The Rocket Cars at the Pueblo Test Center

Why Did The Cars Go To the Test Track?


New Capabilities in Railroad Testing

A short distance east of the Rockies, where incredible railroading accomplishments of blazing steel trails through mountain passes and operating trains over rugged grades in severe weather began a century or more ago, 50 square miles of Colorado prairieland have been set aside for a new U. S. Department of Transportation field center. While the challenges to improve today's ground transportation systems are different, they are no less imposing than those faced by the pioneering surveyors, track layers, engineers, and trainmen as they worked to conquer the mountains.

The High Speed Ground Test Center, HSGTC, is an essential part of a national effort to develop a more balanced transportation system and will offer new dimensions for rail-guided vehicle testing. Presently, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Urban Mass Transportation Administration are the principal participants at the Test Center. Managed by the Federal Railroad Administration, HSGTC will have test track and guideway complexes, laboratories, vehicles, and other facilities necessary to provide an advanced testing capability for railway, transit and other forms of ground transportation.

Many railroaders and others have indicated an interest in the Test Center. While some are expressing general interest and an understanding of the need, others are planning tests to be conducted at the Center. This article provides a genera] description of the Test Center itself and summarizes the ongoing test projects.

Over the years, many have contemplated needs for more comprehensive ground transportation test facilities. The American Railway Engineering Association and other professional associations have, of course, been deeply involved. But the genesis of the Test Center stems from the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965. If higher speed vehicles were to be developed, dedicated facilities for testing would be required. Almost a hundred sites throughout the country were initially considered, and this field was then narrowed to a group of about ten. Each was evaluated against previously established criteria, and the area near Pueblo. Colo., was judged to be the best and selected in December 1969.

The evaluation criteria included such factors as:

( 1 ) Topography, geology, and site preparation costs

(2) Diverse climate

(3) Accessibility to highway, air, and railroad transportation

(4) Effect on local community

(5) Technical, industrial and local support

The area selected northeast of Pueblo is semiarid rangeland consisting of rolling plains, broken by normally dry arroyos; and generally treeless, covered mainly with sparse bunch grass, sagebrush, tumbleweeds and occasional cacti. While apparently completely dry, there are a few places where surface water exists continuously. Although barren in appearance, the fragile vegetation and wildlife — antelope, coyotes, snakes, prairie dogs, insects, birds and other animals — combine to provide a sensitive ecological balance.

Geologic history recorded in the outcroppings of the area consists of only three major events. The earliest is submergence of the land and deposition of marine deposits under a broad, shallow Cretaceous sea. The second involves the uplift of the land, deposition of non-marine deposits, and folding and faulting of the crust. The third includes the erosion of previously deposited sedimentary rocks, evolution of the modern drainage network, and deposition of the Quaternary surficial deposits.

At the time of selection, most of the land was owned by the State of Colorado with a small percentage privately held.

Elevations in the northeast part are about 5,300 ft, mean sea level, and in the southwest 4,830 ft. This is a drop of about 470 ft in almost 11 miles, giving an average grade of about 0.8 percent. But the topography of the site varies from gently sloping and slightly undulating terrain on the south and west sides to progressively more sharply rolling and hummocky sand hills to the north and east. Soil borings have shown that the area is predominately sand intermixed with clay. Some areas with clay soils exposed have been used as a source of embankment materials; but in the larger areas of wind-blown sand, stabilization has had to be provided. Test track route and grade designs have avoided cuts where possible to prevent disturbing natural vegetation and the sand binding it provides.

The selected area is about 10 miles north of the Arkansas River and 30 miles east of the Rockies, and the weather there is dominated by high elevations and the mountains. It is marked with large daily temperature variations, bright sunlight, and low humidity. The rigorous environment is particularly suited to transportation system testing. The following climatological data have been reported by the Weather Bureau Station at the Pueblo Memorial Airport, about 20 miles from the Center.

Mean diurnal temperature changes are about 30 deg F with extremes some- times in excess of 60 deg.

The sun shines about 73 percent of the possible time creating a significant amount of radiant heat in metallic and other exposed surfaces. Averages of direct and diffuse solar radiation are about 650 Langleys in July, and 260 in January. This is typically some 25 to 75 percent more radiant energy at ground level from the sun than appears along the northeast coastal regions of the United States. During periods of little wind or convective currents, steel track temperatures as high as 135 and aluminum rail temperatures up to 120 deg have been reported at the Center during the summer.

