When they assumed control of the railroad in , they found a company in dire straits. Chief among the burdens was passenger service. Rail travel was in decline through the s as passengers flocked to jet airliners or took advantage of the newly constructed interstate highway system. With the loss of lucrative mail and express contracts, passenger trains quickly became a money-losing proposition for American railroads. The new trains connected Tokyo and Osaka at speeds of up to m.
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When they assumed control of the railroad in , they found a company in dire straits. Chief among the burdens was passenger service. Rail travel was in decline through the s as passengers flocked to jet airliners or took advantage of the newly constructed interstate highway system. With the loss of lucrative mail and express contracts, passenger trains quickly became a money-losing proposition for American railroads. The new trains connected Tokyo and Osaka at speeds of up to m. Power was provided by two General Electric J jet engines, purchased as surplus from the U.
Each engine was capable of producing 5, pounds of thrust. With his strong background in engineering, Perlman was always looking for ways to increase efficiency and reduce costs. The Technical Center worked on a number of railroad research projects, from testing fuels and lubricants, to strengthening rails and infrastructure, to finding better ways to pack and load freight cars.
The idea of using jet technology first came up in , when it was proposed to convert an EMD F-unit to work off a jet turbine. The proposal was shelved, but not forgotten. On May 6, , the Pennsylvania Railroad announced the launch of a new high-speed rail initiative that would be funded by the federal government through the Department of Commerce later the Department of Transportation. The result would be the debut of what became to be known as the Metroliners. Was the Metroliner announcement enough motivation for the usually conservative Perlman to green-light his own high-speed project?
With the Central destined for merger with its archrival Pennsy in less than two years, perhaps Perlman wished to demonstrate the technological superiority and financial independence of his company.
Wright to approve the project at the end of June In turn, Wright tasked Don Wetzel to oversee the design. The only caveat was the experiment had to be ready to run in just 30 days. During one of his furloughs, he was asked if he had any other skills. It was this diverse background that led Wetzel to be in charge of the M conversion project. Rail Diesel Car M was selected since the mail and baggage sections could be easily repurposed to house instrumentation.
Seats were cleared from the passenger compartment so a supporting pylon could be installed. It was decided early on in the process that the use of roof-mounted jet engines versus any kind of direct drive would allow the test-bed to get up to speed quickly.
Two General Electric J jet engines were purchased from government surplus. The nose design was further refined after wind tunnel tests at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. All fabrication took place in-house at Collinwood Shop. The car body itself was not disassembled in any way. Stock EMD F-unit number boards were used for the forward windows. The A-end of New York Central M temporarily became the rear, and was smoothed over with sheet metal to reduce wind drag. Aside from being the project designer and eventual pilot, Don Wetzel was also in charge of the propulsion and controls installation.
To gather data, more than 50 different instruments were installed in the baggage area to record speed, bearing temperature, and ride characteristics. The front axles were equipped with small radio transmitters to send telemetry stress information to on-board recorders.
Data was recorded in real time on magnetic tape and by oscillographs. The two Detroit diesel engines had been disengaged, but retained to provide power for the air brakes and electrical systems. The brake system relied on the stock Budd discs alone for stopping power. Pompa selected the mile stretch of mainline between Butler, Ind.
Pompa had the section resurfaced and upgraded to the highest standards, since up until that time the tracks had only hosted heavy freight and passenger traffic at conventional speed. The majority of the line was constructed of pound Dudley rail in foot lengths, with only one four-mile section of continuous welded rail.
The first speed tests took place on Saturday, July 23, , on a mile section between Butler, Ind. The crew included Don Wetzel as pilot along with Leo Lombardo, Richard Shackson, and Lawrence Simmons monitoring the instrumentation in the baggage section. The engines were fired up and M was brought up to speed. A Beechcraft Model 18D paced each run from above to monitor the tests. It was during the second run that Wetzel noted the car had reached m. The official speed record of Two foot long traps were used to record the speed in case one had failed.
Perlman ordered sandwiches and refreshments, and a modest celebration was enjoyed by all present. Two additional tests were run on Sunday, but at lower speeds between 90 and m. Many of the technicians and craftsmen from Collinwood Shop rode one of the Sunday runs so they could enjoy the results of their work. A special press conference was held in New York City on July 26, , with M on display for the press and public at 60th Street Yard on the west side of Manhattan.
The streamlined nose was removed, motors were reconnected to the trucks, and seats replaced. Once it was released, M returned to the mundane task of hauling commuters, this time in shuttle service between Croton-Harmon and Poughkeepsie, N.
M was conveyed to Penn Central in as No. Conrail took ownership in , and officially retired the unit in It later became part of the fleet acquired by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in It was scrapped without fanfare or ceremony by Metro-North in Project engineer and operator Don Wetzel poses for publicity photos in front of M following the historic speed record.
Lessons Learned The M experiment proved that high-speed service was achievable on a conventional right-of-way, even with jointed rail. Perlman emphasized the entire experiment was privately funded by the railroad with no government assistance. As a result, valuable data on wheel-rail interaction and stress at high speeds was gathered and analyzed. As the New York Central was headed for merger with the Pennsylvania in , there was hope the information would prove useful.
The data was largely ignored, since the federal government was already committed to the Metroliner partnership with the Pennsy, and to the TurboTrain project with the New Haven.
Unfortunately, industry colleagues and competitors alike dismissed the M experiment as a publicity stunt, largely due to the use of jet engines for propulsion. Of course, the jet engine was the only way to achieve high speeds in a testing environment, but was never seriously considered for implementation. Ballast and debris kicked up by the jet exhaust and high speeds posed a safety hazard for bystanders, while the inefficiencies of jet engines at low speed made them costly to operate.
Arguably, the success of the Metroliner project reinvigorated public interest in train travel and helped pave the way for Amtrak and additional investment in passenger rail. He has since retired. Alfred Perlman joined the ill-fated Penn Central management team in , but was ultimately forced out in He went on to rescue Western Pacific from the brink of bankruptcy before retiring in Perlman passed away in The historic speed record was recognized with a plaque and dedication at Bryan, Ohio, in Despite trains like the Metroliner and later Acela reaching regular speeds of m.
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Once the deal is completed, Alstom said it will move its North American headquarters from New York City to Montreal and establish a state-of-the-art research and development center there. After it is downsized to solely the producer Learjet, Challenger and Global Express business jets, the company roster is expected to drop to about 18, Quebec mechanic Joseph-Armand Bombardier invented the snowmobile in and founded the company bearing his name in to produce and sell them, launching the popular Skidoo line in The company left that industry in His son was at the helm when the company ventured into subway and railcar manufacturing in , subsequently purchasing Montreal Locomotive Works in Though Bombardier grew to become a major player in the transit field, it faced increasing competition from builders including Alstom, Siemens, Stadler and CCRC in the past decade. A contract to supply New York City subway cars was plagued with design issues and delays, and in January the entire fleet of new cars was pulled from service due to a problem with their doors.
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But if you want to watch the trains themselves, Tokyo has a host of exciting locations to offer. The trains run every few minutes, from early morning to well into the night, in a dizzying array of paint schemes and body styles. The Japanese love their trains, and the country has about four times as many railfans per capita as the United States. Enthusiasts can take photos from station platforms, overpasses, and all public places without worrying about questioning from security guards or police officers. Just be careful to stay behind the yellow lines on station platforms and out of the way of passengers and railway staff.
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