We Drive a Locomotive


From the September 1990 subject of Automotive and Driver.

We have been giddy from velocity in Cor­vette ZR-1s and dizzy from the value of Cadillac Allantés, however we have by no means pushed a Common Motors product that affected us like this earlier than. GM’s new SD-60 is a brutal-looking three-seater outfitted with every little thing an fanatic may hope for: all-wheel drive, all-wheel steering, a large midship-mounted V-16 engine, and brakes highly effective sufficient to cease a freight prepare. Developed solely for tracks, it corners on rails. It belts out sufficient energy to mild up a small city. And it is full of computer-con­trolled every little thing—in actual fact, it is so sophisticated it takes an engineer to run it.

Sadly, the SD-60 is one vehi­cle you will not see a lot of until you spend lots of time hanging round tracks. Meaning the one approach to sam­ple one is to undertake primary coaching­—which is simply what we did. We had been solely too happy when Common Motors’ Electro-Motive Division noticed match to swing open the gates to its manufacturing facility and take a look at tracks in LaGrange, Illinois, for us. We got here, we noticed, we examined—and ultimately fulfilled a childhood dream absolutely shared with many a accountable grown-up: We drove a prepare.

The GM man on the scene was Keith Mahalik, a younger engineer—mechanical, not railroad—whose job it’s to communicate with EMD’s prospects and devel­op ever-better software program for the pc programs on at the moment’s locomotives. Mahalik additionally has automotive proclivities: He de­scribe himself as “a horsepower man” who likes huge engines of every kind, some­factor his private transportation fleet confirms. Parked in his storage are a 1967 Corvette convertible motivated by a 427-cubic-inch V-8, a 1971 Olds 4-4-2 con­vertible outfitted with the high-output W30 bundle, and a 1967 Olds 4-4-2 road rod pumped stuffed with nutritional vitamins by a Detroit Diesel 6-71 supercharger.

general motors electromotive ft 103 steam locomotiveView Pictures

Common Motors Electro-Motive Division’s ft-103

Common Motors

Mahalik confirmed us into his workplace be­fore our morning plant tour. Fittingly, the large brick constructing is previous its prime and slightly shabby—like an outdated prepare sta­tion. The 343-acre LaGrange plant com­plex was opened in 1935, a number of years after GM purchased Electro-Motive Engi­neering Company. The workplaces of the service technical engineers are a labyrinth of grey desks and metal partitions on the third ground. You stroll up.

The Nineteen Forties had been the glory days for La­Grange. That is when diesel-electric loco­motives eclipsed their steam-powered forebears. Although it is arduous to think about now, steam locomotives had dominated the railways up by means of the Thirties. They had been immensely highly effective—some professional­duced as a lot as 6000 horsepower—they usually had the potential for velocity. At this time, Japan’s much-heralded bullet prepare averages 125 mph, and the French TGV, which hits 160 mph on its common routes, is consid­ered a marvel. Sixty years in the past, nevertheless, the quickest U.S. steam locomotives obtained passengers to their locations at higher than 100 mph.

Then, in 1939, GM’s Electro-Motive Division launched the primary profitable diesel-electric locomotive, the FT103. It took 4 of EMD’s new engines hooked in tandem to match the facility of 1 huge steam locomotive, however the FT103’s decrease working prices and cleaner-running powerplant—no soot, no cinders, no clouds of smoke—received the railroad over. Variations of the slab-sided FT103 had been produced by means of 1955 and used for a few years afterward.

Inside a Locomotive Manufacturing facility

As we headed for the manufacturing facility ground, Mahalik defined how diesel-electric lo­comotives work. “The essential structure is similar at the moment because it was when the FT103 was launched. The diesel engine powers a generator, and the electrical energy from the generator drives six direct-current elec­tric motors situated on the axles.” Doing it this manner eliminates the necessity for a transmission. “Every electrical motor acts like an infinitely variable transmission,” Mahalik identified. Because the output from the primary generator is elevated, the electrical mo­tor places out a easy movement of energy; the extra juice that goes in, the extra driving force that comes out. “One other benefit,” Mahalik added, “is that electrical motors have large low-speed torque.”

