% is unlikely to damage anything though.
In the video, the French-speaking news anchor says that one of the biggest challenge was to convert the DC from the engine to AC (around 1:10).
Slight change of interpretation: the biggest challenge was to disable the AC->DC rectification circuitry, the generator already made AC.
The last paragraph on Amtrak has nothing to do with CN or the rest of the article. Either the author is just unaware of Canadian National or they chose to include an unrelated point on Amtrak for some reason.
CN is not a "Canadian Amtrak" or even an Amtrak competitor. It's a publicly-traded freight rail company that doesn't currently operate passenger service. The US obviously has analogs: Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, etc.
Exactly. “Canadian Amtrak” is VIA Rail: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Rail
Like Amtrak, VIA is a federal government-owned operator of intercity passenger rail services. And just like Amtrak, it operates mostly on tracks owned by private freight railways such as CN.
And like Amtrak, it's a hollow husk of what it once was: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1G0Lyh3uik
Where in the article did they call CN the "Canadian Amtrak"?
In the last paragraph, they claim that Amtrak is the closest thing in the US.
> Unfortunately, though, the closest thing the U.S. has to a national rail provider like CN is the chronically under-funded Amtrak
It was a crown corporation (like Canada Post is) until 1995. I checked the date since I wondered if it was already privatized. CN and CP are really recognized and somewhat romanticized brands in Canada as they are a really important part of history, to connect the country from East to West. Are the freight railroads not well known in the US?
One funny thing is the Canadian CN is..CN. It has extensive operations in the US
Oops, I meant "American CN is..CN"
The point of that last paragraph is the sarcastic last sentence:
> Big business, after all, should be expected to put its interests first, no matter the cost to the public, be that a delayed train or weeks-long power outages in the dead of winter.
If CN is a business, kudos to them for contributing to the civic good during a time of crisis, unlike so many American corporations.
Did the last paragraph change? It calls CN, the Canadian Nation Railway, a "national rail provider" NOT "Canadian Amtrak". A rail provider can provide either freight or passenger. The words "Canadian Amtrak" don't even appear in the article.
I still see this in the last paragraph:
> Unfortunately, though, the closest thing the U.S. has to a national rail provider like CN is the chronically under-funded Amtrak
I quoted "Canadian Amtrak" as an expression of my own making, not one from the article.
That's not how quotes work :-)
The article is saying Amtrak, a half baked VIA, is the closest thing they, in Texas, have to CN. That's not saying CN is close to Amtrak.
If my buddy has a Humvee and I say, "Unfortunately, the closest thing I have is a Schwinn", I'm not saying their Humvee is a bicycle.
> That's not how quotes work
Quotes are commonly used to mark a specific novel phrase. I was not intending to imply that it was a phrase from the article.
> The article is saying Amtrak, a half baked VIA, is the closest thing they, in Texas, have to CN.
I disagree with the interpretation, and this claim is still wrong.
First of all, the part I quoted makes a statement about the US, not just Texas. I realize that the previous sentence mentions Texas, but this sentence is clearly naming the country as a whole.
Second, if the article is saying that, this claim would also be incorrect. There are actual rail providers that own significant amounts of railway in Texas, and Amtrak (like VIA Rail) is not one of them.
Here's a decent map: https://www.intekfreight-logistics.com/intermodal-network-ma...
> If my buddy has a Humvee and I say, "Unfortunately, the closest thing I have is a Schwinn", I'm not saying their Humvee is a bicycle.
Yes. Unfortunately for the author, the US has multiple Humvee equivalents depending on the region, so saying that the "closest thing I have is a Schwinn" is just false when Union Pacific (among others) exists in Texas and is in the same market as Canadian National.
FWIW I understood and appreciated your highlight of this inaccurate sentence by reversing it into a short phrase.
Did the last paragraph change?
Yes: Update: Feb. 23, 10:12 a.m. ET: An erroneous reference to CN as a national rail provider has been removed, the railway having been publicly traded since 1995.
