Sunday, June 15, 2008

Railroad Fliers



Obstacles That Must Be Overcome Before Fast Time Is Made on American Roads. While There May Be Changes In Motive Power, Curves Are the Worst Trouble.

The mile a minute railroad record, on an average, has not yet been reached, and perhaps the present generation of readers 30 years hence may not be witnesses to its accomplishment. The fastest train in this country at the present time, running between New York and Chicago, attains an average speed of 40 miles an hour, and from the present outlook it will be many years before this average is increased. In 1866 an average speed of 28 miles an hour was recorded between the same cities. It is astonishing, all things considered, how little progress the railroads have made in speed. The progress is so small comparatively that one familiar with the facts cannot fail to be puzzled or to have suggested to his mind the question whether the system itself is not inherently at fault — whether it was not begun and developed on the wrong lines.

The man who stands in the open country and sees the limited express flit by like an angry, panting ghost is filled with wonder at the speed and thinks it fast enough. The traveler who sits in his luxurious parlor car and looks out at the stations as they slide past his window in a long blurred streak of black and gray finds his exhilaration heighten in proportion as the train accelerates its onward motion. No speed is too great for him, provided the road is straight and the motion smooth. The switches click like clock ticks in his ear, and he looks with the eye of fascination on the landscape, distorting itself in all directions as though made of india rubber. People like to travel fast. They enjoy the feeling of superiority which comes with rapid speed. They want to go quick, whether they are in a hurry or not.

It is an open question whether the railroad has reached the limit of speed consistent with safety. Eminent engineers and practical railroad men are divided in their opinions, some arguing that the limit has been reached, others insisting that, if the curves are modified or cut out almost entirely, trains can be run from one-third to one-half faster than at present. Will it be necessary to modify the shape of the wheels and track? Will the present type of engine or motor have to be changed to one where there will be no power lost in the back stroke of the piston? Will steam give way to electricity or some other force?

These are the principal points which are in doubt, and about which engineers draw very different conclusions from their experience. There is now very little, if there is any, doubt as to whether steam will give way to electricity or some other force which produces a better relative result, with less noise and less wear and tear on machinery and is less susceptible to the weather. It is no uncommon thing for a fast express engine to slow down speed in very cold weather, owing to what they call "freezing out the steam."

There is no theoretical doubt that the rails and wheels can be so modified as to make the engine and train stick to the track better and reduce the margin of danger. There is also no doubt, in theory, that an engine could travel much faster if some plan of mechanism could be devised which would do away with or reduce to the absolute minimum the effects of the back stroke of the piston and connecting rods. The shrewd railroad managers of the country have about come to the conclusion that the motive power has almost reached perfection, and that their roadbeds are now the real obstacles to great average speed. With curves and the deadly grade crossings eliminated, who can tell what may be done? Cities and towns, no matter how small the latter may be, have rights which must be respected, and while they are the speed of trains must suffer. In England everything is plain sailing. When the roads were originally constructed, they found thickly populated districts on all sides. In America we built railroads first and imported the people afterward to patronize them. Over on the "little island" everything is fenced in, and grade crossings are unknown. The engineer pulls open the throttle, the train starts, and he knows he will have to look out for nothing but tower signals and other trains. American engineers are looking forward to the establishment of a similar state of things in this country.

Of course the real danger in increasing the speed of express trains driven by steam does not lie in incidental risks. It is not denied that a modern locomotive might be built which could run up to 90 or possibly 100 miles an hour, if the lines were straight. It is the curves of the existing lines which render any such speed impossible unless the weight of the locomotive and train were also increased far beyond what the bridges and permanent way would bear. At the first sharp curve the 100 mile express would fly off the rails. The necessary relation of these curves to speed is accurately known, and it is that, and not the want of power or novel dangers from wind pressure or boiler explosions, which sets the limit to modern train speed.

As the force tending to throw off the line a train running at the speed of 150 miles an hour would be about 6-1/2 times greater than that which a steam express train resists a curve when running at 60 miles an hour, it is plain that the present lines could not be used for the lightning express, even though the electrometer were substituted for the steam engine. The lines must not only be stronger, but straighter than would be possible by any modification of their present form. — Washington Star.

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