Extra than simply the structure of locomo­tives has remained the identical for the previous half-century. After just some minutes on the manufacturing facility ground, it grew to become obvious that the best way locomotives are made hasn’t modified a lot because the Nineteen Forties, both. The scene was pure Smokestack Ameri­ca; it may have been virtually any time within the final 50 years. The woodblock ground was lined in a dirty black goop, and an oily haze hung within the air.

We had been within the engine store. A lone employee labored at a forging press, stamp­ing out exhaust valves. They glowed pink scorching as they fell into their metal holding container. Farther down the road, a protracted valve stem was being fuse-welded to the stubby tulip in a sprig of sparks. The fin­ished valve could be virtually the dimensions of a clarinet.

It is ironmongery on a grand scale. “The SD-60 locomotive you will drive to­day makes use of our newest engine, the 16-710G3,” mentioned Mahalik. “It is a V-16, with turbocharging and aftercooling. We fee them by cylinder displacement.” So the 16-710G3 engine within the SD-60 displaces practically 710 cubic inches per cylinder. That is, uh, a complete of 11,353 cubic inches, about 186 liters. Mahalik smiled. Jeez.

Then we noticed one of many engine blocks sitting on the ground, ready for meeting. Welded up from large slabs of rolled metal and big forgings, it was the dimensions of a motorboat. A field of connecting rods was sitting close by. They had been as huge as tennis racquets and loads heavier. Selecting one up required two fingers. “It is 25 kilos,” mentioned Mahalik.

To construct an engine that is going to maneuver mountains—a single SD-60 loco­motive can haul as a lot as 12,000 tons of prepare—you’d count on all the compo­nents to be large. However pistons that weigh 59 kilos every? An 1800-pound turbocharger? How a few crankshaft that weighs 3400 kilos—as a lot as a complete Olds Cutlass? A totally assembled engine, prepared to put in, weighs 39,600 kilos. And it is so huge that workmen should perch on six-foot-high catwalks simply to regulate the valves.

The dimensions right here is staggering. There’s a lot metallic to lubricate in a 16-710G3 that the oil pan holds 395 gallons. Preserve­ing the engine operating at a protected tempera­ture requires a cooling system with 276 gallons of coolant. And your VISA gold card would wilt from only one fill-up; the tank can maintain 5000 gallons of diesel gasoline. Underneath full load, an SD-60 gulps 187 gallons of that gasoline each hour.

The SD-60’s engine is a direct descen­dant of the powerplant within the unique FT103, however it’s technologically present. It’s a two-stroke, which means the combus­tion takes place each time the piston reaches the highest of its journey. Every cylin­der head is fitted with a single overhead camshaft that operates 32 valves—4 per cylinder, all of them exhaust valves. A mechanical gasoline injector is situated lifeless heart in every combustion chamber.

The massive turbocharger blows pressur­ized air by means of a pair of aftercoolers (“intercoolers” to automotive people) and into every cylinder by means of a number of ports situated close to the center of every bore; the ports are uncovered when the piston reaches the underside of its stroke.

The SD-60’s turbocharger, by the best way, can also be designed to behave as a mechanical supercharger. The turbo is so huge and heavy that it does not spin of its personal ac­twine till the engine is pumping out 75 % of full energy; solely then is there sufficient exhaust movement to budge it. So till that time, a clutch-controlled mechanism drives the turbo off of the crank­shaft—similar to a daily supercharger.

We had been strolling down an open corridor concerning the dimension of a hangar. A door opened to our left, and a roar issued forth that shook the earth. A person popped out and slammed the door shut. “That is a dyno cell,” defined Mahalik. “We’re operating one in all our engines.” We walked right down to the place the dyno operator was sitting and seemed over his shoulder. The engine was turning 903 rpm. “Purple­line,” mentioned Mahalik with a nod.

It was arduous to think about a lot metallic spinning round in any respect, however spin it did. At 900 rpm, the 16-710G3 was at its energy peak, booming out 4100 horsepower. When put in in an SD-60, the hulking V-16 loses about 300 horsepower to equipment—leav­ing 3800 horsepower to drive the generator, which drives the six 1000-hp electrical motors that drive the prepare. You get a greater thought of the SD-60’s energy when you think about its torque, which measures—prepare for this—23,925 pound-feet at 900 rpm. As a lot as 65 Corvette ZR-1s.

