The Department of Transportation has facilities all over the country where our fantastic staff are working day in and day out to improve our national transportation system. Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting one of DOT’s most interesting places to work: the Transportation Technology Center, in Pueblo, Colorado.
Covering 52 square miles of remote grasslands in Colorado, the TTC facility is jointly operated by the Federal Railroad Administration and the Association of American Railroads. There, they test all categories of freight and passenger rolling stock, vehicle and track components, and safety devices. Basically, if it has to do with rail, they test it at TTC.
My tour began with a brief history lesson about the facility, and TTC has a lot to be proud of. For example, most people know that President Obama is working to bring high-speed rail to America today, but did you know that Asian and European high speed rail trains were tested at TTC’s 48 miles of track? In the future, as American high speed rail gets off the ground, the center hopes to upgrade its test track to be able to test technology at speeds up to at least 200 miles per hour.
The first stop on the tour was the Rail Dynamics Laboratory and the Vibration Test Unit, where engineers are constantly looking for ways to improve rail transportation. The VTU is a computer controlled test device that reproduces the ride environment seen in rail service. By evaluating and restraining the movement of loads in railcars, they can improve safety and prevent costly damage to cargo. For example, when shifting steel coil loads became a problem, the freight rail industry enlisted the help of TTC. TTC engineers found ways to minimize shifting and helped the freight industry reduce damage and derailments. Not to mention saving injuries, lives and keeping costs down.
Next I saw the Security and Emergency Response Training Center, a DHS-FEMA-funded facility where emergency responders from across the country are trained. When we pulled up, I saw emergency responders from New York, Illinois, Florida, Louisiana and elsewhere swarming over several train cars during a simulated hazmat drill. Beyond that, a long trail of train cars snaked across tracks, where teams practice responding to a train derailment.
At our next stop--the TSA Surface Transportation Security Training Center--we learned about the ways TSA is planning to strengthen emergency responder training across various modes of surface transportation. When most people think of TSA, they think of airport security, but Americans should know that TSA is also working to keep passengers safe when they’re traveling by other means.
TCC is also researching how Crash Energy Management (CEM) technology can improve passenger safety. CEM equipment distributes the force of a crash to unoccupied areas throughout the train, reducing the risk of passenger injuries and fatalities in the unlikely event of a collision. It was amazing to see before and after video of train-to-train impact tests with and without the application of CEM technology. This is the kind of technological advancement that literally saves lives, and its thanks to the great work of our TTC employees.
Finally, I saw several safety technologies being developed at the center, including a cracked wheel detector, which allows automatic inspection of internal wheel defects as the train rolls slowly by a detector, and machine vision technology being developed for automated inspection of the entire trainset for improved safety. And I learned that TTC has set up a Positive Train Control testing facility that will help us develop and test PTC technology in advance of 2015.
I ended my visit--how else?--with a train ride around the railroad test track. They even let me drive, but I won't quit my day job.
I want to thank the crew at the Pueblo Transportation Technology Center for a great tour. They're really doing some fascinating work out there, and I can't wait to visit again.