UT Engineers successfully prototype next generation of locomotives

     In the race to build faster, more powerful, fossil-fuel-driven passenger train locomotives, engineers at The University of Texas at Austin lurched ahead in the fall of 1997. Tests of one of the world's lightest-weight, highest-energy flywheel rotors surpassed these designers' performance goals, bringing low-cost, high-speed passenger rail service closer to reality.

     The research, sponsored by the U.S Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration, borrows a lightweight carbon and epoxy material used in airplane manufacturing. This material is used to create the heart of the design, the flywheel's rotating element or rotor which recovers otherwise wasted braking energy and stores it for later use by the vehicle.

     The latest test was conducted on a rotor at roughly one-third scale. The result: the lightweight rotor succeeded under operating stresses to be experienced by a full-scale flywheel now under construction. The larger rotor will store 50 times the energy of the just-tested subscale prototype and is designed to power an 8,000 horsepower, 150 mph passenger locomotive.

     These results allow the researchers to maintain their goal of developing and demonstrating a prototype locomotive system by the year 2000, says John Price, the Advanced Locomotive Propulsion System manager at UT's Center for Electromechanics.