Yeah, it has little to do with the current situation in Texas, either. While it was a nasty week, there were always public buildings (including event centers, schools, hospitals, etc.) which still had power. The blackout came for anyone who was not on a grid with such a high-priority building. So there was never a time when hauling a train engine to town hall would have made sense, in Texas last week. Still an interesting story, though, if one subtracts the last paragraph.
It's the outrage tax for a segment of readership
So the train moved under its own power on the asphalt? The train cannot steer, right? So they had to get the direction just right when moving it onto the street from the train tracks... impressive!
I'd guess you could "steer" it to some extent by pulling the front wheels with a truck.
Theoretically you can get the wheels to turn in a certain direction. The challenge is doing it while under 40 tons of load.
The US Army had a nuclear power barge which tied up in Panama and provided power to the Canal Zone for several years. See, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MH-1A Query whether Navy ships could be tied up in Houston and connected to the grid.
I believe the US navy has the the ability for many ships to supply power to the city when docked. One job of the Navy is to go to a port near a disaster and help the city recover, so if the ship can supply the city with needed power that is very helpful in some disasters. (when it isn't moving it has a lot of spare power) Most ports don't have the ability to use power from a ship (and even if they do it is questionable if that will survive the disaster)
Japan had a nuclear-powered cargo and later research vessel, but she started her journey with an incident:
And had to be converted to running on fossil fuels.
There are a few large floating powerstations in use commercially now, like https://www.miningreview.com/energy/mozambique-100-mw-floati...
I'm not sure you'd be able to float that down in poor weather, however.
In Panama, the barge was known at the Thor, wikipedia says the Sturgis, maybe there were two?
Wow. That's like a real-life "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel"
"Both locomotives were powered by Alco 251C prime movers; 131.4-liter, single-turbo diesel V12s making some 1,950 horsepower"
So each cylinder displaces ~11 liters. I know there's bigger out there, but that's big to me.
is pretty impressive stuff and this one:
Is nothing short of amazing, there are some pictures with engineers going down into the cylinders with stepladders... 1800 liters / cylinder displacement.
That's about 1 bucket
Just short of 3 gallon-jugs of milk stacked up. In common journalistic parlance, that's 3x10^-6 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Reminds me of when Houston had power problems following Tropical Storm Allison, and jet engines were loaded onto flatbed trucks and parked downtown to power the skyscrapers.
Noisy, but effective.
Jet Turbines are actually surprisingly good for power plants. They run on all sorts of fuel and are very efficient. I believe GE refurbs some old airplane engines into power plants.
Combined cycle gas turbines are about the most efficient least polluting non-renewable power we have available. They are basically using a gas turbine as a heat source for a steam turbine engine.
Unfortunately you aren't going to load that onto a truck so that would be a straight gas turbine which is great for power to weight, cost and reliability but not efficiency.
Jet turbines have a much narrower range of efficient operational speeds than combustion engines. The Navy figured this out circa 1900. For emergency power where you have basically unlimited potential load and can add more stuff to ensure you won't need to throttle below your sweet spot and don't care about wasting fuel to keep the lights on anyway that's fine but freight locomotives and shipping stick to their legacy piston rings because the overall system efficiency winds up being greater in their use cases.
Boston has some jet powered train track snow blowers, albeit for very different reasons (heat, not electricity).
There is that Russian tank attached with two jet turbines on its turret used to put out natural gas (or oil?) field fires.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a snow blower was using the jet turbines more for its blow ability than its heat ability.
Yes, there are actually fire-fighting "tanks"  that disperse water into the exhaust of a jet turbine to get long-distance spraying .
: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Abgasloe... : (There doesn't seem to be a comparable en site, but images and machine translation work): https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerosoll%C3%B6schfahrzeug
A thing like this, known as a GAG (Górniczy Agregat Gaśniczy) was used at the Pile River mine in New Zealand after an accident there.