We went by means of a few doorways and every little thing obtained quiet; we had been within the electrical meeting space. The gear was nonetheless imposing, even when the din was not. “The diesel engine really turns three mills,” Mahalik defined. The smallest, which weighs a mere 800 kilos, is named the auxiliary generator, and it serves the identical objective as a automotive’s alternator: Its main obligation is to maintain the batteries charged and to offer energy to some equipment. It additionally energizes (“excites” is the technical time period) genera­tor quantity two, referred to as the companion al­ternator. The companion gives pow­er for any AC units on the prepare, resembling cooling followers, and excites the all-impor­tant major generator.

We checked out some mains being wired up. Their outer rings, referred to as stators, had been as huge round because the consumption on a jet engine, they usually contained thou­sands of strands of wire intricately woven collectively—by hand, not machine.

“The SD-60’s generator makes 9900 amps close to stall and 1450 volts at high velocity, which for this locomotive is 70 mph,” mentioned Mahalik. Once we expressed confusion as to how a lot energy that actually was, Mahalik chuckled and launched into the form of easy explana­tion engineers love to make use of to light up the dim cranial cavities of liberal-arts majors: “We wish to say that it makes sufficient energy to mild 250 houses.”

Lest these watts, volts, and amps fly uncontrolled and provides somebody an terrible shock, they’re rigorously managed by a posh computer-aided management sys­tem. Today, nearly each side of locomotive operations is, on the very least, laptop monitored, if not managed outright. The SD-60’s three pow­erful microprocessors maintain tabs on all diesel-engine parameters and may report, diagnose, and log issues on the transfer. They watch over the rows of con­tactors that management route and braking and energy movement to the electrical motors, decide the excitation of the genera­tors, and handle the SD-60’s superior traction-control system.

All the electrical gear re­quired to place the juice the place it is wanted is housed in what’s referred to as the high-volt­age cupboard. We watched as a number of of those massive metal lockers—they’re about as excessive as a basketball hoop—had been wired up. The job seemed like an electrician’s nightmare—miles of multicolored wire looping in all places, 1000’s of connections, a circuit board the dimensions of two workplace desks. Later, the cupboards could be put in within the locomotives’ cabs, the place they’d take up your complete rear wall.

“Every thing comes collectively right here,” Mahalik mentioned as we entered the large fi­nal-assembly corridor. At one finish, sheet­metallic was being fitted to the locomotive chassis, prepped, and painted yellow. An enormous overhead crane whirred. “Oh good,” mentioned Mahalik. “They’ll truck a locomotive.”

On the far finish, the crane picked up a freshly painted locomotive, sans wheels, as if it had been a scale-model Lionel piece, and hauled it right down to the place a pair of six-­wheel vans—the finished axle-and-­electrical motor assemblies—sat ready on a set of rails. Males, a few of them in white shirts and ties, stopped to observe. Warning bells clanged. The crane low­ered the locomotive onto its vans like a loving father or mother laying their child in its cra­dle. Trucking a locomotive is all the time an occasion, defined Mahalik. A GM automotive plant would possibly spit out a brand new automobile each 60 seconds or so, however LaGrange seems just one locomotive each couple of days (there’s one other GM locomotive plant in London, Ontario).

Time to Drive the Locomotive

“Let’s go drive a locomotive.” Mahalik grinned and held out a pair of engineer’s coveralls he’d scrounged up. Scrounged, as a result of completely nobody at LaGrange clothes like Casey Jones. Till I arrived, that’s. I skulked from the locker room out the again door into the prepare yard­—pink scarf, engineer’s hat, and all, hoping not one of the workmen would see me.

Proper exterior the door was our experience—a spanking-new pair of SD-60s in red-and­-gray Kansas Metropolis Southern livery, cou­pled back-to-back. Sitting out within the solar­shine, on their lonesome, they seemed . . . huge. Actually huge.

Mahalik waved me up the steps. “Let’s fireplace it up,” he mentioned. After turning on the elec­trics within the cab, he opened a door on the locomotive’s waist and motioned to­ward me. I twisted the one two-posi­tion change to prime the large diesel. Then, as instructed, I twisted it the opposite means, pushed on the handbook throttle deal with with my proper hand and . . . wheeeee, wheeeee, went the starter. Rumba, rumba . . . BAH-RUMBAAAHH. The V-16 lit off like ten semis.