Normal daily maximum ambient temperature in July, the warmest month, is about 92 deg F with extremes of 105 and 51 having been recorded. The probability of measurable precipitation in summer is one day out of four and in winter one out of eight. Summer rains usually occur in the form of afternoon thunderstorms. Dust storms are frequent during the spring months and create sand removal problems.

In January, the coldest month, normal daily maximum temperature is about 45 deg with extremes of 78 and — 17 having been reported. Winter is comparatively mild because of the abundance of sunshine, with temperatures on most days reaching 50 degrees or higher. The temperature drops to or below about eight times during the winter on the average. Cold spells are generally broken after a few days by Chinook winds, a warm, very dry, westerly wind.

Gravel access roads leading to the 30,000-acre site originate at the Pueblo Memorial Airport and from State Highway 96, one mile west of Boone, Colo. The headquarters area is almost 30 miles by road from downtown Pueblo and about 60 miles from Colorado Springs. Air transportation connections are made at the airport through Frontier Airlines.

Four railroads serve Pueblo — the Denver & Rio Grande Western, Colorado & Southern, Missouri Pacific, and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. Rail access to the Test Center is obtained from the Santa Fe/Missouri Pacific main line at North Avondale north through the Pueblo Army Depot to the Center. Most of the people working at the Center live in Pueblo, but some live as far away as Colorado Springs. Several are utilizing the academic resources of Southern Colorado State College in Pueblo.

The HSGTC will serve ground transportation in the same way as wind tunnels and flight test ranges have provided development capabilities to aviation. There are many federally sponsored research laboratories, wind tunnels and flight test centers in our country today, all working to improve aeronautical or space flight. For example, NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia, established in about 1916, has provided both theory and wind tunnel testing of supersonic shapes, short takeoff^ aircraft, and other aerodynamic configurations used by commercial aviation; and Edwards Flight Test Center, a .300,000-acre, highly instrumented test range located in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, has been the proving ground for many airplanes during tire past quarter of a century. But, these kinds of development facilities have not existed for surface transport.

While the railroads, transit properties, their associations, suppliers and manufacturers have all conducted research and testing activities, track complexes completely dedicated to full-scale testing of different types of ground vehicles of various speeds and their guideways have not previously been available in one location. This capability, along with laboratories and simulators for probing many railway technical problems, are now in preparation at the High Speed Ground Test Center.

Construction of a Dynamics Laboratory was started at the Test Center in July 1972. This laboratory, containing wheel/rail simulators, will be developed through several contracts. The first contract, for design, was awarded to Wyle Laboratories of Huntsville, Ala., during 1970. The contract award was termed by Secretary of Transportation John A. Volpe as "an attempt to enable railroad research to be performed with modern tools comparable to those used in advanced aero- space technology." The contract for the building itself is with Houston Construction/Wilkins Construction of Colorado; and subsequent contracts for such components as cranes, drive train, carriage assemblies and structures, wheel modules, and control equipment are in process.

The main laboratory testing machine has been designed to accommodate vehicles up to 180 ft in length and consists of a number of modules which can be assembled to match the axle spacings, wheel base and gage of railroad or transit equipment. Each wheel of a test specimen rests on a matching roller which can be moved to simulate track irregularities. Each roller is connected to a flywheel system which provides a sufficient inertia such that the wheel/rail interface condition simulates a moving vehicle on a stationary rail. They are currently designed to support axle loads of 80,000 lb. Curve radius of 100 ft minimum can be simulated.

All of the power and forcing systems, instrumentation and controls are designed for reorientation to perform dynamic, fatigue, or compliance tests on subsystems and components, such as wheels, brakes, and suspension systems. Hydraulic power for each single-axle test system has been divided into three systems, each having a different hydraulic flow and pressure requirement.

When completed, this facility will provide a wide-range, highly flexible laboratory to support all phases of railroad and transit research at speeds up to almost 300 mph. This unique testing capability will provide an ability to control and measure many functions independently, with freedom to exceed normal conditions to the point of hazard, and independence from the operational constraints which prevail on revenue lines.