Note that the GAG is used to suffocate coal seam and similar fires, by injecting a mix of water and fuel into the jet exhaust (essentially an afterburner with water-injection to keep the exhaust temperature low), and then providing a pipe of very-low-oxygen gas stream.
Some airports have truck mounted jet engines that they use for clearing light snow from runways.
Why not both? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M-497_Black_Beetle
I doubt that would be allowed by the current administration. Even actual power plants that don't meet current environmental standards were restricted last week in Texas. They were allowed to run, but required to sell power for no less than 10x the usual price.
It seems like a diesel train or jet engine would be even worse for the environment, per kWh, and even less likely to get federal approval.
Diesel trains and jet engines are actually quite efficient and are already subject to regulations and thus don't pollute that much.
Well, if I have remembered correctly, train power equipment is not that fundamentally different from dedicated electrical power generating equipment.
In fact, I believe for a lot of engines, the mechanical energy rarely is used directly to power wheels -- it usually (for diesel-electric, for example) is powering a generator that then is feeding electricity to motors + wheels.
So, maybe not such a stretch to take the power/electricity off to other purposes?
Correct. Modern locos basically receive AC, convert it to DC, then convert it back to AC for the traction motors. Whether they receive AC through a pantograph, or a self-contained engine + generator, doesn’t really make a whole lot of difference.
The power generation is fundamentally the same as in marine purposes, too. In fact, the modern engines such as the EMD 710 or GE 7FDL, often come in non-mobile stationary/marine operation configurations for these purposes.
Some replies already, but just to add (sorry, train nerd here).. It's not for a lot of locomotives, but virtually all locomotives. Early diesel locomotives tried to use a mechanical transmission but this mostly failed because you can't scale the technology up well, and this is my own speculation but I think you need to be able to shift under full load. The transition from steam didn't happen until diesel-electric was invented. This combination is also good for reducing wear on brakes, as you can use the motor as a generator and resistors to dissipate power as heat. I don't know of a locomotive that uses regenerative braking, but it's used on some passenger trains in Japan. Not by storing energy in batteries, but by feeding into the local power grid!
Diesel-hydraulic was also tried for a while but was largely unsuccessful. For special applications, like maintenance equipment or moving things in a railyard, you can still find some diesel-mechanical and diesel-hydraulic equipment.
If a freight train stops, depending on its length, it must reverse to add slack between cars. Then it starts by effectively pulling each car one by one. You can hear it as a bang-bang-bang if you're nearby, depending on the coupling method between cars. If a train loses momentum on a hill, it may have to reverse and start from the bottom.
Correct, most modern locomotives are diesel-electric and not fundamentally different from a large standby generator that would be found in a hospital or data center. The locomotive has the great advantage of being easy to move, although a bit of MacGyvering would have been needed on the control/operation side since a traction power engine probably doesn't have a ready-made 60 Hz governor control.
I don't know of any that actually have mechanical linkages.
The whole point is to use the alternator + electric motors as a CVT basically. You want the engine to be able to use it's maximum power at any given speed. The amount of gears you'd need for a mechanical transmission for the big freight locomotives would be absurd.
There are diesel-hydraulic locomotives, which use a torque converter (and optionally a transmission) between the driven wheels and the engine.
I love this. There is something about the power of train engines that is very appealing, even though there might be other bigger engines out there. Maybe it is the pulling aspect due to them being in front instead of driving that makes me think of them like iron horses.
An "Iron Horse" is one of the oldest terms in the book for describing rail locomotives (dating back to the early 1800's).
These days they're basically rolling generators (powering electric motors and using their sheer mass for traction).
Iron horses. I like that.
"Iron horse" is an iconic literary term (currently transitioning into an archaic reference) for a steam locomotive, originating in the early 1800s when horses still powered most machinery, excepting windmills and stationary steam engines. The term was common and popular in both British and North American literary articles.
