Pilot for Rail Passenger Cab Cars [Research Results]
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Pilot for Rail Passenger Cab Cars [Research Results]

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      The results of this Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)-funded Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) project indicate that cab car-led trains are no more likely to derail than passenger locomotive-led trains, when involved in grade crossing accidents. The performance of cab cars in comparison to passenger locomotives, in grade crossing accidents, became of interest to the railroad industry partly due to the Glendale, CA incident. In Glendale, a parked jeep was intentionally placed on the railroad tracks, resulting in the derailment of a Metrolink train. This event and similar past incidents fueled the debate on whether cab car-led passenger trains are more prone to derailment than locomotive-led passenger trains when involved in grade crossing collisions. The SBIR research focused on cab car and locomotive pilots, also known as snowplows, which function to prevent obstacles from interfering in the operation of the railcar trucks. Pilots are installed on railcars to clear the tracks of small obstacles, which generally weigh much less than 10,000 pound mass (lbm) such as shopping carts, tree branches, etc. Examples of a cab car and a locomotive pilot are depicted in Figures 1 and 2, respectively. Reports of past grade crossing accidents involving cab car- and locomotive-led passenger trains were reviewed to understand the damages sustained by the pilots, and in the case of derailments, the cause. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) maintenance facility was visited to review the design of pilots installed on cab cars and passenger locomotives. Drawings, photographs, and measurements were taken of the pilots and their supporting structures. This information was used to create finite element models of the pilot’s structure. The finite element model results were used in collision dynamics models to analyze and predict how much the pilots would crush in various collision scenarios. Also investigated was the potential for the lead vehicle (cab car and locomotive) to derail, resulting from the pilot striking a heavy object in the grade crossing. The collision dynamics analyses results indicate that for a pilot to crush less than 1 ft and not promote train derailment, the pilot must be designed to withstand a force of 1,000,000 pound force (lbf). The ability of the underframe to support such a load was not evaluated as part of this study.
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