Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ten Pieces of Train Equipment That Need to Be Street Legal In America

...Metaphorically speaking, to a certain degree, of course. But this short list includes a couple of locos, coaches, EMUs, and DMUs, none of which are currently allowed to mix with American mainline freight traffic. Given this equipment's global ubiquity, this points to a failure of the American regulatory body rather than a lack of safety inherent in the equipment.
10. Siemens EuroSprinter/EuroRunner (diesel variant). This piece of equipment is actually coming to our shores soon, as the Amtrak Cities Sprinter, but it has been in use as mainline freight and passenger equipment in practically every other country with standard gauge for decades now, and in fact is being phased out by Siemens in favor of a new product, the Vectron. In this case, the EuroSprinter represents not so much a single unit as a class of unit types, namely Europe's general-use diesels and electrics, such as Bombardier's TRAXX, Alstom's Prima, Vossloh's Euro, Voith's Maxima, EMD's Series 66, and Škoda's 109E, among others.
9. Bombardier VLocity 160. Victoria, Australia's, standard DMU. These trains operate a regional level in much the same fashion as the MPE-coach push-pull sets now standard in the U.S., but are far lighter and faster. Other than their rail gauge problem, Australian operating conditions are very similar to American ones--far more than Europe's--and as such Australian best practices and equipment may be American models--such as CountryLink's Xplorer or TransAdelaide's 3000 Class.
8. British Rail Mark III Coach. The coach of the British rail fleet. Its tough and highly durable monocoque design, combined with its double suspension, combine to make the coach exceedingly safe and comfortable. Too bad repressive FRA regulations prevent such an elegant design from being used on American rails, in favor of heavier, inferior designs. It also goes well with the Class 43 (see below), and is also the basis of a bunch of MU designs.
7. CGL Rail C44aci. Australia's most modern freight locomotive. Equipment like this regularly mixes with equipment such as the Vlocity mentioned above, and, like American equipment, is designed primarily for (a) coal unit trains and (b) intermodal service. American-built locomotives, or locomotives built with American components, in fact have a long history in Australia; this is essentially a GE Dash 9-44CW on a more lightweight frame. Similar equipment includes the older 90, AN, EL, and NR classes, and the competition includes Downer EDI Rail's GT46C ACe--essentially an EMD SD70ACe on a more lightweight frame. (This, by the way, proves that even mainline American freight equipment is absurdly heavy.)
6. Alstom Pendolino. The standard European tilting-train EMU. Originally developed by Fiat, these trains are designed for high-speed operation on legacy track: they are, in other words, ideal for the Northeast Corridor, far more than the all-too-slow and not-really-tilting Acela. The New Pendolino is the most recent variant and is also in use in China, a country whose freight network, like Australia's, emulates American conditions.
5. Stadler GTW/FLIRT. Common European DMUs and EMUs. Despite their surprisingly common application in the U.S. (the River Line is one such example), these units are not FRA-compliant and are thus treated as light rail, despite their all-around utility elsewhere. Similar equipment includes Siemens' Desiro, Bombardier's AGC, Alstom's SNCF Class Z 26500, and Nederlandse Spoorwegen's VIRM.
4. British Rail Class 43. The oldest unit on this list, it's here because of one major reason: the fastest way to bring express passenger trains to the U.S. is simply to purchase express passenger trains that were designed for high-speed service on legacy unelectrified lines. Therefore, simply making these trains street legal and acquiring them as the (proposed) Super Express enters service would massively--and rapidly--improve American rail passenger service. And create demand for a domestic version, too. Heck, Australia did the same thing (pictured above). Caveat: Class 43s are designed to operate in conjunction with Mark III coaches (see above)--or Aussie-style Budds--or possibly with a Class 91 and/or a driving van trailer.
3. Talgo 350. Spain's native high-speed equipment, and one of the premier loco-hauled high-speed trainsets in the world (Talgo's Pendular system pre-empts distributed-power equipment). If the U.S. is ever to get a proper passenger service and passenger hierarchy, equipment such as this, Alstom's TGV Réseau, AnsaldoBreda's ETR 500, SJ's X2, or Rotem's KTX-II, would need to be allowable wherever service and merit demanded.
2. N700 Shinkansen. The only Japanese model on this list--and for good reason (bullet trains are Japan's only standard gauge trains)--the N700 is also built by all four of Japan's major rail builders (Kawasaki, Hitachi, Kinki Sharyo, and Nippon Sharyo) and is also the only Shinkansen model that has been exported (to China and Taiwan, respectively). Similar to this is Hitachi's Super Express program over in Britain, another model that needs to be street legal in the U.S. from Day 1.
1. Siemens Velaro. The high-speed rail gold standard, and has been for a decade now. The pioneer in distributed-traction trainsets, and still the fastest train in Europe, the Velaro represents a generational leap forward in European high-speed technology. Only now, with the Zefiro and AGV, are Bombardier and Alstom catching up with Siemens; Italian AnsaldoBreda and Spanish CAF now offer the less expensive V250 and HT65000; and Rotem and Talgo are busy at work creating the KTX-III and AVRIL. This is the forefront of global high-speed rail, and will be, short of another breakthrough being made.

These ten pieces of equipment (and their competition and derivatives) need to be made street legal in the U.S. forthwith. For freight equipment, it's a matter of maintenance: lighter locomotives that can develop the same kind of power are easier on the rails and can allow for faster train speeds, improving the industry's competitiveness (and the Aussie examples prove it can be done); and for passenger equipment, a matter of usefulness and accessibility. Better, lighter, faster, safer trains and operations would help make our laggard mass transit world-class once again, especially as things like the Hubbert peak theory work their magic and nonrenewable resources cease to be affordable.

We need to see this kind of equipment operational in the U.S. We need to see modern signaling such as ERTMS in the U.S. And we need to see rail geometries at modern standards in the U.S. How can we say we're the best at anything involving trains anymore? Our freight trains are long and slow, and passenger trains heavy and slow. Our rail system is a laughingstock! We need to get rid of the current asinine governmental railroad regulation in favor of something leaner, more international, and more in tune with the UIC.


  1. A few trains that should be on your list:

    - Coradia Nordic (Scandinavian trains are practically drop-in compatible with the US loading gauge)

    - Hitachi A-Train, a modular platform used in both Japan and Britain

    - The regional trains used by standard-gauge operators in Japan, for example Kintetsu (and even JR East - widening the gauge is not that difficult, as can be seen by the existence of broad-gauge FLIRTs)

  2. I forgot to mention one thing: although the Pendolino has been exported to China, the version used in China is non-tilting.

  3. It depends a bit on what gauge the original equipment was being built for. I was considering having Cape gauge equipment e.g. Transperth EMUs on this list, but eventually decided the overall loading gauge would be too small. Most European, Russian, Australian, Chinese, Korean, and Shinkansen-compatible Japanese equipment could be considered for inclusion, and my intent was to give a sampling of equipment used SAFELY globally but our asinine regulations here at home prohibit.