This makes me think: a locomotive's cruise power consumption is around 1MW, LiFePO4 batteries are currently $137/kWh, so for the price of a single machine($500k) one could have a rail car with 3MWh on board, which could be used in places where there's no overhead power supply.
I assume that just putting miles of cable along the track is more cost-effective, but it can't be used everywhere.
The closest that's actively used is Wabtec's FLXdrive, which is a battery-powered locomotive run between two conventional diesel-electrics. Not a bad idea, since braking with the electric motors otherwise dumps the energy as waste heat. There's also the Railpower Green Goat, which is diesel-electric with a storage battery.
The power density of diesel is enough better than you can get a lot more out of it, and it is a lot faster/easier to refuel (at least for now). There is a limit to how long you want the train, so if half of the train is batteries it doesn't work out.
Miles of cable along the track is something the big railroads have looked at. If fuel goes to (and stays at) $8/gallon they will do it. Right now it isn't worth it, but the costs are easy to analyses.
The above is for freight rail. For passenger rail electric lines work out different, no serious operator of passenger rail uses anything else. Tourist attractions (generally running steam) are not serious. Diesel engines can be a useful backup for when wires break. Diesel is also useful on marginal lines that are only run at all because they already exist, but you would never build. Everything else - probably the majority - is incompetence.
> Diesel engines can be a useful backup for when wires break
In reality, this doesn't happen -- the capital cost of idle diesel locomotives would negate (and more) the money saved with the electric trains.
If catenary is damaged in Europe (usually by storms), rail services are suspended until it's repaired. Repair is a very high priority.
(For one thing, it's unlikely to be safe to repair the catenary if trains are still running.)
Very good point. A diesel backup implies you can borrow it from some freight service, or have one in your tourist attraction fleet, and the problem isn't your wires but the wires feeding you.
Trains not having traction and signal power in Europe is incredibly rare. The railway is essentially its own grid due to the size, so can route power around many local problems. It's obviously one of the last things to be disconnected if there's brownouts.
https://www.raildeliverygroup.com/about-us/publications/acop... §6.1.4 says the UK rail network "never" lost power supply up to 2017, but...
Two years ago, a 45 minute cut to railway power in South East England led to a £10 million fine to the power companies: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jan/03/three-energ...
The PDF also points out that a diesel backup is generally useless, since the line is blocked by the stuck electric trains.
Montana used trains to power its grid several years ago when they were having power generation problems. The conversions and hookups are fairly easy and documented.
This was my first trip to Canada, and of course it had to coincide with the worst ice storm in living memory. We made it to Montreal and then immediately got snowed in, the road from the airport into Montreal was more like a tunnel between two walls of snow and ice thrown up by the snowblowers. Quite the experience. Fortunately after a week or so we could leave for warmer territories (Toronto, so 'relatively' warmer) but it is an experience I'll never forget. It took many months to restore the damage done by that ice storm.
This might sounds dumb, but why not extension cables for the second engine that was providing zero power.
I grew up in that town. To reach the high-school from the track, you have to cross an overpass. They were concerned about the weight of the train. The school is is about 1.4 km from the overpass.
If the overpass was the issue you'd think they would have realized that before moving the second locomotive at all. One would assume you'd at least plan out the route in advance.
Oh thanks. Fair enough.
You gotta have some real big cables to avoid transmission loses.
Ah, just seemed surprising they had all these parts to step down the voltage and everything but didn't have power cables. But I guess it is what it is.
The distribution infrastructure for distances above a few hundred meters(yards) typically uses 10 or 30 kV, and the former is fairly easy for pantograph-powered locomotives. So if the locomotive can optionally use a pantograph instead of it's diesel (tunnels and urban areas on the east coast come to mind), it has a transformer between the low-voltage traction motors / diesel generator rail and the pantograph rail (15~25 kV, typically).
The alternator and transformer don't care about the lower voltage, except that their current capability won't change much (so you loose power capability).