Railroad and transit test tracks of various configurations and an impact area are also being built for use in conjunction with the Dynamics Laboratory.

To date, a total of about 22 miles of track has been finished. This total includes 6.2 miles of specialized trackage with a 21-inch-high reaction rail installed in the middle, which is part of a linear induction motor, and a 9-mile transit track. The balance of the trackage consists of access spurs.

The Transit Test Track includes an electrified third rail, instrumented road-bed, both 119- and 100-lb rail, concrete and wooden ties, and both welded and bolted joints. It is planned that tight curves, or "screech loops," and alternate electrification configurations will be added to this transit complex later.

Approximately 20 miles of test track for more conventional railroad freight and passenger equipment are also being laid out. This facility will consist of a Main Loop and a Train Dynamics Track. The Main Loop will accept speeds up to 120 mph with some runs up to about 160 mph being possible with special rolling stock. Self-powered commuter cars with speed capabilities above 80 mph can also be run on this test track. Wooden ties and 136-lb rail will be used in this track network. The Train Dynamics Track includes special sections tied into the Main Loop. Critical grades and curves, switching, humps and yard tracks are planned. Parts of this track will be roughened or smoothed as appropriate for dynamic vehicle tests. Track buckling experiments are also contemplated. Some destructive tests are expected, including derailment and collision work, grade crossing trials, and tank car accident investigations.

These two track complexes — transit and railroad — will provide the means for conducting many different kinds of safety, efficiency, human factor, traction, com- fort, and other tests.

Additional construction, which has either been completed or is underway, includes a project management building, automobile overpass, service and access roads, concrete guideways for air cushion vehicles, a water system, and maintenance buildings.

This construction work has been contracted for by the Federal Highway Administration, Region 8 in Denver; the Federal Aviation Administration Regional Offices in Los Angeles and Denver; or the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington. Federal Railroad Administrator John W. Ingram said, "At the High Speed Ground Test Center at Pueblo we will undertake the dynamic testing of rail and transit vehicle suspensions and begin a study of wheel/rail interaction in order to make rail travel safer, faster, and to assure a smoother ride."

Basic site layout and master planning are provided by the Test Center and Demonstrations Division of the Office of Research, Development and Demonstrations, Federal Railroad Administration. A contract for maintenance and operation services at HSGTC was awarded to the Kentron Hawaii Ltd., Continental Division of LTV Aerospace Corporation, in June 1972.

Several Federal laws designed to improve surface transport have been passed within the last ten years, and some were designed to increase the research and development activities in ground transportation. As a result, many new or non-conventional ground vehicle concepts are being studied; and if they are brought to the prototype stage, we will expect to evaluate them at the Test Center. Dual mode machines, magnetically levitated vehicles, suspended vehicles, trams, intercity cars, and tube vehicles may all eventually be tested at the Center.

Those currently scheduled, however, are the Linear Induction Motor Research Vehicle (LIMRV); portable rail diagnostic equipment; State-of-the-Art Transit Cars (SOAC); a Tracked Air Cushion Research Vehicle (TACRV); an Urban Tracked Air Cushion Vehicle (UTACV); Advanced Concept Rapid Transit Cars (ACT); obstacle detectors; and power collectors. Intercity rail and advanced systems planning and testing are carried out by the Advanced Systems Division and Rail Systems Division of the Office of Research, Development and Demonstrations. Transit related planning and testing are carried out by the Urban Mass Transportation Administration's Office of Research, Development and Demonstrations in Washington and by its Rail Supporting Technology Systems Manager, the Transportation Systems Center (TSC) in Cambridge, Mass.

The Center's first test project is centered around the experimental LIMRV built by Garrett AiResearch in California and designed for speeds up to 250 mph. This particular vehicle can be operated either manned or by remote control, but it will never be placed into passenger service. It is a research vehicle to be used for developing the linear electric motor as an advanced form of propulsion. These motors will be nearly pollutant-free, very quiet, and contain almost no moving parts. In tests to date the LIMRV has been operated at speeds up to 187.9 mph.

