Virtually every American industry has its own test laboratory. For the railroads, it's the Transportation Test Center in Pueblo, Colorado. Since 1982, the American Association of Railroads has used this remote, 52-square-mile area to put new concepts and railroad car designs through their paces.
Test machines "rock and roll" stationary freight cars, simulating vibration and speed to evaluate endurance. The center's obstacle course, consisting of 48 miles of test track, is where old and new locomotives and railcars, track components, and signal and safety devices are put through real-life testing.
For example, the center once put a locomotive pulling cars loaded with 125 tons of cargo each -- an increase from the 100-ton limit -- on a 2.8-mile loop of test track. The train circled continuously, completing a circuit every four minutes. The test was designed to see if the track would fall apart under the weight. It didn't, proving that productivity could be increased by using fewer, but heavier, railroad cars.
The center also offers hands-on training for hazardous materials response teams. The course includes simulated derailments, crashes, and highway accidents.
It's a chance to test real operating practices before human lives and millions of dollars in equipment are at stake.
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