So I'd assume they should be able to use existing power lines from the other side of the overpass to the school, possibly after isolating that segment from the rest of the grid.
This might also connect some other buildings, but typical transformer ratings here (DE, urban, residential; are a few hundred kVA. So
(If you don't know what kVA means, "kW felt by wires/ transformer/generator, but not the diesel" is a rough summary sufficient for this scenario.
(Don't worry, it's neither wrong nor misleading. If you disagree with that statement, elaborate and feel free to downvote.))
Fascinating. Thanks for sharing.
I am confused. How did they tug it along the street?
They didn't, it moved under its own power! However, trains can't steer, so according to a user in the forum this article is based on, they used a crane to lift the ends into place to aim it.
The article doesn't say, but I assume they drove it under its own power.
I live near there and remember going to see the train in the town’s center when it happened. I remember seeing the wheel’s tracks in the asphalt, as they drove the loco directly on it, and was impressed at how shallow they were. I would have thought the train would tear the asphalt apart, but it was not the case, at least not when going in straight line.
The linked video appears to show it driving under its own power
What I ask myself is how did they transform voltage of the engine generators? I highly doubt the locomotive electric motors which were driven by the locomotive generator were operating at 220V.
They may have "simply" modified the generators exciting field strength. If so, these generators once were designed with ample allowance.
DC diesel electrics are commutated for quite low starting voltage- wheelspin is immensely expensive to repair. Then they can tweak throttle to hit voltage, but they'd have to be balancing that with frequency unless they were very lucky.
A town isn't supplied at 220V. More like 33KV. At least 7.5KV.
My understanding is that the voltage generated by diesel-electric locomotives is variable, topping out in the low kilovolt range, and it would be counter-productive to control for a given voltage (other than to avoid exceeding the equipment maximum rating); the voltage is allowed to vary to match the speed-dependent back-EMF of the traction motors. If so, then a locomotive is unsuitable for patching into a multi-kilovolt network without a suitable transformer, and there will be voltage-matching and regulating problems to be resolved in patching into any level of the network.
Spending the entire final paragraph on Amtrak was pretty absurd .
It's a pretty arbitry to think you're only allowed to ask a nationalized railroad to use an engine in an emergency. (As the author implies.)
It's especially absurd here, because CN has been privatized since 1995, and the incident happened in 1998.
More importantly, it had nothing to do with CN, which is not a "Canadian Amtrak" or even an Amtrak competitor. CN is a publicly-traded freight rail company that doesn't currently operate passenger service. There are plenty of those in the US besides CN (which also operates a bit in the US): Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, etc.
The point of that paragraph is that this option doesn't seem to be available in Texas.
Texas has lost power due a snow storm, like Boucherville, but has no CN to ask for help.
The link is set up in paragraph six. I think you can google for details about what is happening in Texas, it might have made the news.
I would guess the US has 100x more fright trains than Canada. Some towns will have rails going through them, others not.
Well, 10x more likely. But I don't think that was the point the author was trying to make.
But sadly not wrong. Amtrak outside of the east coast is really depressing.
Amtrak on the east coast is depressing
U.S. residential sector accounts for 21 percent of all energy consumption and is responsible for 20 percent of our country’s carbon emissions.
Heating is the largest energy expense in most homes, accounting for 35-50 percent of annual energy bills in colder parts of the country.
Home air conditioning accounts for almost 6 percent of all the electricity produced in the U.S.
As of Feb. 17, energy was out for 2.7 million households, officials said. With freezing temperatures expected through the weekend, getting the lights back on will be a slow process, as the state has lost 40% of its generating capacity, with natural gas wells and pipelines, along with wind turbines, frozen shut.
So extremely quick and dirty: If we moved to passive solar, we could potentially save as much as 10 percent of energy usage and it would be the part that's really critical in a crisis induced by an extreme weather event: The lifesaving ability to stay warm without power.