Two New York R-42 subway cars are presently at the Center and are serving as test beds for developing instrumentation which will ultimately become part of a portable rail diagnostic laboratory. This instrumentation is under development by the Cambridge Transportation Systems Center. The objective is to develop a "suitcase" instrumentation system that can be installed aboard cars on different transit properties in order to measure track geometry, ride quality, safety, and other parameters.

The Vertol Division of Boeing in Pennsylvania has procured for the Urban Mass Transportation Administration two newly designed transit cars representative of the current state-of-the-art. Performance characteristics, such as speed, braking, acceleration, noise, and ride quality, of these SOAC cars will be evaluated at the Test Center prior to demonstrations in several cities throughout the country during 1973. The next generation of rapid transit cars, ACT-1, will also utilize the Test Center for extensive testing.

The TACRV, built by Grumman Aerospace in New York, was on display at Dulles Airport last May during TRANSPO 72. It was shipped from there to the Test Center and is now being prepared for tests. This type of vehicle floats on a thin cushion of air within a concrete trough or guideway. Initially, it will be levitated and propelled by turbofans, but within the year a backfitting program should be started to install an 8,000-hp linear induction motor which utilizes a reaction rail and should provide speeds up to about 300 mph. Lower speed tests are scheduled to start this coming winter, and by next summer the vehicle should be operating in its electrified configuration.

Another air cushion vehicle, called the UTACV, is to be provided by Rohr Industries of California. The design of this vehicle closely follows that of the French Aerotrain, and as such will be capable of speeds of about 150 mph. This is considered to represent the current state-of-the-art in air cushion vehicles. Evaluation tests on it are scheduled to start at the Center in early 1973.

As speeds are increased, obstacles in the path of ground vehicles will become an even more dangerous problem than they are today. Research on detectors has been underway for several years, and the first elements of an experimental system are scheduled to be installed at the Center next winter.

Many of the test vehicles utilize some form of electrical power as their basic source of energy, and the Dynamics Laboratory will be a heavy user of electrical power. These electrical loads are characterized by relatively large demands of short duration. By 1975, the Test Center may have a 20-megawatt demand with a load factor of only 17% and use a total energy of about 275 X 10^ kilowatt-hours during the year. This power will be delivered at a nominal voltage of 115 kilovolts to the main substation from commercial sources. From the internal distribution system of the Test Center it will be modified to the form required by each vehicle. For example, the transit cars nominally utilize 600 volts direct current, and the 300-mph wayside power pickup system under development for the TACRV requires 60 Hertz, 3-Phase at 8.250 kilovolts.

These research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) projects are sponsored by the Federal Railroad and Urban Mass Transportation Administrations. With this participation, four of the seven operating, or modal, administrations of the U. S. Department of Transportation are involved with work at the Test Center.

Additional support has been provided by the Pueblo Army Depot; NASA's Langley Research Center; Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Naval Air Engineering Center; National Ocean Survey, a part of the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Army's Corps of Engineers; Soil Conservation Service, Department of Agriculture; and the Pueblo community.

There are indications of growing national and international interest in the HSGTC. In addition to many business and professional groups from the United States that have visited the Test Center, there have been visitors from Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, England, France, West Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Italy, and Sweden.

As more construction is completed and activities expand, it is expected that test projects may be established by private industry and their associations, both foreign and domestic, or by other governments.

Over 150 years ago, during 1817, John C. Calhoun stated: "We are greatly and rapidly — I was about to say fearfully — growing. This is our pride and our danger; our weakness and our strength ... let us, then, bind the Republic together with a perfect system of roads and canals." Today, based upon population growth projections, it has been estimated that the country will have to provide in the next two decades as much transportation capacity as has been gradually built up since our very beginning as a nation two centuries ago.

So, some of our problems are not new, but we do have new ways of approaching and solving them. Our ability to send spacecraft to the planets or men to the moon was created by blending many technologies into what was, ten years ago, called a new space technology. At HSGTC, a different blending of many technologies — railroading, transit, aeronautics, roadway, materials, electronics, automation, etc. — will be sought in order to continue making advances in existing railroad or transit equipment; and, at the same time, to provide the means for testing new concepts in ground transportation vehicles or subsystems.

Just as railroading pioneers opened new vistas on the other side of the mountains a hundred years ago, the High Speed Ground Test Center will become instrumental in a renaissance of ground transportation.