We marched as much as the cab, and Mahalik threw the reverser lever to “for­ward” and eased us by means of the yard at a strolling tempo. There have been rows of dere­lict locomotives parked to 1 facet. “We really take trade-ins,” he mentioned, nodding of their route. The cabin was primary: a rubber mat protecting the ground, plain darkish vinyl on the three bucket seats, grey paint in all places else.

It wasn’t fairly as inhospitable because it first seemed, although. These two KCS locomo­tives had been outfitted with non-compulsory air-con, electrically heated win­dows, and air-ride seats. A 99-channel two-way railroad radio, a rest room, and a re­frigerator are commonplace. All of this luxurious is yours for a paltry $1.4 million. (To not fear, there is not any such factor as annual model adjustments. You may count on your SD-60 to go about 1,000,000 miles between overhauls and final 15–30 years.)

Mahalik stopped the locomotive a cou­ple of occasions as a number of switches had been thrown for us. Then we had been on what’s, fairly actually, the take a look at observe—a three-­quarter-mile-long non-public straightaway on EMD property.

“Let’s do an engine self-load take a look at.” He motioned me towards the appropriate seat, the engineer’s seat. The instrument panel angled to my left. It contained gauges for electric-motor present load, air strain, and brake-cylinder strain. Jutting out of the panel had been levers for the throttle, the dynamic brake, the reverser, the loco­motive’s unbiased brakes, and one other for the prepare’s brakes. Getting stopped is clearly a excessive precedence within the prepare enterprise.

Mahalik punched a couple of keys under the pc show display on the excessive­-voltage cupboard behind us. Dozens of inexperienced numbers winked on the display—­engine parameters like coolant tempera­ture, throttle place, generator voltage. The 2 that me had been horse­energy and rpm.

Mahalik defined that we’d be standing nonetheless, however the primary generator could be on full, offering resistance for the V-16 to work in opposition to—like an engine dynamometer. The present manufac­tured by the generator could be routed previous the electrical motors within the vans and on to an enormous grid resistor—essen­tially an enormous toaster—within the roof of the locomotive. The vitality produced by the generator could be dissipated as warmth. And to verify the locomotive’s roof did not soften, a 100-hp blower fan could be blasting a gale-force wind throughout the glowing grid wires.

“The grid resistor is often used for dynamic braking,” Mahalik defined. In dynamic-braking mode, the electrical mo­tors change into mills. Now they’re strive­ing to withstand the prepare’s motion in an quantity roughly equal to their pow­er, which means you have got about 5200 horsepower price of brakes—sufficient to sluggish a freight prepare down in all however hilly terrain. The electrical energy produced by dynamic braking is spent by means of the grid resistors.

“Open the throttle,” Mahalik ordered. There are eight throttle positions, and I watched the facility readout climb as I notched the large lever by means of its journey. At place one, the engine was barely awake: solely 190 horsepower. By place 4, issues had been getting attention-grabbing: 570 rpm, 1310 horsepower. Place 5: 1765 horsepower. The noise was getting raucous. Place six: 2280 horsepower and 729 rpm. Place seven: 3350 horsepower, 824 rpm. Place eight-wide open: 3855 horsepower at 903 rpm. However wait, there was extra. I noticed a flash studying of 4133 horsepower, and the engine settled right down to a gradual 4055 horsepower. I opened the cabin door. Whoa! Hell itself was bellowing at me. I slammed it shut.

I eased the throttle again to idle. “Okay,” mentioned Mahalik, “now put the re­verser in ahead. It is all yours.” I moved the throttle tentatively. The locomotive crept ahead. The view over the stubby hood was surprisingly panoramic. I eased as much as 15 mph, then went again to idle. Yeah, that is it. Like driving a small motel. And we saved coasting. Three­-quarters of 1,000,000 kilos does not have a lot curiosity in slowing down, and the top of the observe drew nearer. I used the prepare brake. Forward lay the primary line, and the decision of shiny metal rails going off into the gap. Possibly sometime.

Going ahead was straightforward, however backing up was one thing else once more. The view rearward was restricted by the locomotive physique; we had been blind to the appropriate. Maneu­vering simply the locomotives was unnerv­ing, so backing a freight prepare round a railroad yard should be fun riot.