With climate change making extreme weather events more common, promoting passive solar ought to be a policy around the world. It also helps disrupt that positive feedback loop that we run the AC more because of climate change and running the AC more helps promote climate change.
Heat Pump technology is pretty awesome and more efficient, when your circumstances and weather patterns support it. Since they move heat from one place to another, they have to work harder as the difference between the temperatures increase.
The ideal solution is a ground-source heat pump, where a closed loop is buried underground to take advantage of the very stable and reasonable subsurface ground temperature.
If you can afford to put in a geothermal ground loop and use a heat pump, you can have a very stable heating and cooling solution that is energy efficient and works well in a super-insulated passive home.
Solar won't help in a winter storm when the sun is not shining and all your panels are covered with snow. Wind power also tends to go down when there's too much wind.
Everyone loves to pick on air conditioning, but the recent disaster has shown that heating is also a huge problem. As your statistics show, heating can consume more energy than air conditioning depending on the region. AC only needs to lower the indoor temperature by 10-20F, whereas heating requirements can exceed 50F. This makes it a much harder problem to reliably produce the amount of energy needed to keep people from freezing.
Climate change can bring not only hotter summers but also colder winters and more energetic storms. We desperately need methods to generate clean energy even during extreme weather. Especially during extreme weather.
Solar won't help in a winter storm when the sun is not shining and all your panels are covered with snow.
I am not talking about solar power generation. Quite the contrary.
Passive solar is about building design and orientation. One of the techniques it uses is thermal mass.
I’d love to know the all-in energy and ecological footprint of building for passive solar. I could imagine it is significant. Sure you save lots of energy over its lifetime but you likely have a huge deficit to start with.
Completely passive buildings are a thing:
Though generally one gets to a point of diminishing returns. It's probably better to get to a certain efficiency point, and then throw some solar/PV panels on the roof and become 'net zero', producing the electricity you need on-site:
Residentially, you can built a 5000 square foot (500 sq. m) home that needs only 1500W (1.5 kW)—basically a hair dyer—to heat/cool:
Using an HRV/ERV with an air filter per ASHRAE 62.1 and 62.2 gives you very good air quality.
I doubt that, but I will add a link to this comment to my file and see if I can find anything when I get around to trying to do some kind of write up about it.
The title suggested that they stole/borrowed a train in an Italian Job style heist...
and that they rammed it into a building.
When it was actually a smart mayor requisitioning a train locomotive to use it's engines to produce electricity for municipal buildings.
The amount of snowpiercing they had to go through is incredible.
I really struggle with a lot of these “car magazine” sites lately for a few reasons: 1- little in the way of technical content 2- high snark to signal ratio 3- listicles 4- lazy writing (they had to run the engine at a specific RPM and I don’t know why...)
They ruined a lot of streets and those nice wheels! :)
I wonder what it all cost in the end.
It's common in Montréal for streets to last one or two winters before requiring repairs.
The wheels only have a lifespan of about 2 years anyway and it's regular maintenance to replace them. They get serviced regularly on a lathe which is either standalone or built underneath a service track. They can be pressed on and off the axles, which last like 80 years.
Local asphalt repair is also pretty routine for replacing pipes and stuff. I too wonder what it cost but I bet it's surprisingly little.
Sooo how do they get it back on the rails? Carry it?
You can use diesel electric locos to start nuclear power stations...
Sheldon Cooper would love this
The walking dead.
>Rather than leave town
The concerted effort to smear Ted Cruz for going on a preplanned vacation before a winter storm (no one could have predicted the fallout, this was effectively a black swan) feels really cheap. It also bothers me to see it shoehorned where it isn't actually relevant. There's a serious media problem in the US.
And that's bad for everyone - regardless of whether you personally agree with the usual slant, the fact that about half the country has lost trust in media because of this transparent, deliberate bias, should concern everyone. It is a failure on the part of news organizations.
What's interesting is that those locomotives were 1,950 HP, and the late WW2 US fighter planes (P-47, Corsair) were about the same at 2,000 HP.
>>> Big business, after all, should be expected to put its interests first, no matter the cost to the public, be that a delayed train or weeks-long power outages in the dead of winter.
Why is it that every article in the world feels like it needs to take a crap on 'big business' these days. Obviously the U.S. could do with a bit of trust busting and regulation that serves the little guy. But the world is different that in was in the 50's and 60's. Corporations compete on a multinational stage, and the big players are absolutely huge. The U.S. can either serve their interests and the U.S. population can reap the rewards of big business existing in the U.S., or we can force big corps to shut down. The latter would place the U.S. in a terrible position for many reasons.
It would be nice to see the U.S. government incentivize heavily small businesses. Perhaps they could do a 'reverse graduation incentive structure' or something where the smaller the businesses the more you get tax breaks (or some other scheme - I can think of several). But we just can't 'shut big business down' and then expect to remain competitive on a world stage.
Please don't take the baitiest part of an article and rush into the comments to be provoked by it. This is against the site guidelines—for example, this one:
"Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents."
> It would be nice to see the U.S. government incentivize heavily small businesses.
Good luck with that. We're in the middle of a health crisis that's being used to funnel as much money from small businesses to the biggest ones as possible. Americans' cynicism is well-earned.
Big business sucks in a plethora of ways, but I share your overall reaction. The coda of corporate resentment takes away from the article and dumps on Amtrak for no useful reason.
It's not necessarily big business, but short-term incentives of big business that may not align with any other stakeholders than the current stockholders. Big businesses are necessary to enact the scale of change we need (it takes a huge number of people to design and build electronics, operate heavy industry, etc), but it's the misaligned incentives to meet rather arbitrarily-set quarterly earnings, and the possibility of being sued if a company does not pursue that goal (if publicly traded), that drive the worst parts of capitalism.
Technically CN is a private company and was at that time. https://www.cn.ca/en/news/2020/11/cn-proud-to-celebrate-25th...
Wikipedia mentioned https://web.archive.org/web/20071219233116/http://cnlines.ca... which says there was a third train in the area also.
https://www.haya.qc.ca/storm.htm The following quote is from halfway down the page there’s a first-hand account with some more details than I saw on Wikipedia. Not sure if French sources would have more:
> There was an interesting phenomenon - a locomotive used as a generator. Railway locomotives use a diesel engine to drive an electric generator and this power in many cases is AC. A 2000 horsepower CN locomotive was taken off the tracks in Boucherville and literally driven down the street to the Boucherville town hall. With the locomotive sitting on the street out front the generator is providiing power to the city offices. The locomotive is set to the third notch on the throttle which sets the engine speed such that it will provide 60 hertz power. At this speed it will generate about 500 horsepower or 375 kilowatts of power - enough for several buildings. There is a second locomotive parked on the street near the grade crossing which is held in reserve. It was supposed to be used to power the shelter further down the street but an intervining overpass which would not support the 260,000 pound locomotive ended that idea. Nonetheless this is an interesting way to solve a problem.
> In an interesting discussion on the internet on this subject it was mentioned that on the Devco Railway on Cape Breton Island there are four locomotives specially designed to act as generators in an emergency. Emergency planners may, in the future, wish to look at these locomotives since they could be quite useful in large scale emergencies.
> With a friend I went to Boucherville On January 17 to see this spectacle and met some other friends there. There were folks coming from as far as Sherbrooke to see the sight which is most unusual. It was fun to see folks having their pictures taken in front of the engine. There was a soldier in the cab at all times to make sure no one got too close to the electrical connections or otherwise got themselves in trouble. I doubt that anyone is likely to steal the locomotive!
What a waste of time when he could have just fled to Mexico and soaked up some sun.
"Dreams come true" - Inception
Amazing what we can do when we band together and help everyone instead of relying on "rugged individualism".