After a couple of uneventful journeys down the take a look at observe, Mahalik recommended we discover out what it looks like to drag a load. “I will put the rear locomotive into dynamic brake, and we’ll drag it.” Appeared like a megadollar model of “irresistible drive meets immovable object.”

It had begun to drizzle, good for exhibiting off EMO’s newest traction-con­trol system, in accordance with Mahalik. “Okay, full throttle.” The SD-60 howled and shuddered and shook and commenced creeping ahead. You could possibly really feel the traction-control system looking for grip, pulling again the voltage when any of the six driving axles started to slide. “A radar transceiver underneath the nostril, aimed down on the observe mattress, feeds the comput­ers true floor velocity,” Mahalik mentioned over the thrumming. We had been going lower than 10 mph. “When the observe will get actually slippery, the pc routinely places down sand to extend traction,” defined Mahalik, “however we do not fill our lo­comotives with sand earlier than supply.

“That is what it might be like dragging a heavy load in hilly terrain. You do not wish to run a locomotive underneath about 12 mph, as a result of that strains the electrical motors they usually can overheat.” If extra energy is required to recover from the moun­tains, a railroad hooks up as many loco­motives as are required, then shuts them down on the flat sections.

Having use of your personal private 4000-hp locomotive would not be price a lot in the event you could not have interaction in not less than one act of juvenile delinquency, wouldn’t it? I throttled again to a cease and jumped from the cab. At my sign, Mahalik eased the pair of SD-60s forward and proper on previous me. There on the observe was my handiwork: a dime and a penny, pressed as flat and easy as your greatest shirt. Ah, life is good.

“Time to park it,” mentioned Mahalik with a shrug. However wait, Keith, we have not carried out a very powerful factor of all. Mahalik smiled knowingly and pointed to the large lever atop the instrument cluster. “Go forward,” he nodded.

Kids of all ages, this one’s for you: WOOO—WOOOO—WOOOOOOOO . . . .

Arrow pointing downArrow pointing down



Common Motors Electro-Motive SD-60
Car Kind: mid-engine, 12-wheel-drive, 3-passenger, 2-door, diesel-electric locomotive


Base: $1,400,000
Normal equipment: digital management system with show, cab heaters and defrosters, rest room
Choices on our take a look at automobile: air-con, fridge, electrically heated home windows, air-ride seats, consolation cab

turbocharged and intercooled 2-stroke V-16 diesel, welded metal block and iron heads, direct gasoline injection

Displacement: 11,353 in3, 186,037 cm3

Energy: 4100 hp @ 900 rpm

Torque: 23,925 lb-ft @ 900 rpm 


1-speed DC Electrical

Suspension, Major/Secondary: inflexible axle/rubber spring pad between truck body and metal bolster

Brakes: Electro-Motive Division 945-amp dynamic electromagnetic brakes with digital anti-lock management, plus twelve Kind 26L 2.5-inch-wide compressed-air-actuated shoe brakes appearing on the drive wheels

Wheels: 5.5 x 40-inch cast metal


Observe: 56.5 in
Size: 804.0 in

Width: 122.5 in
Peak: 187.0 in
Curb Weight: 390,000 lb
Gasoline Capactiy: 5000 gal


High Velocity: 70 mph
Gasoline consumption @ full energy: 187 gallons per hour  

Headshot of Rich Ceppos

Director, Purchaser’s Information

Wealthy Ceppos has evaluated vehicles and automotive expertise throughout a profession that has encompassed 10 years at Common Motors, two stints at Automotive and Driver totaling 19 years, and 1000’s of miles logged in racing automobiles. He was in music faculty when he realized what he actually wished to do in life and, one way or the other, it is labored out. In between his two C/D postings he served as government editor of Car Journal; was an government vp at Campbell Advertising and marketing & Communications; labored in GM’s product-development space; and have become writer of Autoweek. He has raced constantly since faculty, held SCCA and IMSA professional racing licenses, and has competed within the 24 Hours of Daytona. He presently ministers to a 1999 Miata and a 1965 Corvette convertible and appreciates that none of his youthful colleagues have but uttered “Okay, Boomer” when he tells one in all his tales concerning the loopy outdated days at C/D.


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