> 131.4-liter, single-turbo diesel V12s making some 1,950 horsepower
I'm sure this engine has been optimized for different factors, and it's likely a fairly old locomotive, but that's about 14hp/litre which seems pretty inefficient. Modern diesel cars can usually get >60hp/litre.
That's displacement, not fuel. It's running at low RPM and likely significantly more fuel-efficient than a car engine. You could make an equally powerful engine with lower displacement (by building it to run at higher RPM), but that would likely be a much less efficient engine; car engines have to do that because they have to be physically small, but that's not such a problem for rail engines.
i think the engine is optimised for torque not raw power. BUT... 1950hp..? There are cars with more power! How is it enough to pull 1000 ton trains at any speed? Any engineers here?
Well, they can be 6,000hp or more depending on the model. And 20,000 ft-lbs of torque. The actual torque at the wheels might be much higher or lower because there is not a mechanical transmission, there's a generator and electric motors called traction motors and like most motors they have peak torque at slow speeds. You can probably look up the output of those.
The engines are designed for running at peak power for a long time, which a car engine cannot do. They run at a low rpm and last 30 years; millions and millions of miles. They run on low quality fuel. There's basically no weight constraint, in fact locomotives are required to be really heavy for the sake of wheel friction.
Finally, most power is needed at startup, not for maintaining speed. One locomotive can't actually pull an entire fully loaded train from zero. There is slack between each car, and they are accelerated from zero one by one, from front to rear of the train.
There are cars with more power, but that engine can deliver 1950hp all day without stopping. Try to pull that much power out of a car and it will overheat / self-destruct in a few minutes. Which isn't a problem for a car because at that power output you are at the maximum speed in a few seconds and then back off to more normal output.
The engineers could get 10x more horsepower out of that engine, but the customers don't want that because the engine wouldn't last as long and so it isn't cost effective overall.
It's torque. If you see a freight train starting up it is excruciatingly slow to get going. Also, rolling stock has a lot less friction than trailers/cars with tires; so once up to speed, a lot less hp per pound is required to maintain that speed compared to something like a semi trailer.
The video at the end of this page, and the discussion before it, show how little force is required to keep a train moving. A very strong man can move a 70-ton locomotive:
Or a person can start a single rail vehicle moving using a lever under a wheel, by hand:
Using one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W8c_jMVYAs
The only production cars reaching anything like that power level are electric super cars. As to how it works: rolling resistance. A typical coefficient of rolling resistance for a railcar is somewhere around 0.0015. Let's guess that a typical train is somewhere around 5000 tons so you only need to be able to exert 8 tons of pulling force to accelerate that train.
TLDR: HP = torque x RPM / 5252
Such big engines runs at low RPM, below 1000 (I have not looked at this particular model). It's common for boats to run at 500.
In comparison, my 2.2 liters 2007 diesel mercedes runs at around 2400 RPM at cruising speed of 65mph, which is its max torque. Max HP (150) is achieved at 3500 RPM. It's by no mean a sporty car but it's low RPM torque allows to pull the horse van easily.
The freight carrier boats can feature impressive diesel engines, of thousands of liters, producing millions of Nm of torque, hundred of thousands of HP, at ~100RPM.
so the goal here is to minimise revolutions per minute. Is this to increase stability or efficiency? Or is it just so the engine won't shake itself to pieces?
The engine is probably designed for fixed RPM, because that way it can be tuned specifically to that RPM. High RPM (past a certain reasonable level) makes all the mechanical engineering harder, so you'd choose a level that's high enough for the power you need, but no higher. There's a tradeoff because to increase power you can either increase the RPM or increase the physical size of the engine, so you do whichever is easier based on the constraints of how it's being used.
It’s always a trade off of many dimensions. Usually, if you are looking at resistance (pulling weight, navigating water, ...) more than speed, a bigger and slower engine provides the torque you want at low engineering costs, more resilience, less cooling constraints ...
For some cultural reasons, American muscle cars featured big relatively slow but torquey engines compared to their Italian counterparts.